Young Entrepreneur Builds Brooklyn’s Leading Real Estate Company—Here’s How He Did It
If you’re a landlord, then this is probably one of the most useful, valuable, and informative Q & As you could come across.
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They say the real estate industry is slow to adopt new technology, resistant to change. It’s still the good old boys’ club.
It’s not totally false, but it’s not entirely true either.
BiggerPockets is a perfect example. Perhaps the greatest source of real estate content and tips, BiggerPockets was birthed out of an idea to do real estate better.
Moreover, real estate tech is being sought after by more venture capital investors than ever. And there’s more disruption than ever and more deal flow than ever. You even have iBuyers now.
I recently sat on a real estate innovation panel at Microsoft’s Times Square headquarters. I was joined by some of the strongest names, including the head of real estate at Knotel, a co-working startup with $160MM in funding.
In addition to the dreadlocked Dane in a hoodie (yours truly), panelists included a former Olympian (and also the former highest paid executive at WeWork) and a Millennial skater/surfer.
Said skater/surfer, Harley Courts, happens to be the driving force behind the fastest-growing real estate company in Brooklyn (per the The Real Deal).
By targeting a Millennial user base, said company, dubbed Nooklyn, has grown from a blog to a 400-man buzzsaw, boasting one of the most diverse teams I’ve ever seen.
And by using a tech-based, data-driven approach, they specialize in the most important piece for landlords and investors—maximizing cash flow.
I sat down with Harley for a vegan lunch in New York’s Union Square to chat about starting a business, the value of tech, where opportunity lies for landlords, and the single most important thing that will lease out your apartments faster.
Q & A With a Young Entrepreneur Who’s Making Finding Apartments & Roommates Easier in N.Y.C.
What’s Nooklyn and how did it come about?
Nooklyn is a startup that makes finding apartments, rooms, and roommates easy. The idea for Nooklyn came after my skateboard company Substance Skateboards failed.
I took a gig as a superintendent for a few big buildings in Bushwick Brooklyn and I started meeting real estate agents. I met my business partner at one of the buildings.
Initially, Nooklyn started as a blog to make it easy for renters to see our available apartments. This was partly because at the time I didn’t have the funds to build a real website.
What makes Nooklyn different from the CitiHabitats, Compass, and rest of the new age real estate companies?
What makes Nooklyn different is our collaborative company culture, engineering focus, and diverse inventory.
Nooklyn renters can meet roommates on every one of our apartment listings. Renters can schedule apartment tours and apply and pay for apartments and rooms digitally. This allows us to rent apartments faster.
We built our company culture around collaboration and trust, so it doesn’t feel like your traditional real estate operation. I think our renters identify with our non “real estate-y” culture.
You guys are very tech and data-driven. Renting out apartments is as traditional as it gets. How does that come into play and how do you use it to lease out?
We use tech to eliminate friction in the leasing process for the renter, the agent, and the owner. Every aspect of our process is driven by tech, from requesting photos to getting paid. Tech helps us not depend on managers and establishes trust with our renters.
We use our data to make smarter decisions on pricing apartments and as a way to understand where to spend our marketing dollars. Pricing rental apartments is still one of the most antiquated parts of leasing.
Long term, I believe pricing apartments will be the barrier that traditional leasing operations will struggle with the most.
What are some new trends landlords need to pay attention to?
Landlords should pay attention to sustainability, smart home tech, co-working, and wellness. No planet, no buildings to build. Our generation is loyal to brands that protect the planet and rent is our biggest expense.
Think about adding water filling stations, composting, and providing bikes for tenants. If you have bigger amenity spaces, they should be Instagram-able and centered around co-working and wellness. In the apartments, you should provide home automation where it makes sense.
Dedicated package rooms or package mailboxes are also becoming a must.
What’s the single most important thing that makes landlords lease out apartments quicker?
A great kitchen will rent any apartment faster. Use timeless materials that are easy to maintain or replace and keep it simple: white, black, and wood tones. And don’t skimp on your appliance packages.
People think you have to be born into wealth, have crazy connections, or look like a Wall Street banker (which neither of us looks like) to succeed in real estate. Is this true?
Not at all.
All you need is to be likable and persistent. I showed up to every meeting in a cutoff band tee shirt on my skateboard for the first few years. I’ve cleaned up my act slightly but not much. I still show up on my skateboard (weather permitting).
How do you feel about integrating tech into rental properties? Are you on board? Why or why not?