Opendoor competitor Knock raises $400M

Home trade-in platform Knock has brought in a $400 million investment to accelerate a national expansion and double its 100-person headcount.

Foundry Group has led the Series B funding round in New York-based Knock, with participation from Company Ventures and existing investors RRE Ventures, Corazon Capital, WTI and FJ Labs . Knock co-founder and chief executive officer Sean Black declined to disclose the startup’s valuation.

Founded in 2015, Knock helps its customers find a new home, then buys it for them outright in cash. That way home-buyers — who are often in the process of selling an old home and purchasing a new home at the same time — are able to move into their new home before listing their old one. Knock doesn’t purchase your old home but it does help with repairs in hopes of getting its customers the most value out of the sale. Ultimately, Knock receives a 3 percent commission from both the buyer and the seller of the original home.

“We are trying to make it as easy to trade in your house as it is to trade in your car,” Black told TechCrunch.

Knock is led by founding team members of Trulia, a platform for real estate listings, including Black and co-founder and chief operating officer Jamie Glenn. The pair wanted to build an end-to-end market place where people could trade in their homes at a reduced cost, with less stress and uncertainty.

“Good luck finding anyone who’s bought or sold a home and said they had a great experience doing it,” Black said. “It’s something people just hate and dread. We can make it better and faster and transparent and stress-free.”

The investment in Knock comes amid consistent year-over-year growth in venture capital deals for real estate technology companies. According to PitchBook, deal count in the sector has been increasing since 2010, with 351 deals closing in 2018 — a record for the space. Capital invested looks to be leveling out, with $5 billion funneled into global real estate tech startups in 2017 and $4.65 billion invested last year.

“We are at that part of the evolution cycle of the internet; the low-hanging fruit has been taken,” Black explained. “[Real estate] is so inefficient. Mostly consumers have no idea what is going on. They have no sense of control or empowerment. I just think it’s ripe for disruption.”

SoftBank is responsible for the largest deals in the space as an investor in Knock’s biggest competitors. The Vision Fund has deployed capital to both Compass and Opendoor in rounds that valued the companies at $4.4 billion and north of $2 billion, respectively. Katerra, a construction tech startup also backed by the Vision Fund, is said to be raising an additional $700 million from the prolific Japanese investor at a more than $4 billion valuation, per a recent report from The Information.

Knock previously raised a $32 million Series A in January 2017 in a round led by RRE Ventures, and is currently active in Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Dallas and Fort Worth.

RBC’s CEO vows improvement on bank’s disappointing mortgage performance

Royal Bank of Canada Chief Executive Officer David McKay is vowing to do better on Canadian mortgages after a couple years of disappointing performance.

“We competed poorly in 2017 and ’18 in the mortgage space,” McKay, 55, said at the RBC Capital Markets Canadian Bank CEO Conference in Toronto on Tuesday. “We lost market share.”

Margins in the domestic mortgage business “were challenged” and the market was “super competitive” last year, McKay said. Toronto-based Royal Bank, Canada’s largest mortgage lender, with $246.9 billion (US$185.6 billion) of home loans as of Oct. 31, will do better and gain back some market share this year, McKay said. He expects the domestic mortgage market to expand at a rate of less than 5 per cent this year.

“We were disappointed in our performance and you’ll see us perform better,” he said. “We’ve really amped up our focus on where our deficiencies were, and our sales force and our product and our pricing.”

Bloomberg.com

Bowery Valuation raises $12 million more to automate the real estate appraisal process

Bowery Valuation, a New York-based company that we told you about last year, has raised $12 million in Series A funding for its tech-enabled real estate appraisal platform. The 3.5-year-old raised the capital from Corigin Ventures, Camber Creek, Navitas Capital, Fika Ventures, and Builders.

Bowery caught our attention initially because, lot a lot of real estate technology companies, it’s tackling some clunky processes that you might imagine would have been solved long ago. For example, its mobile app enables appraisers to tick off items, rather than write everything down. It automatically pulls in public record data so that appraisers needn’t surf the web to find what they need. It enables passive databasing, meaning that rental and sales comps that are often lost today can be found via a map-based search. It also uses natural language generation to help its appraiser clients produce reports.

What has changed since we last talked: the company was beginning to sell a white-label version of its app to customers, and it has since shifted toward focusing its entire product and engineering team on its own internal software.

It has also expanded its footprint more slowly than it thought it might. Though the company is currently licensed and working throughout New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut,  it hasn’t reached numerous farther-flung cities that continue to remain in its sights, including L.A. and Chicago.

Both are “still our first two choices for expansion,” says cofounder and CEO Noah Issacs, adding that Bowery’s goal is now to “be in at least one of those two markets within the next nine to 12 months, with the other to follow shortly. We held off on expanding into new geographies prematurely, as we felt we had a lot more room to grow just in the tristate area.” (Isaacs says the company has more than tripled its customer base and revenue since we last talked with the company last March.)

Though Bowery today focuses on multifamily and mixed-use assets, it also plans to expand to other commercial properties this year, says Isaacs.

Isaacs and his best childhood friend, John Meadows, founded Bowery in 2015 after working together at the same appraisal firm in New York and seeing plenty about the business on which they could improve. After bringing aboard as CTO Cesar Devars, a Princeton grad who’d studied economics and worked on several startups after graduating, the three got to work, applying and gaining acceptance shortly afterward to MetaProp NYC, a local accelerator program that focuses exclusively on real estate.

Bowery, where Meadows and Isaacs are co-CEOs,  has since raised $18.8 million altogether, including from real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield.

Mortgage growth will be flat or in low-single digits for ‘foreseeable future’: CIBC CEO

TORONTO — The chief executive of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce says he expects overall mortgage growth in the country to be flat or in the low-single digits for the “foreseeable future.”

Victor Dodig says the potential for mortgage growth to turn negative will hinge on whether the Canadian housing market takes a negative turn, driven by other macroeconomic factors.

The CIBC chief’s comments at the RBC Capital Markets Banking CEO conference Tuesday come after the Canadian Real Estate Association said national home sales are projected to fall to a near-decade low this year.

CREA last month said rising interest rates and strict mortgage stress-test rules continue to weigh on homebuyer sentiment.

Toronto-Dominion Bank chief executive Bharat Masrani told the conference today that he expects mortgage growth in the mid-single digits for 2019.

Scotiabank’s CEO Brian Porter says that mortgage activity in the first couple months has been “quite strong,” but it remains to be seen what will happen during the crucial spring real estate season.

 

HQ2 fight continues as New York City and Seattle officials hold anti-Amazon summit

The heated debate around Amazon’s recently announced Long Island City “HQ2” is showing no signs of cooling down.

On Monday morning, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) hosted a briefing in which labor officials, economic development analysts, Amazon employees and elected New York State and City representatives further underlined concerns around the HQ2 process, the awarded incentives, and the potential impacts Amazon’s presence would have on city workers and residents.

While many of the arguments posed at the Summit weren’t necessarily new, the wide variety of stakeholders that showed up to express concern looked to contextualize the far-reaching risks associated with the deal.

The day began with representatives from New York union groups recounting Amazon’s shaky history with employee working conditions and questioning how the city’s working standards will be impacted if the 50,000 promised jobs do actually show up.

Two current employees working in an existing Amazon New York City warehouse in Staten Island provided poignant examples of improper factory conditions and promised employee benefits that never came to fruition. According to the workers, Amazon has yet to follow through on shuttle services and ride-sharing services that were promised to ease worker commutes, forcing the workers to resort to overcrowded and unreliable public transportation. One of the workers detailed that with his now four-hour commute to get to and from work, coupled with his meaningfully long shifts, he’s been unable to see his daughter for weeks.

Various economic development groups and elected officials including, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and New York State Senator Mike Gianaris supported the labor arguments with spirited teardowns of the economic terms of the deal.

Like many critics of the HQ2 process, the speakers’ expressed their beliefs that Amazon knew where it wanted to bring its second quarters throughout the entirety of its auction process, given the talent pool and resources in the chosen locations, and that the entire undertaking was meant to squeeze out the best economic terms possible. And according to City Council Speaker Johnson, New York City “got played”.

Comptroller Stringer argued that Amazon is taking advantage of New York’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program (REAP) and Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP), which Stringer described as outdated and in need of reform, to receive the majority of the $2 billion-plus in promised economic incentives that made it the fourth largest corporate incentive deal in US history.

The speakers continued to argue that the unprecedented level of incentives will be nearly impossible to recoup and that New York will also face economic damages from lower sales tax revenue as improved Amazon service in the city cannibalizes local brick & mortar retail.

Fears over how Amazon’s presence will impact the future of New York were given more credibility with the presence of Seattle City Council members Lisa Herbold & Teresa Mosqueda, who had flown to New York from Seattle to discuss lessons learned from having Amazon’s Headquarters in the city and to warn the city about the negative externalities that have come with it.

Herbold and Mosqueda focused less on an outright rejection of the deal but instead emphasized that New York was in a position to negotiate for better terms focused on equality and corporate social responsibility, which could help the city avoid the socioeconomic turnover that has plagued Seattle and could create a new standard for public-private partnerships.

While the New York City Council noted it was looking into legal avenues, the opposition seemed to have limited leverage to push back or meaningfully negotiate the deal. According to state officials, the most clear path to fight the deal would be through votes by the state legislature and through the state Public Authorities Control Board who has to unanimously approve the subsidy package.

With the significant turnout seen at Monday’s summit, which included several high-ranking state and city officials, it seems clear that we’re still in the early innings of what’s likely to be a long battle ahead to close the HQ2 deal.

Amazon did not return requests for immediate comment.

How has Brexit vote affected the UK economy? December verdict

Each month we look at key indicators to see what effect the Brexit process has on growth, prosperity and trade
Experts debate the data
The UK economy is on a knife edge

Continue reading…

The limits of coworking

It feels like there’s a WeWork on every street nowadays. Take a walk through midtown Manhattan (please don’t actually) and it might even seem like there are more WeWorks than office buildings.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

Co-working has permeated cities around the world at an astronomical rate. The rise has been so remarkable that even the headline-dominating SoftBank seems willing to bet the success of its colossal Vision Fund on the shift continuing, having poured billions into WeWork – including a recent $4.4 billion top-up that saw the co-working king’s valuation spike to $45 billion.

And there are no signs of the trend slowing down. With growing frequency, new startups are popping up across cities looking to turn under-utilized brick-and-mortar or commercial space into low-cost co-working options.

It’s a strategy spreading through every type of business from retail – where companies like Workbar have helped retailers offer up portions of their stores – to more niche verticals like parking lots – where companies like Campsyte are transforming empty lots into spaces for outdoor co-working and corporate off-sites. Restaurants and bars might even prove most popular for co-working, with startups like Spacious and KettleSpace turning restaurants that are closed during the day into private co-working space during their off-hours.

Before you know it, a startup will be strapping an Aeron chair to the top of a telephone pole and calling it “WirelessWorking”.

But is there a limit to how far co-working can go? Are all of the storefronts, restaurants and open spaces that line city streets going to be filled with MacBooks, cappuccinos and Moleskine notebooks? That might be too tall a task, even for the movement taking over skyscrapers.

The co-working of everything

Photo: Vasyl Dolmatov / iStock via Getty Images

So why is everyone trying to turn your favorite neighborhood dinner spot into a part-time WeWork in the first place? Co-working offers a particularly compelling use case for under-utilized space.

First, co-working falls under the same general commercial zoning categories as most independent businesses and very little additional infrastructure – outside of a few extra power outlets and some decent WiFi – is required to turn a space into an effective replacement for the often crowded and distracting coffee shops used by price-sensitive, lean, remote, or nomadic workers that make up a growing portion of the workforce.

Thus, businesses can list their space at little-to-no cost, without having to deal with structural layout changes that are more likely to arise when dealing with pop-up solutions or event rentals.

On the supply side, these co-working networks don’t have to purchase leases or make capital improvements to convert each space, and so they’re able to offer more square footage per member at a much lower rate than traditional co-working spaces. Spacious, for example, charges a monthly membership fee of $99-$129 dollars for access to its network of vetted restaurants, which is cheap compared to a WeWork desk, which can cost anywhere from $300-$800 per month in New York City.

Customers realize more affordable co-working alternatives, while tight-margin businesses facing increasing rents for under-utilized property are able to pool resources into a network and access a completely new revenue stream at very little cost. The value proposition is proving to be seriously convincing in initial cities – Spacious told the New York Times, that so many restaurants were applying to join the network on their own volition that only five percent of total applicants were ultimately getting accepted.

Basically, the business model here checks a lot of the boxes for successful marketplaces: Acquisition and transaction friction is low for both customers and suppliers, with both seeing real value that didn’t exist previously. Unit economics seem strong, and vetting on both sides of the market creates trust and community. Finally, there’s an observable network effect whereby suppliers benefit from higher occupancy as more customers join the network, while customers benefit from added flexibility as more locations join the network.

… Or just the co-working of some things

Photo: Caiaimage / Robert Daly via Getty Images

So is this the way of the future? The strategy is really compelling, with a creative solution that offers tremendous value to businesses and workers in major cities. But concerns around the scalability of demand make it difficult to picture this phenomenon becoming ubiquitous across cities or something that reaches the scale of a WeWork or large conventional co-working player.

All these companies seem to be competing for a similar demographic, not only with one another, but also with coffee shops, free workspaces, and other flexible co-working options like Croissant, which provides members with access to unused desks and offices in traditional co-working spaces. Like Spacious and KettleSpace, the spaces on Croissant own the property leases and are already built for co-working, so Croissant can still offer comparatively attractive rates.

The offer seems most compelling for someone that is able to work without a stable location and without the amenities offered in traditional co-working or office spaces, and is also price sensitive enough where they would trade those benefits for a lower price. Yet at the same time, they can’t be too price sensitive, where they would prefer working out of free – or close to free – coffee shops instead of paying a monthly membership fee to avoid the frictions that can come with them.

And it seems unclear whether the problem or solution is as poignant outside of high-density cities – let alone outside of high-density areas of high-density cities.

Without density, is the competition for space or traffic in coffee shops and free workspaces still high enough where it’s worth paying a membership fee for? Would the desire for a private working environment, or for a working community, be enough to incentivize membership alone? And in less-dense and more-sprawl oriented cities, members could also face the risk of having to travel significant distances if space isn’t available in nearby locations.

While the emerging workforce is trending towards more remote, agile and nomadic workers that can do more with less, it’s less certain how many will actually fit the profile that opts out of both more costly but stable traditional workspaces, as well as potentially frustrating but free alternatives. And if the lack of density does prove to be an issue, how many of those workers will live in hyper-dense areas, especially if they are price-sensitive and can work and live anywhere?

To be clear, I’m not saying the companies won’t see significant growth – in fact, I think they will. But will the trend of monetizing unused space through co-working come to permeate cities everywhere and do so with meaningful occupancy? Maybe not. That said, there is still a sizable and growing demographic that need these solutions and the value proposition is significant in many major urban areas.

The companies are creating real value, creating more efficient use of wasted space, and fixing a supply-demand issue. And the cultural value of even modestly helping independent businesses keep the lights on seems to outweigh the cultural “damage” some may fear in turning them into part-time co-working spaces.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:

Oxford Properties acquires portfolio of office properties in Australia for $3.3 billion

TORONTO — Oxford Properties Group has acquired the Investa Office Fund, a portfolio of 19 properties in Australia, for $3.3 billion.

The deal includes office buildings in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra.

The companies say Oxford and Investa will jointly manage the portfolio.

Oxford plans to sell a number of non-core properties and has initiated select sale processes to reposition the portfolio and fund future growth.

It’s the real estate investment firm’s second major investment in Australia following the lease of the Port of Melbourne as part of a consortium in 2016.

Oxford is the real estate arm of OMERS, one of Canada’s largest pension plans.