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Having just landed $100 million in Series A financing, Chris Suarez and Ben Kinney have big plans for their real estate technology and agent services company, Place.
At Connect Now, Suarez brought host Katie Kossev of The Kossev Group up to speed on what Place is (a platform to help teams deal with a range of business tasks), what it is not (a real estate brokerage) and what’s in store for 2022.
For those who don’t know Suarez and Kinney’s backstories, the two have more than 20 years of experience in the real estate industry. They got together after Suarez had built a “wildly profitable” agent team in Portland, Oregon, that he was trying to replicate in other markets.
“I didn’t really care about the number of units and GCI [gross commission income],” Suarez said. “I cared about, could I net $1 million dollars in a single real estate team?”
Kinney was “doing a similar thing” just up I-5, in Bellingham, Washington, and the two “started hanging out, collaborating for probably five, six, almost seven years” before launching Place, Suarez said.
“I would say Ben is more a technologist than a real estate agent. I was probably more a real estate agent than a technologist focused on production profitability of running as a business owner,” Suarez said. “And as we came together, we realized that those two solutions combined could really solve a problem at the top of the industry that just wasn’t there yet.”
What Suarez and Kinney knew firsthand from their experience was that, unlike professionals like dentists, doctors, attorneys and accountants, real estate agents lacked a centralized business services platform. Something, as Suarez puts it, “where website and CRM and lead gen and lead conversion and marketing and transaction management and listing management and accounting and HR legal and recruiting and coaching and training all sit within one umbrella company. That is Place.”
The premise of Place is that as time goes on, more and more transactions will be done by fewer and fewer agents, Suarez said. Place is targeting the top 20 percent of agents, who will increasingly be working in teams.
“Our platform helps those top real estate consultants and their staff to really eliminate most daily business tasks so that they have time to to be out with buyers that are buying and sellers that are selling,” he added.
Kossev noted that Place is sometimes compared to the real estate brokerage, Compass. Having gained a better understanding of Place’s business model, she said, “that makes me laugh now, because it’s absolutely, like, bonkers that anybody is doing that.”
Suarez said Place wants to be seen as a friend of real estate brokerages, not a competitor.
“I look at brokerage as a neighborhood that an agent chooses to live in,” Suarez said. “If you’ve chosen Compass or you’ve chosen RE/MAX you’ve chosen KW, you’ve chosen. That’s your neighborhood, you love it. I’m happy you love it. However, I also know that you may want to remodel the house that you’re building in that neighborhood, and that’s where we come in. You might want to bump out, you might want to build up, and so we help restructure the business within the neighborhood of your choice.”
The problem that Place is trying to solve is that brokerages are typically not providing the kind of centralized business services platform that top agents, and agent teams, require.
“I’ve seen so many agents go down to work for fabulous brokerages, but the brokerage itself is dealing with its own accounting and its own hiring and this and that,” Suarez said. “So you see top agents — who don’t share this publicly because they’re wildly successful — but they don’t even know what they sold. Your accounting is wonky and misplaced.”
Suarez and Kinney seem to be on to something, because demand for Place’s services have been growing faster than the company could meet them. Last month’s $100 million Series A funding round, which valued the company at more than $1 billion, will enable it to accelerate hiring and product development.
“We didn’t need the money to keep on growing at the pace we were growing,” Suarez said. “But we hit this point where there were more people that wanted to partner or had raised their hand than we could service at the level that we had been servicing our partners. And that means we need people, which is talent, and tech. And talent costs money, and tech costs money.”
Suarez said Place is planning to expand from about 300 employees to close to 1,000 by the end of 2022. “You’ll see our tech stack getting expanded incredibly. We don’t third-party tech, we don’t bolt on tech — it’s all owned and it’s proprietary.”
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