A modern and easy to use interface for property searchers such as real estate agents, created by Auckland property data company Relab has captured 25 percent of the nationwide real estate agent market in two years.

Last year, real estate agents accessing the centrally accessible property data through Relab’s platform, the first of its kind in New Zealand, increased sales by 30 percent.

CEO Knight Hou, who co-founded Relab with CFO Leon Hong in 2016, created the platform from scratch to “enable, empower and inspire” real estate agents as they analyse and assess the potential of any property opportunity quickly.

Knight Hou, Relab Co-founder & CEO.

“There was no holistic way of capturing all that information into one place,” Hou said. There was no unique way to identify every property.”

Now there is…

“We do the hard job of getting all the data together – it is public data visualised in a very neat way. We go wide and go deep – and provide real estate agents the bulk of their information in a very easy to consume way,” Hou said.

“That’s our point of difference.”

So far 25 percent of the country’s real estate agree. Previously, collating the data themselves was a mundane time-consuming job.

Hou said he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ when told agents using Relab’s platform last year increased sales by 30 percent at a time when the market was starting to experience a downturn.

“It’s clear we are using technology and data to assist real estate agents to do well. Agents are saying ‘you are now doing the hard work for us – you make us look good’. Relab has helped them achieve better efficiency and to help their customers by accessing data more quickly – data that they may not otherwise have got at all.”

Relab had seed funding from Icehouse Ventures and other investors and is currently based at the startup incubator in Auckland, with a staff of 10.

A lot has changed in 20 years; planning changes, increases in population, with more data layers generated for the value chain of a property, Hou said. “You now need to know more; infrastructure and planning changes are starting to play an important role in property decision making.”

Despite primarily servicing the market in just Auckland, Christchurch, and Queenstown, Relab has increased its nationwide market share by 250 percent in 12 months.

But Relab did not happen without long hours and hard work. Hong and Hou spent three years creating their startup, working weekends and evenings to build up their technical capability and managed to build a database of 25,000.

After migrating to New Zealand, Hou spent 15 years working for some of New Zealand’s largest corporates such as Air New Zealand, but wished he’d started Relab – the first two letters of the startup name signify “real estate” – well before 2016.

“My biggest regret is that I didn’t leave the corporate world sooner – but it’s never too late to start, either.”

In September 2020, six months after the first Covid-19 lockdown, Relab pushed its B2B product and in just six weeks it had 800 paying customers, Hou said.

“So that was an indication of ‘hey we’re onto something here – we have product market fit, which is generally one of the hardest things in a startup – and we managed to raise our first round of funding by Christmas 2020’.”

Relab also managed to increase its customer base on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing online traffic after the Auckland floods by producing marketing content so real estate agents could better engage with customers virtually. It launched a Relab webinar and podcast series during lockdowns, when nobody could go to open homes.

“During this time our sales didn’t increase massively but engagement went through the roof – because everyone was at home. That generated customer loyalty, so when the lockdown was over, we had a lot of people signing up to Relab.”

After this year’s flooding in Auckland and the Hawke’s Bay, Relab provided flooding overlays, and added information to its platform on underground surfaces and contours to provide an understanding and awareness of the risks of flooding.

Relab maps view with services, flooding, consents and listings overlays.

“We built this in 48 hours, made it free, and our website traffic increased by 800 percent,” Hou said.

While Relab has quickly grown its customer base, were Hou to start Relab now, he’d make a few changes, in a startup he calls his ‘passion’.

“Sometimes you must keep going without seeing the fruition – the passion and purpose is what drives you. My advice to myself six years ago would be before I even coded the first line of code I`d be talking to people first, as you never know who your end customer might

Hou wants Relab to double its market share in New Zealand, and be the preferred software company for real estate agents.

“Wellington is our plan to expand to, next. One of the things we are also going to do is open up APIs (Application Programme Interfaces) to other startup players in the ecosystem so they don’t have to rebuild a whole database themselves, and they can focus on their customers.”

Last year Hou also spent a month scoping out the US market and plans to branch out to markets in Australia and the United States.

Story by Dave Crampton.

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