Property tech (proptech) startups have grown in popularity recently as internet-savvy consumers, used to using apps like Uber and Airbnb, seek out easier ways to buy, sell and rent homes without dealing with pricey estate agents.
Here's our pick of some of the most interesting proptech startups on the scene today.
We will start with the only company that has gone public on this list, Purplebricks. The online-only estate agent uses "local advisors" to try and smooth the buying and letting process. The company saves money by not having a physical presence on the high street.
Founder Michael Bruce explained the idea behind the company to Startups.co.uk: "Using our local property experts on the ground and a unique online platform, Purplebricks allows people to oversee every aspect of their property transaction as it happens, at the touch of a button, rather than waiting for an estate agents office to open."
What Purplebricks does differently is charge flat rates. It charges £798 (up from £599 pre-IPO) to sell your property (except in certain London postcodes where it is £1,158), compared to the average rate of 1.8% of the property price traditionally charged. This leads to average savings of £4,572 for sellers, according to Purplebricks.
The fully-managed letting service is £66 per month, with a flat fee of £299 (£199 pre-IPO) or £599 in London, and Purplebricks provides a full set of 24/7 management tools. Local advisors offer support to sellers and lettors and will take photographs, create a floor plan, write a description and prepare the advert for online aggregators like Rightmove and Zoopla.
Purplebricks listed at 100p a share at IPO on London's AIM exchange in December 2015, valuing the company at £240.2 million (high street estate agents Foxtons, by comparison, has a market cap of £537 million).
Brother and sister Paul and Gemma Young founded Settled in 2015 after Gemma left her job at Google. Settled is a platform that allows homeowners to cut out the middle man when selling a property, much like Airbnb but for house sales.
Since its launch Settled claims to have facilitated £500 million worth of home listings on its platform, saving customers more than £6 million in estate agency fees.
Much like Purplebricks, property owners can pay Settled £499, who will then visit your property, take photos and create a floor plan before placing adverts across all of the major portals (95% of all property searches in the UK are online, with Zoopla and Rightmove the dominant aggregators). You can arrange bookings remotely and Settled provide support all the way up to completion.
Gemma Young, Settled's CEO, told Techworld: "We're very focused on homes rather than houses, so sellers that love their homes are enabled to have real conversations" with potential buyers.
Young saw the opportunity arise from a system that doesn't put the consumer first, saying: "People aren't that fond of estate agents as it happens, so it's a bit of a broken system with very little regulation and wildly different service levels."
This is where Settled comes in, by offering a more personal, transparent service: "There's lots of smoke and mirrors, and models built around a sale and volume of sales," says Young, "generally one in three or four properties will fall through after an offer, and we are finding it extremely low, less than 0.5%."
Settled has raised a total of £2.2 million from investors including Silicon Valley VC, 500 Startups, Connect Ventures and Piton Capital.
Launched in January 2016, London startup Nested, promises to help homeowners to sell their property in 90 days, or they will give you the money to make your next purchase interest-free.
Nested was created by former GoCardless founder Matt Robinson, former Songkick CTO Phil Cowans and a former business consultant.
Using algorithms built by Cowans Nested provides sellers with a property valuation within seconds and guarantees a minimum price from day one, promising to sell the house within 90 days or give them the money. Nested will review the quick valuation and organise an inspection before confirming a guaranteed offer and placing adverts on property portals like Zoopla and Rightmove. They even take care of the viewings.
In exchange for a guaranteed sale Nested charges a minimum fee of 1.8 percent once you close a sale. Nested will then take another twenty percent of any money that is made on the sale above the algorithmically decided value.
Cofounder and CEO of Movebubble Aidan Rushby has one aim: putting the renter first.
Anyone that has rented a property will know the familiar frustrations: trawling property aggregators to find the property, ringing the agent, being told there is already an offer, inflexibility. Movebubble's app ensures that properties are actually available, saving on that all too common feeling that you are chasing ghosts.
Movebubble started out with the lofty aim of cutting those pesky estate agents out of the process altogether, but, as many of the companies on this list have found out, inventory is key, and the agents are the gatekeepers. "Originally when Movebubble was created we believed that renters don't want to deal with agents," Rushby told Techworld, "the reality is they will rent the property from wherever it is. The way we look at it Movebubble is there for the renter, and the agent is there for the landlord".
The app learns your preferences and tries to filter out undesirable properties the more you interact with it and helps filter out bad agents using an Airbnb style feedback loop. Movebubble is also trying to bring more transparency to the rental business, which is traditionally a black box, so how many times the property has been viewed and if there are actually offers in place will be integrated into the app.
Movebubble currently lists around 70% of all property stock in London and this comes 95% through estate agents, with some larger landlords topping up the inventory. The app is now seeing around 400 downloads a day.
Movebubble raised a £1.2 million round of venture capital funding in February 2016, bringing total funding up to £2.1 million.
Rentify works just with private landlords looking to rent out their property. The company operates on a hybrid platform, cutting out the expensive high street agents in favour of a 24/7 help desk and ARLA certified "property specialists".
Founder George Spencer explained the business to Wired.co.uk as: "We are a technology-enabled letting agent, in the same way as Amazon is a technology-enabled bookstore."
Rentify allows landlords to post an advert, perform credit checks and issue a tenancy agreement all online. Landlords can also manage tenants through the platform including deposit protection, online inventory and rent processing, with 24-hour customer care on hand.
They take a 4% commission on a no rent, no fee basis, as opposed to a high street agent like Foxtons which tends to take around 15%. The company claims to have 200,000 independent landlords signed up to the service.
At first glance Rentify is far more focused on getting landlords on board than a base of renters at this time, with consumers only able to request details on properties and no specific benefits listed on the site at the time of writing. The company does claim to advertise 1,450 properties each month, but doesn't state how many are let out.
Rentify has raised more than £8 million to date, including a £1.3 million crowd funding round through Crowdcube.
6. Appear Here
Taking a slightly different approach to the rest of the startups on this list, Appear Here concentrates on the retail sector, specifically short term rentals and pop-ups, by linking retailers with landlords to find the best spaces available.
Appear Here works with both landlords that are looking to find short-term tenants for their space (for example Boxpark, Westfield or market stalls) and brands/retailers that are looking for the perfect space to display out of (such as Apple, Dior or even artists like Jamie XX). Getting established brands to use the platform gave Appear Here a solid portfolio of case studies to show off, and this helped reach the tipping point of convincing landlords to list their space.
Founder Ross Bailey took an interesting approach to spending his first batch of seed funding. At just 22 years old and straight out of a School Of Communication Arts post-grad he spent most of the cash on "editorial, copywriters, designers."
When investors questioned his prioritising of aesthetics over the technology he explained: "We would go to landlords and they would say: "This doesn't happen online" and were just really against everything we were doing." So he needed a website that they would want to be seen on, only then could he secure the required inventory to match the retailer demand he knew existed.
Formerly there just wasn't a platform for flexible use lettings, according to Bailey, with lets taking six months on average to close. Bailey claims that on Appear Here that is down to 48 hours, as they provide all in one pricing (rent, rates, utilities and transaction fees) as well as an online payment platform and standardised legal approval through their partnership with Forsters LLP.
Bailey is now working on pushing Appear Here out into new "retail cities" in 2016 and finding ways to leverage their unique data. "We are the only ones out there with an understanding of where every brand wants to be, what they will spend, what the next street is, so we have a huge ability to aggregate that data and understand really interesting things around the market," says Bailey.
Appear Here received £5.8 million in Series A funding led by Balderton Capital in November 2014, which will be spent on international expansion into "key retail cities" and expanding its customer service capability.
7. Virtual Commercial
Virtual Commercial set out to become the "UK's first online commercial estate agent!" back in 2016.
Virtual Commercial was founded by a former commercial property manager Andrew Vertes after he saw an industry resistant to technology. "Property, especially commercial property, is a dinosaur. It is considered an advantage if you can send an email really," he told Techworld in 2017.
For those not well versed in commercial property management, the incumbent model looks a bit like this, according to Vertes: "You get an instruction, you market it, secure a tenant. The agent gets a fee on completion, some marketing costs upfront and a percentage of the value on the premium." This works out as roughly 10 percent of annual rent, two percent of freehold sales and a raft of additional fees.
The startup became a fully registered commercial estate agent in 2017, offering three levels of service.
The 'free pack' provides complimentary marketing materials for anyone looking to list a commercial property on Virtual Commercial. Clients can then use the platform to book viewings and negotiate offers with interested parties.
Then for those looking to handle their own negotiation the 'marketing pack' provides listings across popular commercial property portals and 24/7 enquiry vetting for £297 per quarter.
Then the 'professional pack' includes all marketing, negotiation, drafting of the heads of terms and completion of the deal via a solicitor for a one-time fee of £798.
London startup Goodlord is looking improve the ways that renters, estate agents and landlords transact through a suite of tools on its cloud-based technology platform.
Goodlord wants to modernise a number of the stages along the chain of a renting a property, starting with putting down money, signing contracts and referencing, all processes that still tend to need to be done in branch and on paper. This meant building its own e-signing capability for contracts and using Stripe and GoCardless to facilitate payments. In theory this could mean rental properties coming off the market even faster than before as paperwork and deposits could all be done at the viewing itself on an iPad.
The startup is currently targeting estate agencies as customers for the platform, counting more than 300 already and claiming to save them between 50-75 percent in admin time and IT spend as a result.
Goodlord raised a £7.2 million round in 2017, bringing total funding to nearly £10 million.
One of the younger companies on this list, Propoly (formerly Nanoget) started life as a messaging service that allowed landlords and tenants to communicate without having to go through an agent. Since then it has pivoted to become a white label technology service to help estate and letting agents go digital. The platform allows agents like Humberts (who are investors) to advertise property on Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket, as well as collect deposits and rent online, store referencing information and manage contracts.
Proply moved into Pi Labs at London's Second Home office space in 2015 ahead of its 2016 product launch, and subsequent rebrand.
Chief financial officer Ben Shemie doesn't go along with the common line of thought in proptech though, that agents are anathema, saying: "At the top end, yeah, agents are good at what they do, because they get the customer to pay more, so sellers obviously like that."
Initial investors include Countrywide Plc, Humberts (part of Chestertons) and Pi Labs.
Canopy was launched in December 2016 by founder Tahir Farooqui. Rather than paying an upfront deposit, Canopy lets tenants make a one-off payment for insurance worth up to £30,000, which covers the landlord in the same way a deposit would. This covers renters for all future tenancies.
This core offering is called 'Rent Passport', a product which gives renters an individual 'trust score' from 0 to 100 based on their job, credit score and other personal information. "This gives renters instant profiling in less than a minute," Farooqui tells Techworld.
Farooqui, who previously worked at KPMG, was inspired to create the company after living in multiple different cities, and having to pay deposits and provide references repeatedly.
Direct Line Group took a 15 percent equity stake in Canopy in October 2017 for £1.3 million. Canopy also has backing from serial entrepreneur Vin Murria, insurance provider Hiscox and credit reference agency Experian. In total it has raised just under £3 million, according to Farooqui.
Acasa describes itself as a 'simple and straightforward way to set up and manage bills in your home'. The startup was originally called 'Splittable', with a seed funding round in 2015, but rebranded as 'Acasa' in May 2017.
Cofounder and CEO Nicholas Katz was inspired to launch the business having rented 17 homes and lived with over 40 housemates in four different countries. This meant he observed first-hand the pain of setting up and splitting utility bills between flatmates. Issues around bills led to an argument that cost him one of his best friends, he says.
Acasa now tracks more than 1.7 million individual household expenses worth over £200 million in 150 countries, according to Katz. The app has 130,000 registered users globally. Acasa has raised £1.5 million in funding so far and is in the middle of raising £2 million, Katz says.
HomeRenter is an online lettings platform which launched in the UK in 2017. It was founded by property entrepreneurs Will Handley, Sean Quinn and Jim Thomas.
It provides landlords and tenants with a one-stop shop for managing the whole rental process, without the traditional estate agent fees. The startup has partnerships with RightMove and Zoopla and has received over £750,000 in external investment.
Homie describes itself as a home search platform for renters. The startup acts like a sort of concierge for the rental sector. It provides each renter with a personal home finder, known as a 'Homie', who uses the startup's proprietary aggregator platform to search the market and match renters with homes, as per their specifications.
Homie says it saves renters time by removing the need for them to liaise with multiple estate agents or spend hours trawling through rental websites. Currently, 60 percent of renters spend over a day just researching the area they want to live in, before they even look at properties, the startup claims.
The London-based startup has placed 545 renters since it was launched in June 2015 by founder and CEO Alex Eid.
Homie has raised $6 million in seed funding from investors including Connect Ventures, Seedcamp, Venture Friends and The Family.