The biggest name in PropTech joins COHO to turn his hand to HMOs
News broke recently of Gary Barker, often called “the biggest name in PropTech”, taking up a role in COHO, the “All-in-one” HMO management software which after launch this year has grown quickly to become the leading tool for both HMOs and mixed portfolios. With many large agents often avoiding HMOs, why now does Gary, who during his 15 year tenure as CEO of Reapit saw it become the industry's most-used management software, turn his attention to shared living? We reached out to Gary to give his thoughts on the subject…
How did you get the reputation as the biggest name in PropTech?
Well, firstly I think the saying the biggest name in PropTech is pushing it a bit. The reality is I've had the pleasure and privilege of working with some of the very best names in the industry who have set me on the right path.
I spent over 10 years with Countrywide with people such as Grenville Turner, Bob Scarff, John Hards, Ben Taylor and Lee Wainwright to name but a few. I have always tried to listen to Agents/Customers and learn - if you understand their challenges it's far easier to develop the right technology.
After Countrywide I was then very lucky to have spent 15 years with Reapit and I still miss the team and customers. We focussed a lot on innovation, building the largest single property CRM/ERP, and with “Foundations” I left a legacy enabling innovators and entrepreneurs to connect and deploy technology easily, cheaply and without challenges or blockers - a real first for PropTech.
Why have you turned your sights to HMOs? Is there a future for them?
Over the last 20 years I have watched housing become less affordable and the barriers to home ownership increasing. I also recently read in the Economist recently how the number of young adults in the UK was about to take a sharp rise. Let's not forget as well the physical and mental challenges we have all encountered over the last 18 months with Covid-19 and the impact of loneliness.
As a consequence, I believe that the HMO sector will see significant growth without any stigma attached to it. I honestly believe that it won't just be young adults that look to take advantage of shared living, but also those mid-age homeowners with rooms that they may want to offer out, for financial and social benefits.
What are the challenges ahead for agents?
The agents currently operate in a real estate bubble that is controlled and managed by external and economic factors. Most real estate agents operate a sales and lettings business so that they can obtain regular income from their rental portfolio AND then variable income from the sales market. However, what is also well known is that the private rented sector and HMOs accounts for over 50% of the total rental market, which agents don't currently operate in, but a space where I feel that they can and will operate with access to the right technology.
What attracted you to COHO?
I love technology and I am a solutions person at heart. When Vann Vogstad first demonstrated the COHO platform to me whilst I was at Reapit my head started working through how I could get it plugged into Foundations and begin to offer agents a way to take advantage of a new part of the lettings sector and to increase their revenues and services.
Subsequently I spoke at length to Vann about the opportunity for COHO to bridge the gap between agents and HMO's/social living and his passion and enthusiasm was infectious and I was immediately hooked on what has and will be achieved.
How can COHO be the solution agents need?
In order for the real estate agents to be able to offer a social living solution, they need to have the right technology to easily onboard a landlord/owner - promote the space, self-onboard the tenant and importantly collect the rent/fees/costs in an automated way, which is not something that most of the standard letting systems can currently do.
As a consequence I think COHO will be able to open up HMO's to the wider agency community, especially as agents often sell properties to HMO investors, but don't always have the post sale services to support the investor, but now with COHO I expect that to change.
What is your vision for the business?
Firstly, to stop HMO's being a bad or taboo word, and to enable investors, managers and housemates to reinvent it as something that is a positive stepping stone to home living, and one that is affordable and an economic necessity.
Also to make sure that shared living investments are more accessible, automated, customer friendly and easy to operate.
Lastly, help to ensure that agents, investors, tenants are well protected when it comes to compliance, financial aspects and managing social living.
Any final words?
I am extremely excited to be joining Vann and his hugely talented team at a time when agents, landlords, consumers NEED a solution and a way to improve social living.
Vann Vogstad, CEO of COHO commented “The team is thrilled to be working alongside Gary. His vast knowledge and insights will allow us to continue the break-neck pace of development and growth we've achieved so far, as we push to make shared living a widely recognised enjoyable way to live.”