Ben Hurley Reporter

Ben covers the property industry and has a keen interest in entrepreneurship and travel writing. He speaks Mandarin and previously covered housing and urban affairs for The Australian Financial Review.

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Ray White property family backs $2.1m sharehousing startup

Published 15 August 2013 11:24, Updated 16 August 2013 07:19

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Ray White property family backs $2.1m sharehousing startup

Roomz is founded by ex-REA Group chief information officer Daniel Oertli and designer Jason Furnell. Photo: Peter Braig

Sam White of the wealthy Ray White property family has backed a new online start-up that proposes a solution to Australia’s affordable housing crisis by helping people rent out spare rooms in their homes.

Roomz, founded by ex-REA Group chief information officer Daniel Oertli and designer Jason Furnell, launched its website this month after raising $2.1 million from a group of angel investors including White.

Oertli says there is a trend towards sharehousing as a solution to housing affordability, citing the UK government’s Rent a Room scheme, which gives tax breaks to people who rent out furnished rooms in their home. He has global aspirations for Roomz but says its potential is particularly strong in Australia.

“Australia has some of the most under-utilised properties in the world,” Oertli says. “The Australian Bureau of Statistics says 79 per cent of Australia’s 8.4 million households have one or more spare bedrooms. Australia is also building now the world’s largest new homes. It’s an incredible opportunity to unlock the existing stock.”

The most recent ABS census showed an increase in group households, giving hard evidence that rising numbers of Australians are seeking out low-cost and low-commitment sharehousing over taking out a mortgage.

Roomz falls under the banner of collaborative consumption – the movement towards renting experiences rather than owning assets – facilitated by websites and apps that bring renters and providers together.

Roomz aims to take care of the entire process. Home owners or tenants with a spare room advertise it on the website. They are matched to prospective lodgers, and the matching process includes finding people with similar personal attributes. It sets up a legal agreement that spells out the obligations on both sides, then handles the rent payments and chasing down of late payments. It also holds a long-term security deposit to protect against damages. Roomz takes a 1.9 per cent commission on the rent.

A few hundred people have used the freshly-launched site, although it hasn’t yet been widely advertised.

“Most of Roomz users are young professionals,” says Oertli. “It’s not the typical preconception that people have of share housing being a student accommodation user base.”

The White family has made some good bets on start-ups in the past. They were early backers of REA Group, now by far the nation’s most widely used online property classifieds portal with a market cap of $4.45 billion. Sam White sat on the board, and met Oertli through his involvement with REA.

“We do look at a number of things,” White says. “The thinking and the learning we get from being exposed to these guys helps us.”

The combination of a good idea and good people sold Roomz for him, he says.

White was also a participant in Kevin Rudd’s Australia 2020 Summit, and his submission called for a government approach to encouraging sharehousing as a solution to housing affordability, either in the form of shared rent or shared ownership.

Now a board member of Roomz, he doesn’t believe governments are the solution.

“I don’t think governments can solve it. I think it needs to be one where we empower home owners and renters to take control of their destiny, rather than wait for government hand-outs.”

White says he doesn’t see Roomz competing with the property management industry, as it is aimed towards lodgers. They fall under a different legal framework to tenants who rent out an entire property.

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