Robin Rathore is a man you can shoot the breeze with. When I arrive at Hoxton Hotel after a feisty luncheon at Bone Daddies in Mayfair, he is sat in what suddenly looks like the most comfortable chair in the room. I am almost surprised not to see a member of staff lighting his cigar for him and passing him his slippers. Robin is at home in his surroundings.
Which is good, because Robin is in the business of selling homes, and with Bamboo Auctions, he feels he may have created the “ebay for properties”. Personally I have always been confused about home buying. If you are in a chain, selling your home is surely twice as risky, as there are two parties that could renege on the deal. First time buyers only need to worry about one. Why all the fuss about the property ladder? Keep your money in your moleskins!
Anyway, I digress. Here’s the professional view. If you are buying a home, and let’s be honest, we all want to, acquisitive, aspirational buggers that we all are, and you would rather not be gazumped, especially in a market where home values are increasing month on month, then the long wait between putting an offer in and exchanging probably keeps you awake at night.
Most people would blame estate agents for this long wait. I actually like estate agents: the guy’s at Harvey Residential, who sold me my first flat, were cool and straight up. Nevertheless, like most people, I had to wait between putting my offer in and exchanging. I’ll be one of the first to say that it’s not really their fault.
Crucially for estate agents, only they can list properties directly onto Bamboo Auctions for auction sale. The idea is to work with estate agents rather than compete with them.
Like my buddies at Harvey Residential, Robin is cool and straight up too. He is the lead singer in a band and a big rugby fan. He is also a corporate lawyer, so what he has been able to do is create a property auction website that looks after the legal side of selling a home, and improves the way auctions are traditionally run. After all, relying on minutes of fraught gesticulation is no way to sell your home.
Do it online and through your estate agent, you can set the parameters; 7, 14, or 30 day auction periods, minimum sale price, no maximum (duh!). Exchange occurs immediately at the end of the auction period, with the full 10% deposit payable immediately by the winning bidder. There are 3 key benefits to Robin’s product: estate agents can earn their commission faster; the platform provides value added services, to help estate agents expand their business, which includes a centralised provision of legal documents (paid for initially by the seller before the buyer reimburses the costs), and the risk of being gazumped is removed for buyers.
A number of small independent agencies have already signed up and Robin hopes to bring more on board once he has finalised the platform and UI, which he showed me, and which looks impressive and works intuitively.
Estate Agents like his offering not just because they receive commission faster, or because it streamlines the process from offer to exchange, but perhaps above all because an auction injects a sense of urgency and excitement into the proceedings.
In my (admittedly limited) experience, the first house that a buyer targets almost invariably falls through. This is probably because there is simply too much to think about first time around. Sourcing the legal docs, finding a mortgage provider, dealing with the seller’s whimsy, all take their toll, and the dream property slips through your fingers.
But more often than not it turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Second time around you probably already know the mortgage will be approved, understand the process better, and your second choice may be a more practical, level headed one that your first. The whole experience is more relaxed.
But what a site like Bamboo Auctions can do is to take out a lot of the stress, by formalising the process and allowing you to complete a deal without having to chase documentation, lawyers, sellers etc. It is all there in one place from the outset.
The provision of legal docs by the seller, approved by Bamboo’s legal team, is a USP that brings a lot of comfort. Nothing will give you a more complete understanding of the property you are buying. So if you find somewhere you like, you can be ready to pounce.
A 7, 14 or 30 day limit also discourages timewasters, but on the other hand it encourages attentive service from the estate agent who can see the finishing line ahead and is going to make him or herself available for viewings, queries, calls and meetings and not simply pull a disappearing act because he thinks the serious money is elsewhere.
Downsides? Certainly, for a first time buyer, the sharp end of an auction process could be a tricky obstacle to negotiate and there is a risk of overpaying if you lead with your heart instead of your head. Professional property investors will understand the format more readily and are perhaps best placed to benefit if the property under the hammer represents a quick capital gain or buy to let investment.
Robin graduated from Queens University, Belfast, and worked as a corporate lawyer for many years before he decided to go fulltime with Bamboo auctions. He has 2 colleagues on board as non-exec directors and has made it to the last 40 of the Start-up Bootcamp in Amsterdam, winner of the coveted best Start-up Accelerator award 2014 in the European Tech Start-up Awards.
A similar business in the US, auction.com, has a database of some 17,000 properties and revenues of $27bn. A good thing Bamboo’s platform is scalable, then.
Perceptive, able and laid back, he is keen to inject a sense of fun into his work, and has no shortage of ideas that will help develop the product. In fact he has no shortage of ideas about start-up PR either. The “ping pong pitch” anyone? Round the table sounds far more energetic than round table.
From a legal and property perspective the Bamboo Auctions business has already begun to run itself, an important sign that a business is on the right road. But who else is signing up for the ride? Watch this space.
For more information on Bamboo Auctions’ launch, register at www.bambooauctions.com.