Two Cape Town-based entrepreneurs, Ashley James and Crispin Inglis, are hoping to be the ones to change the traditional real estate model in South Africa.
James and Inglis co-founded PropertyFox, an online property seller that’s hoping to disrupt the market in two ways: removing agents from the selling and buying process, and offering a fixed rate or commission lower than the industry standard of 5%-7%.
“We’ve created a solution for South Africans to benefit more for less when selling their residential homes. We have leveraged the power of the internet with tech to allow people to save money when selling their home,” says James.
The market is ready for an affordable model, he says, “buying or selling a home in South Africa is expensive even without estate agent fees, so the low commission model really seems to be resonating.”
Their model means the technology startup charges 1,5% in commission or a flat fee of R25 000 and promises to give “customers back their control by providing a one-week free trial and full transparency throughout the process.” Potential buyers are screened, and owners host their own viewings and a professional law firm processes all sales.
Other value adds include professional photos, free valuations and extensive online marketing of listed homes.
Since launching in April this year, PropertyFox has sold 26 properties, with sales totaling R45 000 000, says James. PropertyFox estimates it has already saved sellers about R2 500 000.
SME South Africa speaks to the co-founders about educating the market, when they first knew they could succeed and avoiding the rat race.
“Market disruption is always tough, particularly in an industry that has remained largely unchanged for many years”
On the motivation behind PropertyFox
“I’ve always been entrepreneurial and on the search for opportunities with an endless vision running parallel. I really enjoy challenging the status quo” – James
“South Africans have been longing for an alternative solution to the traditional way of buying and selling property. For years it’s been unjustifiably expensive with ordinary service delivery being the norm. Our motivation was to address these major issues and to provide a simple, affordable and transparent process available for anyone and everyone” – Inglis
Propertyfox co-founders Crispin Inglis (left) and Ashley James.
On Funding and Financing
“I started my first business during my varsity days, which allowed me to finance my next venture. Shareholders contributed in their personal capacities to prove the success of the model before sourcing additional funding” – James
“We started the business by funding it ourselves along with our two shareholders. The idea being to build a successful business that we could get right and then grow through additional investment further down the line” – Inglis
How easy or difficult is the process of getting customers/clients?
“Signing people onto the model is easy, the challenge lies in convincing people that it’s not too good to be true. ;)” – Ashley James
“It’s always difficult to start a new business and to build credibility amongst consumers who have never heard of you. The demand, however, has been so big for a solution that we are offering that we have not struggled as much as we thought we would. To date we have barely spent any money on traditional marketing and we can only just keep up with the rising demand” – Inglis
On getting the word out
“Using an amazing PR firm, marketing in the digital space as well as some well kept secrets ;). We haven’t done traditional just yet, but very excited for what’s to come” – James
“We are very digitally focused for now. Word of mouth is playing a big role in our growth. In the near future we will change this and you will be seeing PropertyFox much more in traditional media” – Inglis
On South Africa’s property sector
“Very exciting, especially as we get to engage with all walks of life throughout South Africa” – James
“Market disruption is always tough, particularly in an industry that has remained largely unchanged for many years. As tough as it’s been, achieving success has been an enjoyable adventure. We have been humbled by the level of support and encouragement we have received form South Africans, especially from those that are part of the traditional network of real estate agents and professionals currently operating in South Africa” – Inglis
“Being a startup founder, you get surprised everyday for at least a year”
“We are very unique, our customer service is world class and we are forever innovating to make the consumers happy” – Ashley James
“Fundamentally we are different in that we don’t have any physical real estate agents working for us. This is just one of the ways we have been able to transfer savings to our clients. Instead we have designed a centralized model that supports sellers and buyers during the entire process, 24/7, remotely. Our model allows each individual to focus and specialize in their field, whether it be photography, valuations, marketing etc making sure we consistently offer the highest level of service” – Inglis
“Educating people on our business model, and that it’s not to good to be true” – James
“Helping South Africans realise that what we are offering isn’t too good to be true!” – Inglis
On the biggest surprise about being a startup founder
“Being a startup founder, you get surprised everyday for at least a year as you face new challenges and reach new goals every day” – James
“How much one can achieve in a short space of time” – Inglis
On signs of success
“I’ve always had the mindset to succeed, regardless the position I’m in, regardless of the stress levels, I’ve always had a strong, clear vision. Always believing in myself” – James
“When we sold our first home!” – Inglis
What do you attribute your success to?
“Hard work and belief in what we are trying to achieve” – Inglis
On SA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem
“In secondary and tertiary education, there are many entrepreneurs that get roped into the rat race, when in fact they would be a lot more successful and happier if they had been given early stages of inspiration to become entrepreneurs” – James
“SA’s entrepreneurial culture is still not where it should be. We should be celebrating success stories more regularly to inspire this important segment of our country. There are so many yet we hear of so few” – Inglis
On the vision for the company in the next 2 years
“To secure a big market share in the South African property market, as well as potentially be South Africa’s first residential sales company to list on the Johannesburg stock exchange” – Ashley James
“We aim to be the fastest growing and one of South Africa’s largest real estate agencies” – Crispin Inglis
On advice for other entrepreneurs
“Be persistent, as perseverance will always be rewarded in business. Always be open-minded and draw in as much knowledge from those around you, don’t be shy to ask questions, especially from those who have tons of experience. Always surround yourself with people that have positive energy, don’t let anyone draw you down from your vision. Never judge a book by its cover” – James
“Less thinking and more doing. You learn along the way” – Inglis
On what they wish they had known when they first got started
“That South Africa is more than ready for an innovative solution to selling their homes, as everyone deserves more for their beautiful home” – James
“How ready South Africa was for us. We would’ve started sooner” – Inglis