We talked to Benjamín Labra on why a person should select Houm when looking for property and the following is what he said:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Benjamín Labra: My family and I are ok and healthy, thank God. We have been coping with Covid in the best way I could imagine. Despite living in an apartment and staying in because of the quarantine and social distancing for several months, we managed to find ways to make it work. Everyone in the house was collaborating, helping, and discovering new things and hobbies for us to do. We enjoyed family time. In Chile, summer is beginning, so we are experiencing warm and pleasant weather, and, slowly, businesses are opening. We can get out more and be lucky enough to meet with our families and friends, always keeping social distance and using protection.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Houm.
Benjamín Labra: I studied Business and Administration at the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile. I always had a passion for business and the real estate industry. You see, my family was involved in it to experience the environment, and I certainly liked it. So that is why I wanted to learn more about real estate and decided to study and do a Masters at Columbia University of New York in the States in 2014-2015.
Here I met Nicolás Knockaert, my friend, and co-founder of Houm. We both had the vision that Chile’s real estate business and processes needed a 180° twist. They lacked technology and innovation. Renting properties in Chile is a bureaucratic, slow, and headache process that nobody enjoys. There is where we saw our opportunity. We had so many ideas and projects that could help real estate in our country, and eventually, the world.
How does Houm innovate?
Benjamín Labra: Our company continually innovates with technology, passion, and an incredible proactive team. We have the service for both landlords and tenants.
For landlords, our service includes taking professional pictures and videos with our Houmers of their properties and then publishing them in the leading real estate rental portals of the country and investing in digital marketing, allowing their house or apartment to have more visibility and rent it faster. After their property is published, Houm takes care of all the interested people in seeing the property. Our Houmers go and show it to them, giving them a proper tour and the possibility to do it via streaming.
Houm developed with AI, an algorithm that allows you to know the optimal price for rent for any property based on the similar ones around the sector you are looking for. It is an innovative tool that thousands of people have cherished and liked.
Houm then does the commercial background check of the candidates and presents the landlords’ options for him or her to choose from. After that, a digital online contract is available for both sides, avoiding wastage of time, money, and paperwork.
Until this step, we should not forget to mention that all these services are free, with no cost to the landlord.
After the contract is signed, Houm manages all the property administration, tenant communication, problems and doubts resolution, and charging them rent. Amazingly, we pay the rent every month on the fifth, despite whether the tenant has paid or not because we come with insurance that allows the landlord to be relaxed and not worried.
For tenants, we make the process easier and faster as well. We allow them to choose to visit a property via streaming or going physically to the place. We don’t ask for a guarantor (which is required for renting here in Chile and is a big problem for some people), and they can do everything 100% online, even the contract. Additionally, we are working on another AI model to benefit tenants, in which the process will be faster and less costly for them. This same model will reduce risks for Houm.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Benjamín Labra: The coronavirus impacted us mainly in the April-August months because those months were total quarantine in Santiago-Chile. Nobody was allowed to go out, you had to take permission to do so, and they were limited, summing the fact that everybody was scared and wanted to stay home to prevent getting sick. It impacted us because nobody was comfortable going out to a property and was not allowed to move between sectors, adding that if they found a place, they did not want to deal with the moving in those times. Here is when we launched the possibility of having streaming visits with our Houmers.
However, many people lost their jobs and were not able to keep paying their rents, so they had to move to a smaller/cheaper place; or, people who did not lose their jobs but lived in small apartments with kids, for example, and wanted/needed to move to a larger place to have more space. So we still had lots of active tenants but much less than before. Things started to recover in September rapidly, and then activity and sales rocketed, allowing us to grow in double digits every month. We are now happy, growing a lot, increasing the team, and significant challenges ahead of us to take this to the next level.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Benjamín Labra: Yes, we did. Like everyone else, we were scared and had the uncertainty of what was going to happen. We still do! But we had the bet that Houm would get through that obstacle and manage to grow and defeat. We work hard every day to make the business grow and comply with our clients’ demands, so the most important lesson I have learned is that with effort and consistency, anything is possible, and sometimes, risks are worth taking.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Benjamín Labra: We value the balance of work and personal life a lot here at Houm. We know that we have a lot of work to do since growing so fast and expanding our business. We also want to reward our workers with flexibility, home office, relaxing activities, sports, and instances to stop a minute. Everyone in our fantastic team can clear their heads, be healthier, and mindful for a minute since the pace Houm is having can sometimes be overwhelming.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Benjamín Labra: Our competitors are brokers. We believe we offer much more value and innovation, which allows us to have the differentiation we need. Technology is one of our weapons, with which we make the renting process faster, safer, and more comfortable. We have many future projects that imply us growing more with the service we offer, and we offer it, always listening to our customers and their pains.
Your final thoughts
Benjamín Labra: We are proud of what we have accomplished here in Chile and expanding to Colombia. We are excited to develop all the ideas we have to make Houm grow, help people rent their properties, avoid unpleasant experiences, and make it fast and easy. We have the knowledge, expertise, and right team for it.
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