realAs wins Westpac Innovation Challenge
19 November 2014
Westpac Group and venture technology accelerator BlueChilli today announced Josh Rowe from realAs is the winner of the inaugural round of the Westpac Innovation Challenge.
The Westpac Innovation Challenge launched on 17 September giving Australian start-ups the opportunity to develop new ideas to help the bank’s business customers.
realAs has won a $40,000 cash prize and a six-month placement in the BlueChilli accelerator program to develop its website and app that helps home buyers and investors find out what price properties will really sell for.
“This is exactly the kind of leading edge, future-ready idea we were looking for,” said Westpac Head of Digital Business Banking, Kalpana Gee said.
“It has the potential to completely change the way our commercial real estate customers do business.
“We need to understand our customers’ businesses in order to continue improving the way we service them. By investing in the start-ups shaping and influencing our customers’ industries we are able to be there every step of the way as our customers are disrupted in this rapidly changing, digital economy.”
Westpac Group Head of Innovation, Ian Hill, praised the high standard of the five finalists’ innovative ideas.
“The response from the start-up community to our challenge has been phenomenal. We received more than 100 impressive applications. The top five finalists all have impressive ideas, but realAs really shone today.”
BlueChilli founder and CEO, Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, said the Westpac Innovation Challenge was a great opportunity to advance the development of new business services in the marketplace.
“We want to boost start-ups that use technology in smart ways in order to expand the services available to professionals and consumers within their industry,” Mr Eckersley-Maslin said.
Round two of the Westpac Innovation Challenge will take place in 2015 and will be focused on solving business problems for other Westpac business customers from various industries. Commercial real estate was selected as the first focus area for the challenge as it is a rapidly growing part of the Australian economy and a key focus area for the Westpac Retail and Business Bank.
The inaugural round of the Westpac Innovation Challenge followed the successful opening of Westpac Group’s innovation centre - the hive - in early September.
Finalist case studies
Phone interviews can be arranged with each of the finalists. Please contact Keely O’Brien at Westpac Media Relations.
1. realAs website
‘realAs’ is a free website and app that helps home buyers and investors find out what price homes will really sell for.
Similar to its American counterparts Zillow and Trulia, the website and app provide accurate predictions of property sale prices alongside a forum where buyers can exchange information about individual homes. The biggest advantage of realAs is that its prediction accuracy is much higher than anything else available, both locally and internationally.
realAs has been operating since August this year and CEO Josh Rowe says already almost two-thirds of its predictions are within 5 per cent of the final sale price, and 90 per cent are within 10 per cent of the final sale price.
“The best thing about realAs is that it’s community owned. It’s a tool made by buyers, for buyers,” Josh said.
The business was founded by David Morrell, who started the first buyers’ advocacy in Australia. He noticed that in the property marketplace the power was significantly stacked in the selling agent’s court and wanted to give buyers the ability to pay a fair price for their homes.
In Australia’s hot property market, creating a website and app that could leverage his expertise to help more than just his one-on-one clients was the next logical step, so the realAs team enlisted RMIT’s machine learning specialists to codify David’s 40 years of knowledge.
“Property buyers are in desperate need of this product, which is probably why we’re seeing such a rapid uptake in users,” Josh said.
“We’re getting about 10,000 unique monthly visitors to the site, and half of these people are downloading the app and subscribing to our updates - so there’s definitely consumer appetite for our product.”
“We know we’re creating great value for them because 40 per cent of the app users are using it almost daily - we once delayed our weekly update of new properties by 12 hours and were inundated with emails from users asking us when the new properties were going to be listed. We didn’t even publish our update times but they use it so often that they figured it out!”
You can take the app for a test drive at realAs.com
2. StickyBeak - Mobile property marketing platform
A big problem for real estate agents is knowing and understanding their potential buyers. Right now website analytics can help agents gauge interest and gather valuable data from a listed property’s online activity, but there is no data connecting the individuals who search, view and favourite properties online with those individuals who attend property inspections.
Sydney-based ‘StickyBeak’ provides a solution that blends hardware and software to deliver an easy tool for real estate agents to use. It utilises iBeacon location technology to deliver relevant content (including augmented reality content in the future) to potential home buyers as they visit a property. This information is only available inside the property, protecting the existing home owners from revealing sensitive information about their home online.
“Agents can add a lot of value during property viewings - they know everything about the property and the highlights that make it special. But often the agent is outnumbered and can’t connect with all the potential buyers in the short viewing window. StickyBeak allows agents to give a personalised viewing to every person who inspects the property, by virtually calling out features as they approach them,” said CEO Matt Pope.
The system allows real estate agents to set up a tailored ‘in-house’ experience via the StickyBeak CMS portal, where key highlights throughout the home are called out and explained. When potential buyers visit the home, they can get a personal experience by logging into the app to learn more about the features as they tour around the property.
“We’ve developed an iBeacon that is about 30 per cent smaller than any other beacon available. These small beacons (about the size of a soft drink bottle cap) can be placed discreetly in rooms around a property. Potential buyers will trigger the beacon when they enter a room and will receive rich and detailed content about the property on their mobile devices. It’s a whole new experience for home buyers,” said Matt.
3. “Suburbarian” sentiment comparison app
When you’re looking to buy or rent a new home, the internet is full of quantitative information to help you make your decision – for example, information on median house prices, historical value fluctuations and financial predictions. But often it’s the more qualitative and emotional aspects which guides that decision, and they are much harder to uncover. What if you could find out how the locals feel about a particular suburb at the click of a button? You soon could if the ‘Suburbarian’ app is developed.
Suburbian will give potential buyers and renters information on practical aspects like how many schools there are in a suburb, but also what people think about the schools, and also less tangible but very important lifestyle attributes like trendiness and culture.
The app works by analysing sentiment on social media platforms, such as Twitter, and producing reports that give scores on popularity, sentiment ratings and descriptions for typical attributes. For example, the app ranks South Melbourne as 85 on popularity, sentiment as +6 positive and people regularly describe it as “sunny, trendy, expensive”. The app can even tell you if “expensive” relates to people’s views on property, the price of coffee or school fees in the suburb – all good things to know when you’re looking for your new home.
The brains behind Suburbarian, Alexander Levashov and Eugene Labunsky, have the right mix of digital innovation, software and data mining experience. Alex is a successful management and eCommerce consultant who is now turning his attention to working with disruptive start-ups. Eugene is a software developer with a passion for using data analytics to improve customer experiences. The pair had worked together on other ventures before discovering an opportunity in real estate for their combined skills.
“Knowing what the locals and visitors think about the area you’re looking to buy in gives you a deeper understanding of that market and whether it’s the right place for you to live to suit your lifestyle,” Alexander said.
“Property investors will love this app thanks to the insights it provides on their target markets. They’ll be able to see what potential renters are saying about different neighbourhoods and use our app to determine the right market for them.”
Alex and Eugene are based in Melbourne and Monte Negro respectively.
4. SNAP Tenant & Property Manager communication app
Jimmy Tat is a Real Estate Specialist at Ray White Real Estate in Melbourne. Having experienced years of dealing with the inefficient process for communicating between tenants and landlords, Jimmy joined forces with his co-founder, Gin Foo, to start ‘SNAP’ a mobile app for tenants and landlords to have direct real time engagement with their property managers.
The SNAP app will allow tenants to log messages about urgent repairs and other property issues in under two minutes, and give landlords access to financial statements, inspection reports and log messages direct to their property managers. All parties stay in the loop and the consolidated platform enables seamless communication and resolution in record time.
According to the founders who have experience on both sides of the table, the number one complaint for both tenants and landlords is the time it takes property managers to communicate with them and respond to their request.
Jimmy sees the app providing huge value to real estate agents – by being a tool that builds a deeper and more agile relationship between property managers and their landlords and tenants.
“Property managers are always on the road, and that makes it difficult for them to keep on top of requests coming from their landlords and tenants. Having an easy to use app on their mobile devices would effectively make agents available 24/7, with workflows that even allow for direct call-outs to preapproved trades people in case of after-hours emergency repairs,” Jimmy said.
“For landlords, all the information they need for their property will be in one spot. That will be very helpful come tax time or when they need to review their properties.
“Tenants will also benefit by having one place to communicate with their property manager - not only will it give them quicker turn around on requests but give them greater transparency as well.”
5. PropertyShares - Crowd sourcing for investment properties
Christopher Scott Price wants to help people buy shares in private real estate investments for as little as $1000.
He works on a mandate of making investing in property as easy, enjoyable and rewarding as investing in Kickstarter projects.
That’s where he Scott believes PropertyShares, the online investment platform he is developing will make a big difference in allowing users in Australia and overseas to invest in properties without having to attend endless inspections and auctions.
Buyers will be able to chip in for anything from $1000 to 100 per cent of the property’s finance requirements online from anywhere in the world.
Scott learnt firsthand the difficulties in investing in the Australian property market from afar. A serial entrepreneur, he recently partnered with colleagues to invest in a student housing accommodation project which they later sold to the Malaysian government. After all the due diligence and paperwork was done, Scott realised that his background in start-ups and technology placed him perfectly to create a much smoother solution than the process he experienced.
“There is a real appetite to invest in the Australian property market, but as people become more time poor it’s getting harder and harder to find the time to do all the research and work out which properties to invest in and how much to spend. There’s a lack of access and transparency. That’s where our platform can step in,” Scott said.
PropertyShares is starting out by bringing together property developers with properties in the $10-$20 million range with accredited investors looking for investment opportunities. All the development opportunities are screened and standardised before being presented on the site for investors to compare and buy parcels in.
The same mechanism can later be used to open the platform to foreign investors and individuals who want to invest smaller parcels of funds.
“We’ve seen crowd-funding models for everything else work abroad and then get adopted in Australia. It’s only a matter of time before crowd-funding property gains popularity here, and with our excellent board of advisors and skills in the team we’re set to be the leader in this field,” Scott said.
Scott and the team are based in Melbourne.