How Houser’s property platform & Jbit’s smart homes are modernizing an outdated sector
Not long ago, the term ‘tech’ still evoked a vague perception of what ‘the future’ could hold, what tomorrow might look like. Now, it is everywhere: fintech, medtech, regtech, biotech…
In these mobile, ‘insta’ times, individuals rarely separate from their digital tools. The process of finding, buying, selling, decorating and inhabiting a house is no exception, earning real estate its own trendy abbreviation: proptech.
Reminiscent of fintech’s overhaul of banking, new real-estate solutions are bringing change to a traditional, regulated sector. lux future lab startups Houser and Jbit are part of that shift.
Both began as hobbies that transitioned to B2C services before blossoming into B2B models capable of transforming real estate from the inside.
Building Homes that Sync to You
For Founder Bernard Ndolo, Jbit began as a weekend gig converting the houses of acquaintances into smart homes. Nine years later, he is working hand-in-hand with property developers to make smart homes mainstream, starting with an 89-apartment project for construction company CDCL.
“It’s magical because now it’s designed during construction, so it’s integrated and seamless,” Ndolo said.
“With software updates your house is always getting better.”
In 2014, when Jbit relaunched with a B2B model, the main challenge lay in cutting costs down to a tenth of the usual €70,000 price tag. To successfully scale, the elaborate system was reduced to only its best elements.
“The beauty is that it’s an open platform. The primary part controls the main functions — security, lighting, heating — and twenty years from now it will work just as well, like a classic electrical system. The secondary part supports emerging platforms — Google, Amazon, Apple,” he explained. “This way it’s stable and reliable, but doesn’t restrict the client to old technologies. With software updates your house is always getting better.”
According to Jbit, smart-home capabilities will be the new standard for future generations, as critical and common as plumbing. Flipping a light switch will become a reflex of the past as software developers join architects and engineers during the building process.
The adage goes that if Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, “a faster horse,” a predicament to which Jbit can relate and one reason why it built a prototype apartment in Kirchberg.
Even if it’s cool, we always stand back and ask how it will change how we live. Is it simple to use?
It provides a glimpse into the near future: Lights and window shades operate automatically based on the occupants’ behavioral patterns and movements. Security cameras and robotic vacuums come out to work when the house is empty. Inhabitants can lower blinds or preheat ovens remotely by phone. Geotagging ensures that the house is prepped for their arrival and that the podcast playing in the car continues when the listener enters the apartment.
A common misconception, Ndolo noted, is that smart means complex rather than simple: “Traditionally, solutions were designed to be complicated. There’s the temptation to go overboard, but we have learned to pull back. Even if it’s cool, we always stand back and ask how it will change how we live. Is it simple to use?”
Lifting the Veil on Property Value
While Bernard spent his weekends developing smart-home software, Matti Heikkila used his spare time to collect real-estate data.
As a prospective buyer following the housing market, he had grown frustrated by the lack of available information, so he began gathering the data himself.
Realizing that his dilemma was not unique, Heikkila, an IT security professional, teamed up with friend and product developer Kevin Colgan to create Houser, Luxembourg’s only objective source of real-estate information.
“I thought real estate agents would hate us, but it was completely opposite.”
Unlike existing resources that provide outdated government figures or commune averages, Houser lets users view the life cycles of specific properties and compare them to other similar properties, with data going back to 2013.
In 2015, one year after launching the company, Houser was accepted into the Fit4Start accelerator program and contacted by the Luxembourg Chamber of Real Estate Agents.
“I thought real estate agents would hate us, but it was completely opposite. We offer a powerful tool for them to show their customers. It gives clients a compelling reason to pick the agent who offers a realistic price over the one who promises to sell the house at a ridiculously inflated price just to get a signature,” said Colgan.
After graduating from Fit4Start, it was clear that Houser’s future was B2B. The duo pivoted, launching HouserLOOP to serve real-estate professionals and developing an internal platform for banks.
“We provide banks our market overview and trend analysis. We can show them any property over the last four years that’s similar to the one they’re about to make a loan decision on,” Heikkila said.
Due to regulatory requirements, banks will soon have to conduct thorough evaluations before approving mortgages and provide records that justify past decisions.
“Real estate is traded like a financial asset but doesn’t have the same transparency.”
“We’ve created a model that can determine the value of residential properties in Luxembourg using real-time market information and a public/private research partnership. If a customer wants a mortgage, the bank can use HouserLOOP to check if it’s going to be a good asset,” Heikkila explained. “This can speed up loan decisions and help banks with their due diligence.”
Houser’s platforms target specific banking needs and also provide a semiautomated system for filling in gaps in the internal real-estate data banks accumulate over the years.
Importantly, its tools are entirely data driven, free from human interference or ulterior motives. Whether the prices are high or low makes no difference, as long as they are accurate.
“Real estate is traded like a financial asset but doesn’t have the same transparency. We provide real-time market intelligence,” said Colgan. “This allows banks to make loan decisions and assess their portfolios against current market conditions.”
Without startups like Houser and Jbit pushing the envelope, the real-estate sector could maintain business as usual. Luckily, their tech solutions continue to propel Luxembourg forward toward ’the future.’