Our Start-up of the Week is Offr, an Irish proptech firm that wants to help people buy and sell property quickly and transparently.
Offr CEO and founder Robert Hoban has worked in the Irish property sector for two decades, specialising in the sale of commercial and residential properties. Over the course of his career, he has overseen the exchange of more than 6,000 Irish properties – 30pc of which were traded online.
Hoban describes himself as a vocal advocate for the advancement of technology, transparency and information in the property sector.
That’s why he created Offr – a tool that enables buyers to click a button on an estate agent’s website, which allows them to see offers made by other potential buyers and place their own offer with “trust and transparency”.
“The button enables sellers to track the progress of a sale on their mobile device or laptop, in real time. They are instantly alerted when an offer is received, if there is an upcoming viewing or if legal documents have been updated,” Hoban told Siliconrepublic.com.
“Similarly, buyers can book a viewing online, upload proof of funds and ID, make an offer, pay a deposit, connect to their solicitor and sign contracts – all with a few taps of their smartphone. Behind the scenes, Offr connects the estate agents with the solicitors and banks to digitise the entire end-to-end sale process.”
Think mobile-first and allow bidders to place a bid on the go. Offr is the new way to buy and sell property, through our dynamic platform bidders can make an offer anywhere on any device. #mobilefirst #mobileready #auctions #auction #propertyauction #onlineauction #sellonline pic.twitter.com/vEh9SYSokn
— Offr (@offr_property) March 2, 2020
Hoban said that this solution aims to prevent issues such as fake bidding, as all registered offers appear online for both buyers and sellers to see and each individual’s identity and funds are verified before their offers are accepted.
“With the help of progressive early adopters, we plan to scale the technology across the Irish and UK markets,” he added.
“Offr intends to help all agencies, large and small, to raise their game and stay relevant in a rapidly evolving digital world and ultimately, to provide their customers with the perfect blend of human expertise and online convenience.”
Hoban said that the idea behind Offr came from a conversation that changed his outlook on the future of the property industry.
“In my previous role, a buyer at an online auction told me about buying two properties on his mobile while sitting on a delayed flight to London. He landed in Dublin to find signed contracts in his email inbox.
“After decades of buying property and typically waiting over six months to close the sales, he had registered, bid, bought and closed without leaving his airplane seat. That was the moment I knew that the process of buying and selling property had just changed forever.”
With thousands of properties bought and sold each year, with deals taking an average of six months from listing to completion, Hoban said that there is scope for the process to be streamlined.
“All stakeholders are affected and none more so than the estate agent. A sales agent must wait up to nine months to get paid, if at all, yet must always meet their costly monthly overheads.”
The team behind Offr
Hoban set up the Dublin-based company with Philip Farrell, who serves as CCO, and Niall Dawson, who serves as CTO.
Farrell has worked in the property sector for more than 30 years and was appointed CEO of the Real Estate Alliance (REA) group in 2013. Before joining Offr, Dawson worked as head of development at XSellco and Ultimate Rugby, and was involved with both businesses from their inception.
After 18 months of design and development, the three men finally launched Offr, which Hoban describes as “a powerful and refreshingly innovative solution to one of the most maligned processes in modern life”.
‘A continuing challenge is converting two traditional, conservative, paper-based industries, such as property and law, into digitally enabled super-machines’
– ROBERT HOBAN
“Given the security requirements of combined fintech and proptech businesses, we have engineered the product and systems within the best global frameworks, technologies and integrations available on the market, including AWS, DocuSign and Stripe,” he explained.
When asked how customer acquisition has gone so far, the CEO said: “The reaction has been overwhelming, with countless estate agents and solicitors contacting us to sign up and tell us they have been waiting for a solution like this for a long time.
“Property professionals are fed up with the existing process and their customers are equally dissatisfied. We ran closed trials on this for four months before launch with a handful of estate agents, selling real properties to real buyers and they are still with us, which is a good sign!”
Challenges and lessons learned
When asked of the challenges involved of setting up a start-up like Offr, Hoban said: “A continuing challenge for us and others like us is converting two extraordinarily traditional, conservative and paper-based giants of industries, such as property and law, into digitally enabled super-machines, to help give customers what they want.
“However, we are very encouraged by the engagement and reaction of the early adopters. Our success will be led by the next generation of estate agents and solicitors and the doubters will likely follow suit.”
It has been helpful for the company to launch in Dublin, Hoban added, saying that there has been great assistance from banks, VC funds and Enterprise Ireland, who “embraced the concept quickly” and were supportive in getting the idea off the ground.
“Dogpatch Labs in IFSC was a great place to be based when we were taking baby steps,” he added. “More entities like this need to be encouraged and incentivised to afford to provide lots of smaller, own-door office space within a complex, to help facilitate companies growing past the ‘onesies’ and ‘twosies’ phase.”
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