Where top VCs are investing in real estate and proptech (Part 2 of 2)


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In part two of our survey that asked top VCs about the most exciting investment areas in real estate, we dig into responses from 10 leading real estate-focused investors at firms that span early to growth stages across real estate specific firms, corporate venture arms, and prominent generalist firms to share where they see opportunity in this sector. (See part one of our survey.)

In part two of our survey, we hear from:

Connie Chan, Andreessen Horowitz

What trends are you most excited in real estate tech from an investing perspective?

While most people think about real estate tech from the transaction perspective, I believe that every single part of the real estate value chain is ripe for disruption. On the construction and home maintenance side, we are facing an aging population of contractors, electricians and plumbers. As fewer people enter the trade, this is a great opportunity for a startup. Rentals are offline and fragmented, with the majority of renters still paying their rent with cash or check.

As low-interest rates hold, many homeowners could be refinancing their homes, but aren’t simply because of the lack of financial education. People want to live in beautiful spaces, but everyone needs help with the design and remodeling process. Younger generations in particular are shocked and lost when they learn how many vendors and contractors they need to interface with for a simple bathroom or kitchen remodel. At the end of the day, we end up having to go back and forth with service providers in person because there are major information gaps online, just like in medicine. It’s hard for homeowners to know who to listen to and who to trust.

How much time are you spending on real estate tech right now? Is the market under-heated, over-heated, or just right? 

A third of my time is spent thinking about startups tackling real estate — this includes everything from construction to financing to rentals and home improvement. The amount of money spent in real estate is enormous, and the data and tools we use today are still based on insights from a decade ago.

When I polled colleagues on what they would do if a toilet broke, the answers ranged from: Google, YouTube, Yelp and “calling my mom.” We spend so much money on the way and place we live, and it’s nuts that there isn’t more technology to support it. Yes, we turn to Zillow or Redfin when searching for a home to buy or rent, but what about everything that happens before and after that?

The market is not over-heated in the least. However, I do believe investors are starting to treat real estate tech companies differently than tech-enabled real estate companies. In the past few years, that nuance was less clear, but recent market events have forced investors to focus more on gross margins and software’s ability to scale.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t?

I’d love to see more companies foster community. Decades ago we hung out with our neighbors, but today, many of us can’t even recall their names. Technology can help connect residents in a building, or neighbors down the street — mapping out our geography-based social networks. I’d also love to find more companies that are using different kinds of signals to assess risk, whether it’s to replace the credit score for a rental screening or to help someone qualify for a mortgage. Chinese fintech companies in particular have been experimenting with using other signals besides a credit score to evaluate how responsible someone might be.

Plus any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers

If we think that the transportation industry is big, just wait until we realize the size of the real estate market!

Brendan Wallace, Fifth Wall

How has the real estate technology ecosystem changed in the last 3 years? 

When we started Fifth Wall three years ago, VCs and even prospective LPs would frequently ask us ‘What does real estate technology mean? Isn’t that very niche? How are you going to invest $212 million into real estate technology? ” At the time those felt like legitimate questions; in retrospect, they reflected that the venture ecosystem hadn’t truly appreciated the enormity of the opportunity in real estate technology. The fact that those questions felt valid only a few years ago tells the story of how the real estate technology ecosystem has evolved, expanded, and institutionalized.

In the last three years, real estate technology has arguably created more enterprise value and spawned more unicorns than any other single industry sector in venture capital. Fifth Wall was fortunate to make early investments in many of those transformative businesses, such as Blend, Hippo, Loggi, Lime, Opendoor and VTS. In the first half of 2019, $14 billion was invested into real estate technology from the VC community. Even though Fifth Wall’s newest $503M fund is the largest in the category, it nonetheless represents a very small percentage of total venture capital invested into real estate technology.

What spawned this growth in real estate tech over the last 3 years? 

It’s not surprising that technology for the real estate industry would become one of the largest and most attractive categories of venture capital. Real estate is the single largest industry in the U.S., yet historically has been one of the lowest spenders on IT. The industry was (and to a great extent still is) known as being a late adopter of technology solutions. I would characterize the last five years as being an ‘Age of Enlightenment’ for major real estate owners, operators, and developers: CIOs were hired for the first time, large IT budgets have been allocated and are growing, and almost every major real estate owner now recognizes that adoption of new technology is existentially critical to their future strategy.

In part, this realization explains the dramatic growth in the number of corporate investors in Fifth Wall: just two years ago Fifth Wall managed $212M from nine North American real estate corporates, today we manage over $1 billion invested by more than 50 corporate strategic partners from eleven countries. To put it simply, when the world’s largest industry suddenly decides to adopt technology, you can expect a lot of value to be created. And it’s only just begun.

Are generalist VCs investing more in real estate technology? 

Generalist VCs have been pouring capital into real estate technology companies, especially in the last few years. However, not all of those investments have performed well, and there’s usually one simple reason for that: distribution is absolutely everything for real estate technology startups. Getting large real estate corporates to adopt a new technology is often deterministic. In addition, generalist VC firms typically lack the deep real estate relationships and domain expertise to drive distribution and adoption of emerging technologies.

This is why Fifth Wall raised its capital from the largest partners and customers of the very technologies in which we’re investing. Fifth Wall wanted to be the connective platform to link new, emerging real estate technologies with the corporate partners that could serve as the commercial distribution lanes for them globally. A perfect example of this would be the strategic partnership and investment Fifth Wall orchestrated between homebuilder Lennar, one of Fifth Wall’s strategic investors, and Opendoor.

Are more real estate corporates forming their own venture capital arms?

There are more CVC (corporate venture capital) arms at real estate companies than there were three years ago, but they haven’t generally performed well, strategically or financially. Real estate organizations can be especially slow-moving and bureaucratic, making it difficult to attract great venture investment talent. CVC is inherently hard to execute well — in any industry — and for an ‘Old World’ industry such as real estate, CVC arms seem especially challenged.

Fifth Wall is increasingly finding that real estate owners are electing to become a part of the Fifth Wall consortium as we can now offer more distribution to any startup that any single corporate investor can offer investing on their own. Similarly, public market investors also have become critical of publicly-traded real estate corporates starting their own venture arms and have instead favored large real estate investment trusts (REITs) investing in consortium-based funds like Fifth Wall and others. I would expect this trend to continue as more real estate corporates are looking to partner with dedicated consortium-based real estate technology funds as opposed to maintaining their own CVC arm.

What trends are you most excited in Real Estate tech from an investing perspective?

We think there is a profound and exciting opportunity right now at the intersection of real estate technology and sustainability. Real estate owners are incredibly exposed to sustainability risks: the industry consumes 40% of all energy globally, emits 30% of total carbon dioxide, and uses 40% of all raw materials.

There is significant and growing regulatory pressure at both the local and federal levels to make all buildings net-zero carbon: look to Los Angeles and NYC’s recent legislation for two salient examples. Consumers and tenants of buildings are increasingly demanding heightened environmental standards for real estate assets. And finally, institutional investors are increasingly imposing sustainability requirements around their capital deployments.

Meeting the demands of stakeholders (regulators, tenants, and investors) is going to be an extraordinarily heavy lift for the real estate industry over the next decade, and effectively leveraging technology and innovation to drive solutions at scale is going to be crucial in order to meet these goals. Taken together, I believe the technologies to create more sustainable real estate assets represent a $1 trillion opportunity over the next decade.

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