Photo courtesy of Khushboo Jha.
If you’ve looked into buying or investing in the housing market and felt overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Khushboo Jha is the CEO of BuyProperly, an AI-driven, online real estate investment platform dedicated to making real estate investing accessible, particularly for millennials and Gen Z. Jha has said that people view real estate as either an investment to generate wealth or as a place to live. Still, it’s hard to do either in Canada. BuyProperly allows individuals to grow their wealth without the traditional upfront costs and hassles of managing or owning property. The platform uses a fractional ownership model, allowing customers to make investments for as little as $2,500. After completing her MBA and working for six successful years at Amazon, Jha launched her business around the start of the pandemic.
How did your past experiences prepare you to launch the fractional real estate investment start-up, BuyProperly?
Every customer wants their experiences with businesses to be like Amazon — simple — and like Netflix — customized. We’re putting those together to make real estate less intimidating, less stressful, and [more] accessible. That’s where my background comes in. I spent almost six years at Amazon and launched two business lines from scratch. I learned how to understand legal compliance; it was important to be fully compliant launching a business in a highly regulated industry.
But I hadn’t lost the core Amazon concept of being customer-obsessed and keeping things simple. That’s the foundation that everything we do is built upon. Is it good for the customer? Will it make their life better? If it will, we’ll do it. [We will launch] an add-on service that lets people connect with a financial advisor, even if we’re not making any money.
Using tech to make something easy for customers prepared me to launch BuyProperly because that’s our core: how do we use tech to make it cheaper, faster, better? For example, we use AI for sourcing, so we don’t have to hire bankers and brokers. And where does the cost go? Back to the customer. We can figure out with tech how to make each component of this process cheaper and faster.
You’ve lived in India, the U.S., the U.K., and Germany. How does the Canadian housing market compare to those of other countries?
New York, London, Munich, and Delhi have the same problems as Toronto or any fast-growing city — things get expensive. You have a lot of people coming in, but the housing market is often bound by government regulations, zoning policy, infrastructure, [and] transportation, and that doesn’t change quickly. A company can suddenly open 20,000 jobs, but that won’t change the dynamics or the infrastructure or make a subway line come right away. That takes years, and by that time, the city has grown.
The problem that Toronto has is a problem of affordability. In New York, houses are expensive, but the average house is only about five times the average income. In Toronto, it’s 11 times more than the average income, and in Vancouver, it’s 14. The fundamental supply-demand mismatch in a place like Toronto is driven a lot by immigration, which is the same case in London, U.K. There are a lot of people coming in, and the people there are not necessarily wanting to go to other cities.
Housing affordability was one of the big issues of the recent election campaign. What does the government need to do to support people when it comes to the housing market?
They need to become a little innovative and move faster, and that’s true for all parties and all levels of government. With a start-up like ours, we can solve a lot of problems, especially for first-time homebuyers, but we keep running into these walls and policies that prevent blah-blah-blah because of risks. Well, let me know the risks; we’ll come up with creative new solutions that mitigate them. If you’re going to count only on policy support, that takes forever, and things will only get worse.
You have to bring in new, creative solutions for ownership. Let everybody participate and let start-ups like us bridge that gap to connect investors with young folks so that everybody’s happy.
Can you explain how the AI-sourcing model works? What are the benefits of using AI in your business model?
The benefits are simple: it allows us to identify properties at much lower costs. A human broker can’t look at all of the listings, no matter how hard they work. We can because we just run the AI and scan the whole Greater Toronto Area to see what’s out there that meets our criteria. The model takes about three hours to scan, then analyzes results and gives us a shortlist.
We take a lot of details like the last 20 years of sales data, Google Places data, the ratings of the nearby schools, public transit, etc. Was something installed recently? Or does it need to be replaced? That’s another layer of analysis. Then, given the historic data, its analysis says these are the factors that drive the most value. Then, based on those factors and the data, it shows us favourable listings.
Do you have any advice for millennials and Gen-Zers who might see real estate investing as an unattainable goal?
Homeownership is an investing goal; you should think about investing and planning for the future, but it isn’t a one-track goal. You have to work towards growing your wealth overall so that homeownership can be part of that goal. I encourage everybody to invest and grow as soon as they can. Even if it’s a small investment [like] a small house in the middle of nowhere, start owning and building wealth. It’s important to start sooner rather than later. Sometimes you’re trying to optimize for your dream home, but the market keeps moving and salaries, unfortunately, don’t move as quickly as the market. Staying on the sidelines just planning for a dream house is something that I’d avoid; take action quicker.
Marcus Medford | Contributing Writer