In our Ten Questions With series, we get to know some of the people behind the most innovative and interesting PropTech firms around the world and see what their companies have to offer.
This week we caught up with Steven van Wel, Co-Founder and CEO of Dutch housing data company Walter Living. We first came across Walter Living when writing about a Chrome extension the company had brought out named ‘Catch the Broker’. Designed to catch out brokers re-uploading properties to top Dutch portal Funda.nl with different prices and descriptions.
What is the problem that Walter Living solves?
Buying a house is unnecessarily frustrating. Even though data about the housing market is neatly tracked by public sources like the Cadastral Registry of Property and the Central Bureau for Statistics, it’s almost impossible for people to get straight answers about a particular property.
Instead, you run into unclear valuations and little practical help when hunting for a house. Which is weird right: why are you being left to figure it out on your own, when you’re about to make one of the biggest investments of your life? That’s exactly what we’re out to change.
Apart from the ‘Catch the Broker’ extension, what other products or services does Walter Living offer?
We have two major services. Walter Pro, our premium service, is where you get an expert to look over your shoulder at unlimited listings. Walter Pro helps people with every step of buying a house, short of helping with the mortgage application. From helping someone define if a home is truly interesting, right up to putting out the winning offer based on our algorithms: with Walter Pro we’re with you every step of the way.
We also have a DIY service called Walter Plus. With Plus, you get the main data presented on a silver platter, but you have to do the main interpretation and decision making yourself. Basically, Walter Plus helps you decide whether a home is actually interesting, or not. It might be overpriced, or turn out to be in a neighborhood with a weak housing market. Walter Plus makes it easy to draw these conclusions and compare the listing to similar transactions.
What is Walter Living’s USP?
There are three major USPs to Walter Living. The first is that we’re always objective. We have no vested interest in properties selling for the highest possible price, since we work for a fixed fee. If a high bid is what you need to buy the home of your dreams, that’s completely cool with us. If you would rather get the biggest bang for your buck, that’s fine by us too. As long as you’re happy with your decision on your offer, win or lose.
The second is that the data actually becomes available to consumers. Most realtors have the facts and figures in their heads, which makes it impossible for people to double-check. Having all the facts about a home lined up makes it way easier to understand the economic impact of your investment. We answer questions like what the value is you can create with remodeling, or how real estate prices have developed over the past 10 years in just a few seconds thanks to our automated valuation reports.
And finally, we add real people to the mix. And not realtor-real-people, but people who speak the same language as you and I. By giving people an expert on-call who doesn’t get stuck in jargon, they can really start to understand the investment and most importantly, their offer.
Is there a story behind the foundation of Walter Living?
Most definitely. When I moved back to Holland after a stint in the States, my wife and I started to look for a new home. We hired a real estate agent to help us with the purchase, but in the end, we (meaning mainly my wife) were left doing all the work.
My co-founder and CTO Marcel de Graaf was in the same process at the same time, who also encountered a really untransparent market. This puts professionals at a huge advantage over normal people, since the former hold all the information. And in any negotiations, knowledge is power.
We both knew that all the data is tracked and stored neatly in the Netherlands. So we set out to make that data available and give people a fair chance at buying a house.
We really liked the idea behind ‘Catch the Broker’. Without getting too technical, can you briefly explain how it works?
Catch the Broker is actually really straightforward. In order to provide our services, we keep track of all listings and transactions in the Netherlands. If a listing pops up a few times over a short period of time, it’s easy for us to take notice and flag it. Just with all our other services, we’d rather make that data available to honest homebuyers than keep it to ourselves.
Have you had any feedback from agents or from Funda.nl themselves about the extension?
No, nothing so far.
The tactics that agents employ to sell houses are the same all over the world. Any plans to roll out the extension to other portals and markets?
Of course there’s nothing we’d rather do than establish world domination. But considering the complexity of the housing market, our plan is to perfect our services in the Netherlands before we take it across the border.
What is Walter Living’s biggest challenge?
Oof that’s a tough one. I think getting enough brand awareness and building consumer trust is a huge challenge. Especially when you’re entering a market where people basically build and use their life-savings, trust is the most important and valuable thing to have.
That’s why we’re always happy to talk to anyone who has questions about Walter. We have nothing to hide, which is refreshing in a market that’s rife with smooth talk and double agendas.
What is Walter Living currently working on? Anything new or exciting?
Hehe good question. There’s definitely no shortage of ideas to disrupt the housing market at Walter. For now though, our main focus is on perfecting our current product suite. And for anything interesting on the side, you’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled.
Briefly, what do you think the future of housing data looks like?
We think the future of housing data looks a lot like Walter Living. It’s insane that in the information age, normal data about something as massive as real estate is not easily accessible. We’ve already seen a decentralisation and democratisation of a lot of information thanks to the internet and social media. As far as we’re concerned, the housing market is next.