game changer

Tech company uses machine learning to buy homes in Houston

This Houston company has the key to a more exact searching process when it comes to finding a new home to buy. Courtesy photo

For most consumers, the home buying process includes a very specific online search. People specify their neighborhood requirements, the number of bedrooms or bathrooms, backyard size, and more — yet still, the search results in a staggering amount of homes. It's way more than anyone can reasonably look at.

That's where Martin Kay and Entera Technology, the company he founded and is CEO of, come in. Kay, a 20-year veteran of the tech sector, who's bought multiple homes as rental properties, realized the way to solve the problem of that kind of search engine overload was through machine learning. He now works with some of the largest home-buying companies in the world, helping them find properties that match the specifications they have to attract the clients they want.

"All residential real estate is a consumer product," he says. "Ultimately, the people who are going to live in that home care most about, is it a nice home with a big backyard neat good schools, is it safe? The [home buying] companies are trying to figure out what do the end consumers really care about so we can give them exactly what they need?"

To do so, Entera collects data — lots and lots of it. Kay and his team have taught their software programs what a chef's kitchen is, for example. They did so by compiling tens of thousands of photos of kitchens and telling the software, "This is a kitchen." Then, they taught it to recognize what makes a chef's kitchen — a larger size, more than one sink, high-end appliances. They used the same techniques in identifying things like millennial-friendly neighborhoods or neighborhoods that were up-and-coming on the real estate scene. They draw from listings available with the Houston Association of Realtors and beyond, a vast array of tens of thousands of homes.

Officially launched in 2017, Entera blends its data collection and analysis with on-the-ground service. After Entera's proprietary software collects what it thinks home-buying companies want, members of Entera's service team go out to look at the homes.

"We're a little bit like Netflix," he says. "They go out and get content from everyone, and they begin to watch your behavior. So, Netflix has 2,000 profiles and you probably fit five or six of those. We have almost 100 profiles and what we do is say, we're going to understand what you want, watch your behavior and instead of giving you 40,000 properties on a big map, we actually match you based on your preferences, to the five or six houses that are best for you."

While Entera has been working with larger home-buying companies — like firms that buy tens of thousands of homes every year — Kay says they have begun working with smaller entities, and he figures within the next few years, Entera will be using the same data collection and machine learning to work with individual home buyers.

Based in Houston, Entera has operations in New York and San Francisco as well. The company has 17 full-time employees, along with approximately 100 contractors in its markets. And while Kay understand a human touch is needed in business, he loves that he can use a data model to present unbiased opinions to his clients.

"[Real estate] actually affects people's lives meaningfully," Kay says. "Real estate data — where you live, what your neighborhood is, how you make that choice — …this data matters to people in a way they can tangibly touch and understand and feel. We can help people make what are big, complex choices that are often highly ambiguous. I love it because it matters. You can measure how it matters immediately."

Data-driven tech

Courtesy of Entera

Entera focuses on collecting data and analysis and pairs it with on-the-ground service. After Entera's proprietary software collects what it thinks home-buying companies want, members of Entera's service team go out to look at the homes.

Here's what all you should consider before settling into a coworking spot. Leanne Hope/Cresa

If you're in the market for office space you've undoubtedly heard a lot about one of the fastest growing trends in commercial real estate – coworking. What started as a simple idea to help freelancers and startups find workspace is now beginning to disrupt the traditional office market. More than 1,000 spaces opened in the US in 2018 alone, according to Coworking Resources.

But, as this trend continues to take off, tenants now face a wide range of potential options. So many, in fact, it can seem overwhelming weeding through them. Where does one even start? How do you find the right space? Here are five things you should keep in mind when conducting your search.

Location

We've all heard the old adage that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location. Although it's become a well-worn cliché, it's overused because it's usually spot on. That doesn't mean, however, that you should limit yourself to the space just down the street. There are other factors you need to consider.

If you're looking to build a team, understanding where the labor force is can be vital for sustaining growth through recruiting. Some companies place value being in proximity to their client base to make visiting and hosting prospects easier. Others may want better access to area amenities such as gyms, restaurants and shopping that could help create a better work/life balance.

Fit

Coworking isn't a one-size-fits-all-solution. Each space has its own energy and community. Some are even specialized to tailor to unique niches. There are spaces for women only and the health conscious. There are others specifically designed for different industries, including tech firms, legal practices and even cannabis growers. Be sure to ask questions when touring to get a better sense of what each space is like.

Stylistically, coworking is also growing up. Bold colors and patterns are fun, but they may not be right for everyone. Your surroundings say a lot about your company's culture, and if you're hosting clients regularly you may opt for a more sophisticated space with higher end finishes. Understanding your business goals and needs should help you prioritize what's important.

Perks

Many perks, including access to coffee bars, high-speed WIFI, and conference rooms, have seemingly become commoditized by coworking operators. To help differentiate themselves, these operators are beginning to take a hospitality like approach.

Tenants today can find everything from on-site childcare and locker rooms to rentable private event space and organized networking events. Some providers also offer discounts to use preferred vendors for business services like payroll and technical support. Maximizing these added perks can really make or break the decision on a specific space.

Flexibility

One of the major advantages of coworking space compared to a traditional office lease is increased flexibility. Committing to space for a shorter period of time is great, but coworking space creates other ways to help tenants remain flexible.

If you're forecasting significant future growth, you may want to select a space with enough room to accommodate that need to avoid any interruption in business operations caused by relocation. Worried distractions could be overwhelming or that privacy could become an issue? There are plenty of options that offer a wide range of workspace solutions, from private desks to secured suites for teams.

Finding a coworking operator with multiple locations could provide a workspace solution for team members who are scattered across the country. This is also a great option if you find yourself traveling between the same locations repeatedly.

Price

Comparing pricing between locations isn't always apples to apples. Workspace providers may or may not include many things in their advertised pricing. Pay attention to the fine print as some coworking companies charge for things like parking, phone service, conference room time, printing/copying, admin services and coffee. Factor in any of these charges when comparing your options as sometimes a space may appear less expensive than it really is.

With more coworking options than ever before, find one that works for you. Don't settle. No two spaces are the same, but keep in mind that your surroundings say a lot about who you are. Pick one that conveys the message you want to send to employees and clients.

Maximizing perks could help offset some cost, but make sure you understand what you're being charged. If you do a little homework then you should be able to focus on what really matters most – your business.

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Sue Rogers is principal of Transaction Management Cresa in Houston.