It seems as though all PropTech companies in the United States are in an arms race to be the all-in-one platform for real estate transactions.
There are the obvious cases such as portals becoming brokerages and buying houses (Zillow), brokerages acting as portals and buying homes (Redfin) and there are even mortgage brokerages starting brokerage companies (Rocket Mortgage).
There is one very interesting company that is approaching this opportunity from a different angle and has flown under the radar somewhat outside of brokerage circles despite having recently raised $100 million from Goldman Sachs.
PLACE.com provides leading agents with a range of technology and admin services and is also building out an interesting consumer proposition as a marketplace. We spoke to co-founders Chris Suarez and Ben Ben Kinney to find out more...
OMP: So we should start off by saying that Place isn’t a brokerage - the best description I could find out there was “a network among brokerages”. Is that a fair description of what you guys do?
PLACE: Correct, we are not a brokerage but we aren’t a network either. We are a platform.
We provide a technology platform that provides top agents with every tool and service they need to run their business all in one place regardless of the brokerage they are affiliated with. Our goal is to simplify the homeownership process for both agents and consumers.
We do this in two ways. Firstly by helping real estate professionals and their staff eliminate up to 75% of their daily tasks so that they have more time to help buyers buy and sellers sell. Secondly, by helping consumers save time and money while buying and selling real estate with the use of our proprietary technology and home services such as mortgages.
OMP: So a big part of why I wanted to interview you guys is that you’re not just a solution for agents, there is a consumer aspect to what you guys do as well. Could you tell us a bit about that?
PLACE: Real estate industry stats show that more real estate transactions are being done by fewer and better real estate professionals who can deliver an exceptional consumer experience. In order for the real estate agent to remain relevant, there must be a transition from being a real estate salesperson to being a homeownership consultant.
The home buying and selling process needs to be simplified. This can be done through the bundling of services and improving technology.
The homeownership process needs to be simplified as well. Ordering repairs, refinancing, shopping for insurance should all be available through a single mobile app. Everything you need for your home all in one PLACE.
OMP: Place is a company that offers tech solutions to brokerages. Both you, as well as President Chris Stuart, have backgrounds in the brokerage industry.
Nowadays it seems we see a lot of Proptech founders with a tech background. Just how important have your experiences in the world of real estate brokerage been to the development of Place’s offering?
PLACE: While Ben’s early real estate career was in sales and brokerage, he has a background in proptech as the founder of Brivity (the heart of PLACE’s technology). Brivity is a technology platform that has more than 10,000 users who are top agents from all real estate brands and brokerages.
The real estate sales, brokerage and franchising experience that we all have is paramount to the development of PLACE’s offerings. Every single offering PLACE provides – technology, business services and consumer services – is a solution to challenges that brokerages, or the agents they lead, directly face, in their day-to-day business. In addition, both the business services and technology are enhanced in real-time by customer feedback. PLACE is built by those who use the platform.
OMP: Do you think there is natural suspicion towards new PropTech companies on the part of true real estate professionals and if so, is it justified?
PLACE: As far as PLACE’s target market or top producers is concerned, no. As we mentioned earlier, real estate industry stats show that more real estate transactions are being done by fewer and better real estate professionals who can deliver an exceptional consumer experience.
PLACE helps the nation’s top salespeople become owners of great businesses. We help them solve the most common problems that hold real estate businesses back: finding and hiring talent, retaining their top producers, implementing technology and systems, increasing per-agent productivity, and driving growth and profitability.
It is the next step in the evolution of delivering the dream of homeownership to consumers.
OMP: As I understand it, Place was slightly under the radar before the big funding announcement. Why did you guys even go for funding if you’ve been profitable from the outset and why did you ultimately choose to go with Goldman Sachs? I’m assuming that there were many interested VCs with perhaps a more specialist experience.
PLACE: Our platform is based on partnerships. As we focused on the leader for this round, we were especially attracted to Goldman Sachs’ philosophy of being a dedicated partner focused on our long-term performance. They seek to build long-term relationships based on conviction, sustainable outcomes, and shared success over time. That’s 100% aligned with who we are at PLACE.
OMP: I guess the natural evolution of the model that Place operates is to go into consumer search and to become a relevant marketplace that house hunters turn to. Is that something you guys have in the backs of your minds moving forwards?
PLACE: We have our eyes set on any aspect that expands our current technology platform to better support consumers and reduce the friction of buying, selling, and owning real estate.
OMP: It seems like you have great traction among agents who truly understand your value proposition. How do you go about doing the same with the consumer solutions you offer?
PLACE: We believe that the pathway to the consumer is through the trusted local real estate professional. If agents like what we do, we believe that they’ll be evangelical to consumers about our products and services.
OMP: There seems to be a rush in the United States for all real estate companies to bundle services together and declare themselves ‘end-to-end’ solutions. Do you think any company has truly achieved it yet and are there some pitfalls with that approach that maybe we’re yet to see?
PLACE: We respect and admire the variety of bundled services and offerings that brokerages offer. We look at PLACE differently.
Back to our industry trends, more real estate transactions are being done by fewer and better real estate professionals who can deliver an exceptional consumer experience.
In order for the real estate agent to remain relevant, there must be a transition from being a real estate salesperson to being a home ownership consultant. Those who don’t provide everything the consumer needs all in one PLACE are going to be disintermediated in the transaction.
The future of our industry is contingent on monetizing the transaction in other ways, such as core services and home services.
OMP: I read that you have some experience running businesses in the UK. Do you think that Place’s model could work elsewhere, or is it bound by the specifics of how the North American housing market works?
PLACE: Thank you for that great question. Right now, we are focused on expanding our value and our presence in the US and Canada.