As real estate prices continue to skyrocket across the Lower Mainland, a Vancouver-based startup is trying to redefine the way people look at homeownership.
IMBY – which stands for In My Backyard – started up last December, after its founders became increasingly frustrated with buying into the region’s real estate market.
It was hearing about a past employee’s struggle that made CEO Mike Stephenson think up a different approach.
The employee wanted to invest in a development, but the minimum buy-in, $50,000, was much too pricey. “Distrust and frustrations are running really high,” he said.
He eventually developed IMBY, a company that allows people to invest as much, or as little, as they want in real estate in exchange for shares of a property. Then, they reap the returns.
“Real estate has been proven to be the best asset class to invest in, but so many people are locked out,” said Stephenson. “And of the people who are in… they’re so stressed out because they’re not in a prudent amount. They’re beyond all in.”
IMBY allows its users to buy in starting at $1.
“Our median is $2,000, but the majority of people are testing the waters with $100 to $500,” said Stephenson. “Where we’re getting most of our requests is the underserved millennial group.”
Millennials want IMBY to take $100 or $200 from their bank account and help them invest it in real estate, Stephenson said.
He calls it a low-risk way to become a landlord.
“If there is a month where a mortgage payment needs to be made and there’s no funds… let’s say it’s $1,000. We would just put on the platform an additional 1,000 shares as $1 per share,” said Stephenson.
“When a tenant doesn’t pay, that’s a very stressful month. But when you’re sharing this property with 100, 200, 300 other owners and your portion is $1, there’s no stress.”
The company has more than 1,000 users on the platform so far, and while many of those are in Metro Vancouver’s saturated market, buyers are out as far as Vernon and Victoria.
With stricter mortgage rules in place this year, Stephenson said some users are coming to IMBY as a creative way to afford a home when the bank won’t help.
He pointed to the case of a single mom with a $1-million profit from selling her Richmond townhouse.
“She wants to live on the east side of Vancouver. She’s found a house that’s $1.5-million,” Stephenson said. “But the bank will not finance the remaining $500,000.”
She turns to IMBY, puts in her $1 million, and shareholders put in the other $500,000, he said.
“She’s then going to move into this house and pay $3,000 a month in rent,” said Stephenson. “Since she owns two-thirds of this house, she gets $2,000 back a month.”
When the house is someday rezoned or renovated both she and the shareholders benefit from the hike in value.
Though Stephenson said he’s buoyed by the success stories so far, he doesn’t think his company will solve the housing crisis.
“We feel like this is a way to make it fairer,” he said. “It’s a stab at it.”