Build to rent revenue generation partner Houzen has made a name for itself by curating premium tenants up to five times faster than any other player in the market. The company blends its bespoke algorithm with Big Data in order to lease out entire blocks, where hundreds of homes can come on stream at once.
Central to Houzen’s success is its use of rental experts such as Carmel Gray. Carmel left behind the safety and security of a role with a corporate lettings agency in order to start her own boutique business, CC Gray Estates.
Recently awarded ‘Power Agent’ status by Houzen as a result of her outstanding performance, Carmel is delivering just the kind of tenants that the Build to Rent sector needs – those who are seeking amenities and convenience and are prepared to pay to get what they want.
Saurabh Saxena, the ex-banker and private equity strategist who founded Houzen back in 2015, recently caught up with Carmel to discuss what it is that gives her the edge.
What is your lettings background?
I have worked in the property industry since 2003 and for several corporate agencies over the years. The longest I worked with one corporate company was with Barnard Marcus from 2009 to 2013.
When did you decide to go it alone and open your own business, and what prompted you to do so?
I initially opened a business with my friend Laura, after years of talking about doing it together. Our goal was to establish a lettings agency that treats clients like people, rather than numbers. It took us several years to build up the courage – and the finances – to do so, then in 2013 we finally took the plunge. Four years later, I decided to venture solo, though Laura and I still collaborate on certain projects. Throughout all of it, I was determined to create a legacy where renters could receive a decent service that was tailored to their needs. So that’s what I did!
I understand you work from home. How do you find not being in the traditional lettings office environment?
I personally prefer working from home, although you must be disciplined in order to do so successfully! Everything is done online these days, so a physical office is just pointless. I can log into my system anywhere in the world and manage the business just as effectively as I can from home. Not having an office also cuts costs, meaning that my clients can benefit from lower fees while still receiving exceptional service. I do also feel that setting up things like a virtual office address that you can get from websites like www.yourvirtualofficelondon.co.uk can help to create an official setting for your business, so clients know whereabouts you are based in the world, without using your home address.
What was your biggest challenge when starting your business?
Not having the big brand name behind me was a real challenge as it was harder to get people to trust in a small, new company and give me the opportunity to sell or rent out their homes. However, once they found out more about the service, they couldn’t say no!
And what has been your biggest achievement to date?
Running my own online hub alone. It’s a fantastic feeling to see it succeeding.
How did you find out about Houzen?
I found out about Houzen through my previous company – Taylor Gray Estates – and started working with them a little under five years ago.
How has Houzen helped you and your business?
Houzen provides a huge array of stock to rent and sell all over London, so I have plenty of quality properties that will meet the needs of those using my service. The fact that the Houzen team are always on hand if I have any queries is also fantastic.
As a successful female entrepreneur, what advice would you give other women looking to start their own business?
Sometimes you just need to take that jump! If you really believe in something and have enough knowledge of that product or service, you can achieve anything. There is NEVER a right time to do anything and we can always find a ‘valid’ excuse as to why we can’t do something, but if you really want something, just try. That way, you will never have any regrets. If it works, you’re laughing and if it doesn’t, you’ve no doubt learned some valuable lessons for your next venture.
I started my company with only £5,000 – enough for a camera, laptop and diary. I’d just purchased my own home, so had made a massive financial commitment. Purchasing your first home is a memory that stays with you forever. It still feels like just yesterday that I was looking over some of the different properties on real estate websites like getagent.co.uk so the fact that I can now work from the comfort of my own living room is almost unbelievable. It was sink or swim, but I found a way not to make excuses. And I’m so glad that I did!
What challenges do you feel still exist for women running businesses?
I think women who run businesses sometimes still aren’t taken as seriously as we should be. However, you just have to rise above it and not take things personally when that happens. It can be hard, but that’s life!
What’s next for you? Any new challenges or adventures you are embarking upon?
I am currently growing the sales side of the estate agency, where I will also be offering off-market deals/sourcing. I have also decided that I will be working more closely with corporate clients, as I’m concentrating on taking a large volume of units and then letting them out one at a time.