Homesnap raises $14 million for real estate intelligence


Rockville, Maryland-based Homesnap has come a long way from its days as a consumer-facing app for displaying information about local homes by taking a photo.

While its current app still works this way for prospective buyers, these days its core focus is for U.S. real estate agents, and close to 75% of them are said to be using it. The platform is equipped with hard-to-find data that helps them be better at their jobs and they’re paying for it.

In a vote of confidence about its new direction, Homesnap has raised a $14 million Series B round led by Updata Partners, with participation from Moderne Ventures. This brings the total funding to $32 million, which includes prior funding from Revolution, the venture firm started by AOL co-founder Steve Case.

Homesnap has registered about 400,000 real estate agents, who use its services to find out things like how long a home has been on the market and which agents are associated. The real draw is the real-time MLS listings which make it easier to match buyers and sellers and Homesnap has been able to aggregate this 125 metropolitan areas.

“It’s become a real hit with the industry,” CEO John Mazur told TechCrunch. “We’re building a mobile operating system for agents.”

He said they have developed a good relationship with the MLS groups who pay per agent on a per month basis for the product. Agents are then able to use Homesnap Pro for free.

Agents can also pay Homesnap to run online marketing campaigns for their listings, whether that be on Facebook or Google. With all the data readily imported, an ad can be created in under a minute.

And Homesnap has more ideas for monetization. They want to use the funding to further build out undisclosed “premium” products.

Featured Image: Phillip Spears/Getty Images UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Homesnap raises $14 million for real estate intelligence


Rockville, Maryland-based Homesnap has come a long way from its days as a consumer-facing app for displaying information about local homes by taking a photo.

While its current app still works this way for prospective buyers, these days its core focus is for U.S. real estate agents, and close to 75% of them are said to be using it. The platform is equipped with hard-to-find data that helps them be better at their jobs and they’re paying for it.

In a vote of confidence about its new direction, Homesnap has raised a $14 million Series B round led by Updata Partners, with participation from Moderne Ventures. This brings the total funding to $32 million, which includes prior funding from Revolution, the venture firm started by AOL co-founder Steve Case.

Homesnap has registered about 400,000 real estate agents, who use its services to find out things like how long a home has been on the market and which agents are associated. The real draw is the real-time MLS listings which make it easier to match buyers and sellers and Homesnap has been able to aggregate this 125 metropolitan areas.

“It’s become a real hit with the industry,” CEO John Mazur told TechCrunch. “We’re building a mobile operating system for agents.”

He said they have developed a good relationship with the MLS groups who pay per agent on a per month basis for the product. Agents are then able to use Homesnap Pro for free.

Agents can also pay Homesnap to run online marketing campaigns for their listings, whether that be on Facebook or Google. With all the data readily imported, an ad can be created in under a minute.

And Homesnap has more ideas for monetization. They want to use the funding to further build out undisclosed “premium” products.

Featured Image: Phillip Spears/Getty Images UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Cardlytics up 3% following IPO, raised $70 million


Atlanta-based Cardlytics made its public debut on Friday, closing the day at $13.37, just a little above the IPO price of $13. The company sold 5.4 million shares, raising $70 million.

Cardlytics works with financial institutions like Bank of America and 2,000 others to run cash back programs. It partners with brands across restaurant, retail, travel, grocery and home subscription categories to offer discounts. Starbucks, Spotify, Airbnb, Hilton and Whole Foods are amongst the places where banking customers will find deals.

The business “presents consumers with targeted offers based on their purchase behavior,” co-founder and CEO Scott Grimes told TechCrunch. And “we can drive people into stores, not just online.”

Bank customers select which deals they want and the discounts are automatically applied when they shop at choice locations. The company says it has saved customers $230 million to date.

But Cardlytics is not yet making money, however. It brought $112.8 million in revenue for 2016, but had losses of $75.7 million. Revenue for 2015 was $77.6 million, with losses of $40.6 million.

“We may not be able to sustain our revenue growth rate in the future,” warned the requisite “risk factors” section of the IPO filing.

In 2016, Cardlytics shed almost 15% of its workforce as part of an effort to improve its financials ahead of a potential IPO.

Co-founder and COO Lynne Laube maintains that they will continue to generate more advertising partnerships because “for every $1 we bring them $30 of influenced sales.” She also was quick to claim that Cardlytics isn’t invading customer privacy because the data they see is anonymized. “Only the banks know,” she said.

Cardlytics has raised almost $200 million in equity financing from Discovery Capital, Canaan Partners, Polaris Venture Capital and others, dating back to 2009. CEO Scott Grimes used to work at Canaan as a principal.

Bank of America and J.P. Morgan were the underwriting banks managing the offering. Cooley and Gunderson Dettmer served as counsel.

TechCrunch broke the news of Cardlytics’ IPO last year. Cardlytics marks the first venture-backed tech IPO of the year.

Trulia adds an LGBTQ section with local non-discrimination laws to its home listings


Homebuying ain’t easy. And if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community relocating from an area you know well, you’ve got a whole other set of concerns to worry about. Apparently, with the launch of a new tool geared toward home buyers who might face discrimination on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation, real estate listing company Trulia is taking those concerns seriously.

The feature, called Local Legal Protections, takes steps to provide useful information for LGBTQ home buyers on its desktop and mobile listings.

“With the Local Legal Protections feature available on all property details pages on Trulia, homebuyers will know if their prospective new home is in a place where there are laws to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations,” Trulia General Manager and Senior Vice President Tim Correia wrote in a blog post announcing the tool.

The feature is simple, offering a “yes” or “no” to three sections addressing legal status for LGBTQ people in the area of the listing: Housing, employment and public accommodations. Housing refers to “Protection from being unfairly evicted, denied housing, or refused the ability to rent or buy housing,” while the Employment section addresses local workplace protections (or lack thereof) for LGBTQ workers. The third, Public Accommodations, addresses local laws offering protection from being denied services or entry to public spaces (retail shops, etc.)

The feature was home-brewed during something Trulia calls “innovation week” where employees come together to share progress and collaborate on ideas. The company’s own internal Pride group helped build the feature out and it draws from data collected by the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit that works to advance non-discrimination policies for LGBTQ people in the U.S.

“Currently, national housing and employment non-discrimination laws only protect some classes, such as sex, race, age, color, religion, and national origin,” Correia writes. “That means explicit protections for people who identify as LGBT do not exist at the federal level and are inconsistent at the state and local levels.”

As a queer person myself, genuinely helpful and normalizing tools like these are always refreshing. All Trulia listings now include the new data, indicating that the company views this as an uncontroversial asset for its diverse user base, not as something politically contentious targeted only toward users in LGBTQ-friendly regions.

Odds are if you’re a queer person moving to a new state this won’t be the only research you do on your rights locally, but it’s still handy at a glance. Beyond the current tool, it’s nice to hear that Trulia intends to build out from this simple feature to make its platform more inclusive moving forward.

“We are proud of this new feature, but acknowledge that the LGBT community isn’t the only group without explicit federal protections,” Correia said. “LGBT specific data is a starting point for our Local Legal Protections feature. We’re always looking into data sources that will give house hunters the information they need to find the right place to live.”

Featured Image: Trulia

A new study of Airbnb paints an ugly picture of the company’s impact on New York City housing


For anyone who knows their city well, it’s easy to see that the short-term rental boom spurred by Airbnb’s massive popularity is changing things. Figuring out what exactly is changing and how quickly is trickier. In New York, those changes are have kept Airbnb and city regulators engaged in a multi-year war over what’s really good for the city. A new deep dive into the rental market is just more fuel for that fire.

The new study, conducted by McGill Urban Planning professor David Wachsmuth, offers up some pretty striking data points. While its analyses were conducted independently, the study itself was commissioned by the Hotel Trades Council and the AFL-CIO, two entities with a vested interest in keeping hotel business booming, so bear that in mind.

For starters, the study estimates that Airbnb has driven up long-term rental prices by 1.4% or $384 per year for the median New York City renter. The research suggests that both restricted availability in the long term rental market and increased financial incentives in the short term rental market account for this increase.

To reach those conclusions, the study drew from a comparative model developed by UCLA to rule out confounding variables that, specific to New York, might be driving those increases:

“After controlling for a comprehensive set of factors, they find that a “exogenous” 10% increase in number of Airbnb listings in an area (which is to say, an increase that is not driven by other factors which would have increased rents anyway) predicts a 0.42% increase in long-term rents. Applying this relationship to our data, we find strong evidence that Airbnb has increased long-term rents in New York City. “

The study also lays plain Airbnb’s potential impact on long-term housing availability in New York, estimating that it has removed between 7,000 and 13,500 long term rental units from the market. Unfortunately, it looks like that problem is poised to worsen:

“Additionally, spatial cluster analysis reveals that 4,700 private-room listings are in fact “ghost hotels” comprising many rooms in a single apartment or building. This is perhaps the fastest growing category of listing in all of New York, and may represent a tactic for commercial Airbnb operators to avoid regulatory scrutiny.”

While Airbnb the company goes to great lengths to promote an image of its average renter — a homeowner renting an extra room to make a little passive income — it’s no secret that a massive swath of Airbnb listings come from professional operators who control many listings across a city.

The McGill study examined this, determining that as much as two-thirds of New York City area Airbnb revenues came from listings that likely violate city rules against short term rentals for fewer than 30 days in buildings with more than three units with the owner not present. To examine this, the research combined its own data with census information that specified building types.

The results:

“… we estimate that between 85 percent and 89 percent of entire home rentals to have been illegal each month. This means, even assuming that all private-room listings are legal, that between 43 percent and 47 percent of reservations in New York City have been illegal. In any given month, between 7,600 and 12,700 listings have had illegal reservations—accounting for between 42 percent and 46 percent of all active listings. In total over the last year, 45% of reservations were likely illegal, and these illegal reservations generated 66% ($435 million) of all host revenue.”

Given the predominance of likely illegal listings and “ghost hotels,” it might be less surprising then that the top 10% of Airbnb hosts generated 48% of all revenue in 2017. Not quite the image that Airbnb is projecting about how it plays nice with city regulators in order to help out the little guy.

If these highlights were interesting, you can dig into the full report here. While the hotel industry funding backing the study does raise an eyebrow, the research methods seemed largely sound and it’s hard to argue with quantitative findings that back up the kind of qualitative shifts you’ve seen in your own backyard.

Featured Image: ChrisHepburn/Getty Images

Juniper Square raises $6M for its real estate investment platform

The real estate industry was relatively slow to adopt technology, but it’s now quickly catching up. That means that virtually every part of the industry is seeing a lot of startup activity. Juniper Square, which today announced it has raised a $6 million Series A round led by Felicis Ventures, is tackling the real estate investment side by helping investment managers raise and manage outside capital for their projects.

The company was founded in 2014 and launched its investment platform in 2017. Today’s funding round brings the company’s total funding to date to $8 million; the company plans to use the new influx of capital to accelerate its product development and grow its team to better service its user base.

San Francisco-based Juniper Square, which also recently opened an office in Austin, says it has quadrupled both its revenue and managed assets over the course of the last year. More than 100 real estate managers switched their private equity funds to the company’s platform last year, and these now service more than 50,000 investors and manage more than 3,000 investments on the platform that have a total worth of almost $200 billion.

“The real estate industry has historically been very underserved by technology, especially in investment management,” said Alex Robinson, Juniper Square’s co-founder and CEO. “Real estate firms are seeking to benefit from innovations in technology, and our solution helps firms of all sizes better manage the entire life cycle of their capital relationships. This new round of investment will enable us to rapidly improve our product for both sponsors and investors.”

Robinson told me the company almost broke even last year, despite adding 25 new employees. But the new funding will now allow the company to invest in forward-looking projects that probably won’t pay off until a year or two from now. “As an example of this, we’re really excited by the opportunity to invest even more in the investor experience on our platform,” he said. “There’s a lot we can do to further simplify the complex process of private investing for investors, and to help them get more insight from their investments.”

With more than 30,000 funds currently in business, Juniper Square still has plenty of room to grow, but the company hopes that its platform, which gives managers all the tools they need to keep track of their investments and investors, will win over more of the existing funds over time.

When I asked Robinson about Juniper Square’s roadmap, he noted that the company’s mission is essentially to replace all the Excel spreadsheets that currently float around these investment firms. “Excel is an incredible product — I know, I used to be a product manager for Microsoft Office — but it was never intended to be a database or a workflow/collaboration tool. Yet that’s exactly how it’s used inside of 99 percent of investment firms,” he said. “So our roadmap is pretty simple: We look for places where Excel shouldn’t be used, and we replace it with purpose-built software. There are a lot of spreadsheets flying around firms, so there’s still a lot to do.”

Bringing luxury perks to co-living life, Ollie raises cash to expand


As rents continue to soar in America’s most desirable cities, companies like New York-based Ollie (no, not that onethe other one) are angling to transform the real-estate market with an updated version of an old model of co-living spaces.

Once all the rage (from the 1920s through the 1960s), co-living is back again. A slew of entrants from early stage startups like Common, HubHaus, Pure House and Roam Co-living to better financed entrants like WeLive (from the multi-billion dollar shared office company, WeWork) and PMGx, are building businesses (and apartment buildings) to capitalize on the highly competitive and increasingly expensive problem of living for the city.

Ollie has its own spin on things. The company has designed its apartments to maximize limited space with high-concept design furniture and offers all of its tenants free wifi, premium television, and fancy soaps in the bathrooms. Linen and maid service is included as well, making the company’s properties seem more like extended stay hotels than rentals or shares.

Owned by Stage3 Properties, Ollie and its roommate matching service Bedvetter, garnered initial acclaim as the pilot project for New York City’s micro-living initiative, which was launched under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to try and take some of the sting out of the housing search for the audience of urban professionals that’s so critical to a city’s financial well-being.

Founded by brothers and former bankers Christopher and Andrew Bledsoe, the company has raised $15 million in financing to expand beyond New York and Pittsburgh with locations in Los Angeles, Boston, and Jersey City, NJ. The capital came from Aviva Investors Real Estate Capital Global Co-Investment Fund, in partnership with the Employees Retirement System of Texas. Additional investors include Currency M, the venture division of real estate firm The Moinian Group, and tech entrepreneur and real estate investor Justin Mateen (who was the subject of the Tinder lawsuit a few years ago).

“In the case of Ollie we’ve been going through the trends here which is reasonably priced affordable housing for people moving to cities,” said Russ Bates, Head of Americas Global Indirect Real Estate, Aviva Investors, which invests with emerging real estate platforms focused on opportunistic real estate properties in the U.S. “Similarly, here with the demographic changes you have a complete demand shift in what people are expecting for their apartments.” Those factors made investment in Ollie obvious, he said.

The brothers Bledsoe launched the business to respond to a problem that’s become all-to-familiar to anyone who’s relocated to a new city. Finding an apartment is a nightmare. And an increasingly expensive nightmare.

America is still in the depths of a housing and rental crisis that shows no sign of letting up in America’s most desirable cities. There are more people renting now than at any point since 1965, according to a Pew Research report. And low housing starts for anything other than luxury properties mean that the rental market isn’t turning over, because there’s no affordable place for those renters to go.

It’s not clear that Ollie actually solves this problem. Tenants that can spend the money for one of Ollie’s micro-apartments can also afford a place of their own in an up-and-coming neighborhood (which has its own cultural cache). And the draw of community and amenities hasn’t provided a spark for WeWork’s WeLive offering.

“We got into the space as consumers who recognized that there was an issue from a consumer perspective. My brother was doing international real estate and I was covering consumer product companies,” Christopher Bledsoe tells me. “I consider [real estate] a consumer product category. “It’s an asset class and it’s viewed that way [but] it’s a consumer product category that’s been hijacked by finance guys.”

Christopher Bledsoe, who was a consumer and retail analyst for Lehman Brothers before its collapse, sees Ollie’s offering of amenities and services through that lens. The $2500 to $2900 studios available at the company’s Kips Bay location come with things that the grey-market Craigslist apartment rental options can’t match.

And that’ll be true for the company’s other locations as well.

“Affordability means being competitive with the underground housing market,” says Bledsoe. “It doesn’t include wifi, cable, bath amenities, linens getting changed… doesn’t include access to all the events that we organize… there’s a ton of hidden living expenses on top of these numbers,” for rentals. And there’s access to the community spaces and the gym, he adds.

In all, Bledsoe estimates savings of $1500 when all of those perks are factored in.

Consider it all yet another example of the Apple-fication of industries. The brothers Bledsoe are taking a high-design approach that Apple used for consumer products and are applying it to housing.

“The furniture that we put in is high design and it’s beautiful, but we’re going with furniture that eliminates the wasteage of space,” he says. “What we’re perceived as is providing micro luxury and I embrace that. The idea that that’s pushing price points beyond what a consumer would have to pay for hidden living expenses for cost,” is inaccurate.

Paying for a furnished apartment, getting maid service, internet connectivity, cable, Malin + Goetz handsoaps, would arguably cost more he says — and buying furniture is ultimately a waste of money. “It’s a greener way to live and it’s a cheaper way to live,” says Bledsoe.

While all of this development is great for the twenty-something and thirty-something professionals that cities are falling over themselves to attract, the focus on luxury micro-living means that large swaths of the population are stuck in a housing dilemma that still has no solution.

So while innovation may be helping one class of consumers, the broader problem of affordable housing in America still demands the attention of some new innovators.