Across Canada, housing has become as big a water-cooler topic as the weather.
As with the weather, discussing the topic of housing tends to draw more complaints than praise.
A lot of the current negativity associated with real estate in Canada orients around price tags—homes are overpriced, condo fees are bonkers, rental rates are out of control. Urban and suburban neighbourhoods are either over-developed into oblivion or under-developed into neglect.
For what it’s worth, entrepreneurs are just as obsessed with this multifaceted housing crisis as everyday citizens. They see big problems in need of substantial solutions.
While tech won’t solve everything, it can help. startups throughout the nation are doing what they can.
Below, we highlight a handful of ones disrupting real estate in a bid, however vainglorious, to return some order back to the chaos that is Canadian housing.
The Shopify of Real Estate?
Late last year, Calgary’s Ownly raised a $2.5 million seed round to support a “rapid expansion into US markets.”
The Alberta startup’s platform allows customers to shop, pre-qualify, finance, and buy new homes—online, from any device. Working with ERP, CRM, and lot management software, Ownly enables transparent online home shopping while delivering data analytics into customer shopping behaviours and buying experiences.
“With economic uncertainty in the housing market, the affordability crisis is forcing builders and sellers to find new and innovative ways to connect with their customers through cutting-edge technology,” explained Ownly cofounder Jason Hardy in October.
He believes his platform “creates the needed seamless experience for homebuyers and builders.”
Aiming to be the “Shopify of real estate,” the Software-as-a-Service platform is determined to deliver what it believes is the future of new home shopping. Since launching in 2020, the Canadian startup has experienced more than 100,000 online builds and 4,000 homebuyers in Canada actively shopping for and saving homes through the company’s MyHome Portal.
Solving for Supply
Commercial property in downtown cores have lost value in recent years. Demand for downtown office space is diminished because many companies remain operating on hybrid or remote models initiated during the thick of the Pandemic and thus require fewer desks at headquarters than they did three years prior. Another reason is that the hiring market has cooled, with tech firms across Canada downsizing.
In a boost to ongoing revitalization efforts in downtown Calgary, Peoplefirst Developments announced recently the listing of their newest project, The Cornerstone, on addy, a real estate crowdsourcing platform hailing from Vancouver.
Founded in 2021, Peoplefirst is part of an emerging movement in Canada toward converting unused office space into residential units ready for occupation. This approach boosts housing supply and restores a human vitality to stagnant city cores.
“Revitalizing the Core is as simple as providing people a place to live,” the developer explains. “By transforming empty office towers into vibrant, modern, and attainable residential spaces, we’re putting people where they matter most.”
The Cornerstone is a 10-story, 129,000-square-foot office building. It is set to undergo conversion into 112 two- and three-bedroom residential units. The completed project will also include a second-floor co-working space and main-floor retail space.
The Cornerstone offered an opportunity for anyone in Canada to participate in the rejuvenation of downtown Calgary—and it did not take long for the project to max out on investors.
Unlocking Parking Potential
Earlier this year, Google Canada announced participants of their 2023 Google for Startups Accelerator Canada program. Five financial technology firms were selected for the cohort.
Of the five, four were based in Toronto, which is Canada’s largest fintech cluster and among the most formidable worldwide. The geographical standout on the list is Gryd, a property technology startup headquartered in Winnipeg.
Founded in 2016, the Manitoba prop-tech has developed a suite of products and services designed to deliver increased efficiencies, increased asset value, and reduced costs to property owners, managers, and REITs nationwide.
“We strive to design products that create and capture value for our clients and their tenants by harnessing the power of technology,” the company says. This includes 3D renders and tours, virtual staging, drone production, and more.
GrydPark is one interesting product from the company. The digital platform for property owners was concocted to optimize profitability of parking assets.
Gryd notes how there will “always be a demand for parking” and also sees a “need for more flexible parking options for commuters and residents.”
GrydPark is designed to “help you increase the profitability of your parking lot, giving you the financial freedom to re-invest in your business,” says Gryd. “Making use of existing parking inventory creates a new revenue opportunity and fills in a public need by providing convenient, affordable, and reliable parking options.”
Maximize earnings by listing under-utilized parking spaces on a marketplace to drive revenue. Then track and report on every aspect of your parking operations with real-time data, the company says.
Simplifying RE Investing
Vancouver-based real estate investing platform Parvis announced in June a partnership with embedded financial technology solutions provider VoPay. The collaboration aims to offer real estate investors a simpler, faster, and more secure payment method than cheques or wire transfers.
Parvis Invest recently launched a blockchain-powered platform that offers comprehensive Exempt Market Dealer services to developers across Canada—a service that will be further optimized with EFT payment solutions, according to a statement from the BC fintech.
“Integrating EFTs can be complex, and working with a team that not only has cutting-edge technology but also offers excellent customer service is critical in our current growth stage,” stated David Michaud, CEO of Parvis Invest. “As we continue to scale our business, we will experiment with more embedded payments solutions to sustain consistent growth and output over the long term.”
With VoPay’s EFT solutions, it will offer Parvis’ customers a new payment gateway that does not require a bank branch visit to do a wire transfer.
These efficiencies will not only enhance the customer experience but also enable control and visibility, improve cash flow, strengthen security and drive revenue, according to Parvis.
Last year, Parvis raised $2.6 million in a seed round led by Gravitas Securities.
VoPay was founded in Vancouver in 2015.
Down Payment Help
Backed by a consortium of venture capital firms such as N49P, Forum Ventures, and Panache Ventures, Lotly is promising a future where homeownership is within reach for all Canadians.
Lotly’s model enables potential homeowners to buy a home with 5% down. The company steps in, investing alongside the buyer to reach the typically daunting 20% down payment mark.
“With the current economic climate and the challenges of the housing market, potential homeowners need to be aware of all their financing options,” says Martyna Gatkiewicz, the CEO of Lotly.
The platform’s impact is not confined to homeowners. Investors can start investing in real estate with as little as $1,000 through Lotly, with a projected average annual return of up to 15 percent.
When homes are sold or refinanced, investors receive their initial investment back, plus a share of the appreciated property value.
The company recently partnered with fellow Canadian fintech 8Twelve.
Real Estate Co-Pilot
Leveraging artificial intelligence, Toronto’s Structa wants to eliminate exhaustive hours spent on data collection and analysis that have plagued the real estate industry for years.
Founded by Richard Baugh, Irshad Shariff, and Alexandra Panousis, Structa is designed to be a co-pilot for real estate professionals.
The platform aggregates market analysis, generates precise financial models, and produces deal financing presentation materials with the goal of enhancing decision-making, saving time, and maximizing investment opportunities.
“The existing processes are cumbersome and inadequate,” believes Baugh. “With Structa, we want to bring an unprecedented level of efficiency and clarity to the decision-making process for real estate professionals.”