The last year in the European rental housing market has been something of a wild ride.
Brexit has sent workers either scurrying into the U.K. for work, or out of the U.K. for work. Overall, the pandemic has frozen the typical relocation, vacation and travel patterns that have defined the region. But for at least one company, the transition of the EU from a movie to a series of stills has provided a profitable pause.
“While having devastating effects on international mobility, the pandemic offered us the opportunity to further develop our product,” HousingAnywhere CEO Djordy Seelmann told PYMNTS. “It enabled us to improve our contribution margins and explore local rental markets while accelerating the inevitable consolidation of the market. Despite turbulent market conditions, we managed to improve our business model, solidify the confidence of our investors and attract new capital.”
Saying his company wants to be a catalyst for the market in the post-pandemic future, Seelmann said that HousingAnywhere is entering 2021 feeling pretty confident about the year to come and the opportunities that will become available in the recovering market.
“We’re quite confident that when the pandemic fades away, rental prices will go back to previous levels because in the end, we are dealing with a lack of supply in general in many cities in Europe,” Seelmann said. “We’re almost at the same level we were at a year ago when there was no epidemic at all. That means that people are traveling, people are making life decisions to move to another country, which is the international mobile market that we really serve.”
And now with 24 million euros (about $28.9 million) in new Series C funding in hand, he said, HousingAnywhere is aiming for a big growth year and aiming to turn its online rental marketplace into a platform for property managers all over the world.
Building A Better Booking Flow
When HousingAnywhere works with house managers, Seelmann explained, the needs and wants vary. Larger managers with many tenants are often looking for features that will help them create a community within their building via ways for tenants to connect with each other. Smaller property managers are generally looking for capabilities that will better support their workflows, like managing service requests and contract singing flows, for example.
“Another thing that we’re probably going to spin off later in the year is a booking flow,” he said. “Right now, housing in our marketplace is a single channel that property managers use to source their tenants. And they then book through HousingAnywhere… But you can imagine that that same property manager is using other channels as well. So, what we’d like to do is basically consolidate all those channels on the housing end of our platform.”
It’s a consolidation that landlords have requested for simplicity’s sake — and is a simplicity that is lacking in the European market. The goal, Seelmann explained, comes as part and parcel to HousingAnywhere’s bigger ambition: to convert the housing marketplace it runs today into something that functions as more of a platform for property managers. HousingAnywhere’s application programming interface (API) is designed to connect property management, no matter how dated it may be and can connect it to housing anywhere through different feeds. What it aims to do going forward is extend the number of end points in the API to make the underlying platform more connected to the other tools or other applications property managers are using.
“A lot of smaller players work with spreadsheets and bank statements, and they are not even automatically reconciling their rentals,” Seelmann said. “That is really something where we believe with the HousingAnywhere platform we’re able to help by automating much of this. We want to ensure that they no longer are spending their time in the back office. We would like landlords and property managers to spend time on the service that they offer to their tenants, rather than reconciling payments, or chasing people with second, third reminders.”
Payments are the workflow they company has started with, he said, but from there, the aspiration is to take on many of the workloads pre-built into the rental process. That means qualifying for a rental or a loan to cover the high cost of rental despots, or tenants, or even loans for property managers. Managers, he noted, have a lot of working capital needs, often met by drawing on security deposit funds which they are not supposed to do under the law. But those landlords often feel they don’t have much of a choice, since the improvement needs to be made.
The goal for HousingAnywhere, Seelmann said, is to eventually offer a better option.
The High Growth Path Ahead
The theme of 2021 for HousingAnywhere, according to Seelmann, is expansion. Along with the company’s new funding, the firm announced its acquisition of Dutch real estate digital classifieds Kamernet, which Seelmann said will be key to building up the housing inventory on offering in the Netherlands going forward.
HousingAnywhere is also expanding the number of focus cities, going to 32 cities total from today’s 15. The company will remain focused on its core countries— the Netherlands, Germany, Italy — but will also be moving into France, Spain and Portugal with local sales teams this year.
Although the rental market has been battered a bit back and forth, the demand is there from clients. HousingAnywhere is seeing it in the inquiries on the site and the fact that bookings are already leveling out to the year-ago level. And when that market recovers fully and the housing shortage that defines the European rental market makes itself felt again, HousingAnywhere wants to be ready to jump in and compete any place on the continent consumers want to live.
“We want to really build out the platform in a way that we can have multiple products stacked on top of that and be able to support property managers across the entire rental lifestyle,” Seelmann said.