A revolutionary, much-needed social network for real estate and property, Housenet is poised to become a household name in Australia as soon as it exits beta mode. We chat to the Sydney-based founder/CEO Darren Moffatt about his journey.
Hi Darren – first up, do you mind telling us a little about yourself and your role at Housenet?
I’ve been around property in a professional capacity for a long time now. I started as a bank manager for Westpac at the age of 25 and have worked in banking and finance across a diverse range of roles and organisation. This amazing ride has led me deep into the heart of the Australian residential property market, where for the last six years I’ve been operating my award-winning mortgage broker business, Seniors First.
During this period, I noticed the housing market kept throwing up the same old problems and obstacles at consumers and small business people. It got me thinking – there has to be a better way! I also felt that the existing mega-social networks were not really cut out specifically for Australian real estate. So, with my web developer mate Ben Carew, I decided to do something about it and a year later, housenet.com.au is the result. I’m the CEO and founder and Ben is Head of Development & Design.
Did you have any previous experience with startups?
Yep – this is now the third startup I’ve been involved in. In 2005, I left the corporate world to join a startup non-bank lender as State Manager. It was an invaluable experience because I saw first-hand what it takes to launch a new business. In particular, it taught me the importance of building partnerships and relationships.
With Housenet, we have secured partnerships with publishers such as Property Observer and others well before we launched. Then in 2006, I launched Seniors First, which is still a leading finance broker for seniors in Australia, and now I’m launching Housenet. So yes, I guess you could say I’m an experienced startup campaigner! Two things I do know about startups: you need to have a clear plan and you need to get momentum.
How did the idea of Housenet originate in the first place?
A few years ago, I had a mortgage client who was selling her unit and she asked my advice on how to choose the best real estate agent. I said “easy – just compare their individual sales results for comparable properties”. But she’d already tried that to no avail. Out of interest, I had a go for her and I also found it incredibly difficult because that data was not published anywhere. I’m pleased to say that Housenet now solves this original problem with our ‘Vital Stats’ feature – although the Housenet concept has subsequently broadened way beyond this to become a social network for real estate that simultaneously solves multiple consumer and industry problems.
The site lists yourself and Ben Carew as two people behind the project. How long did it take to implement the website itself and did anyone else get involved?
It’s been a long road. First, we spent six months just thinking, talking and planning; this became the basis for the business model. Then, we spent another twelve months meeting with industry and consumers to test our assumptions – all the while building the site and testing it. It’s been a huge job! We work with a team of coders, a server management team, a hosting team and customer service staff. It helps that Ben is a web developer and I’m in property. Our respective skill sets have saved us a huge amount of money and the ‘domain’ we enjoy in our industries has given us insight into real-life problems that is priceless.
A networking site where homeowners and tenants can interact with real estate agents is a new concept. Based on your observations, what has the industry reaction been like so far?
Awesome. We only launched three weeks ago and we’ve already had a bunch of industry press – we were swamped with real estate agents joining in the first few weeks. The site already has a significant number of property listings in our marketplace portal (agents and the public can advertise real estate for free on Housenet) while blog posts and business pages grow by the day. We’re off to a great start!
It’s pretty much finished – we’re really just ironing out bugs and checking systems now. We should come out of beta in a month; then, we’ll start launching new feature releases. We have about twelve months of possible releases ready to go in the pipeline, so we’re well-prepared.
Are there any specific requirements in order to become a Housenet network member?
No, it’s free to join! It’s been designed so that anyone in residential property, from industry, through to owners, investors, tenants, and first homebuyers can use the site in different ways to benefit from membership. Our Property Pages feature is probably the main attraction for consumers right now. Members can create private pages for their home or property that allow discussion between multiple parties in real time and users can upload photos, videos, and documents to store and share on the page.
It’s great for a renovation and decoration projects, a managing rental, share house, or strata body corporate – but the possibilities are endless. Think of Housenet as the online home for your home. We also have a Q&A forum where everyday people can post questions that can be answered by others on the site, including leading industry professionals, and anyone can post free ads in our marketplace to share, sell or rent housing and household goods.
Will the Property People directory have any sub-directories/subdivisions in the future?
Possibly. It’s likely the marketplace will be expanded. But ultimately, a lot of this will depend on what our membership wants. Our platform is incredibly flexible and we can make significant changes on the fly. We’ve invested in awesome help desk software that allows for members to suggest new features and for the community to vote on them.
One of the exciting things about social networks, as distinct from conventional property portals, is that they are essentially huge collaborative projects. Our vision for Housenet is an engaged user community that is actively shaping the site design and functionality via a continual feedback loop. As founder, my task is simple: to listen and deliver what people want, every day.
One of the Housenet blog entries mentions group-chain emails as the scourge of the real estate industry. How long do you think will it take for them to become history?
Not long! The massive French corporation, Atos, has already banned email and replaced it with an internal social network, which is a trend I think will gather momentum and soon proliferate. It makes sense: McKinsey Group recently published a study showing that organisations that embrace social media technology enjoy very significant productivity gains. You can find a blog I wrote on this topic here.
Being a professional in the game, do you have any words of advice to both first homebuyers and young agents entering the real estate industry?
Join Housenet now! Seriously though, my tips for first home buyers are: do plenty of your own research before you even approach anyone else, then surround yourself with a good team of advisers, a mortgage broker, conveyancer/solicitor and perhaps a financial planner, too. You should get heaps of free information and guidance from them before you even pay a cent in fees or make a purchase. Housenet is designed to assist with this process too: it has a great Property People directory and a Q&A forum where anyone can post a question for industry pros to answer.
For young agents, my tips are: always treat your buyers as your next vendors. The smart agents know this and manage to turn the purchaser database into a vendor database, which then becomes incredibly valuable. Also, engage with social media in a meaningful way, don’t just broadcast your listings – people want more than that. Once again, Housenet has been designed to help with this too as users can publish their content out to Facebook, Twitter and Linked In with just one click. It’s a huge time save for busy agents.
Thanks for chatting to us Darren!
No worries, thanks for the opportunity guys and all the best with Salad Social.