Remote-Work Boom During Covid-19 Pandemic Draws Real-Estate Startups

Park in San Francisco social distancingDavid Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A group of real-estate startups is aiming to cash in on the remote-work phenomenon.

With many corporate offices closed because of the pandemic, many young professionals have left cities like New York and San Francisco for warmer, cheaper places. A number still plan to return after their offices reopen, leaving them reluctant to buy homes or sign long-term apartment leases.

That situation is creating fresh demand for furnished housing on a short-term basis, a fast-growing niche that many property startups and their venture-capital backers are rushing to fill.

One of them is Landing, which runs a network of furnished apartments across the U.S. When it launched in 2019, the Birmingham, Ala., and San Francisco-based company initially planned to operate in about 30 cities last year. Instead, it expanded to 75, largely because demand grew much faster than expected, said Landing Chief Executive Bill Smith.

“Covid has taken a decade of change that I was thinking was going to happen between now and 2030 and kind of compressed it into a year,” he said.

Legions of remote workers also offer these firms a chance to make up for reduced tourist and corporate business. San Francisco-based Sonder, which rents out furnished apartments by the night, ramped up its marketing of extended stays during the pandemic, according to Chief Executive Francis Davidson. Stays of longer than 14 days now account for about 60% of the company’s business, up from less than a quarter before the pandemic, he said.

Kulveer Taggar, CEO of corporate-housing operator Zeus Living, said his firm experienced a steep drop in demand as companies hit the pause button on employee travel and relocations. But he was able to make up some ground by renting apartments to individuals. People working from home now account for about a quarter of the company’s business, Mr. Taggar said, up from virtually nothing before the pandemic.

Unlike Sonder and Zeus, remote workers were a key part of Landing’s business before the pandemic. Its customers pay an annual membership fee, which gives them the right to rent furnished apartments in any city. The minimum length of stay varies from 30 to 60 days, and the company asks for a month’s notice before a customer moves out.

The company is popular with college-educated young professionals who don’t want to be tied to a single location. Since the start of the pandemic, it has seen a growing number of customers leave New York and San Francisco and move to cities like St. Petersburg, Fla., and Denver, Mr. Smith said.

In November, Landing raised $45 million in venture funding from a group of investors led by Foundry Group and including Greycroft and Maveron, along with $55 million in debt. Mr. Smith said he hopes to expand to 25,000 apartments by the end of this year, up from around 10,000 today.

That growth carries risk if demand from remote workers were to disappear again after the pandemic is over. Still, Chris Moody, a partner at Foundry Group, said the number of furnished apartments available under flexible terms is still so small that he doesn’t worry about a lack of customers.

“Even at the end of 2021, we won’t really have scratched the surface,” he said.

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Guide to Small Business Startup Loans

Man working on a puzzle

It takes money to make money and virtually any small business will require some startup capital to get up and running. While the personal savings of the founders is likely the most common source of startup funding, many startups also employ loans to provide seed capital. New enterprises with no established credit cannot get loans as easily from many sources, but startup loans are available for entrepreneurs who know where to look. Here are some of those places to look, plus ways to supplement loans. For help with loans and any other financial questions you have, consider working with a financial advisor.

Startup Loans: Preparing to Borrow

Before starting to look for a startup loan, the primary question for the entrepreneur is how much he or she needs to borrow. The size of the loan is a key factor in determining where funding is likely to be available. Some sources will only fund very small loans, for example, while others will only deal with borrowers seeking sizable amounts.

The founder’s personal credit history is another important element. Because the business has no previous history of operating, paying bills or borrowing money and paying it back, the likelihood of any loan is likely to hinge on the founder’s credit score. The founder is also likely to have to personally guarantee the loan, so the amount and size of personal financial resources is another factor.

Business documents that may be needed to apply include a business plan, financial projections and a description of how funds will be used.

Startup Loan Types

There are a number of ways to obtain startup loans. Here are several of them.

Personal loan – A personal loan is another way to get seed money. Using a personal loan to fund a startup could be a good idea for business owners who have good credit and don’t require a lot of money to bootstrap their operation. However, personal loans tend to carry a higher interest rate than business loans and the amount banks are willing to lend may not be enough.

Loans from friends and family – This can work for an entrepreneur who has access to well-heeled relatives and comrades. Friends and family are not likely to be as demanding as other sources of loans when it comes to credit scores. However, if a startup is unable to repay a loan from a friend or relative, the result can be a damaged relationship as well as a failed business.

Venture capitalists – While these people typically take equity positions in startups their investments are often structured as loans. Venture capitalists can provide more money than friends and family. However, they often take an active hand in managing their investments so founders may need to be ready to surrender considerable control.

SBA loan applicationGovernment-backed startup loans – These are available through programs administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Small Business Administration (SBA) as well as, to a lesser degree, the Interior, Agriculture and Treasury departments. Borrowers apply for these through affiliated private financial institutions, including banks. LenderMatch is a tool startup businesses use to find these affiliated private financial institutions. Government-guaranteed loans charge lower interest rates and are easier to qualify for than non-guaranteed bank loans.

Bank loans – These are the most popular form of business funding, and they offer attractive interest rates and bankers don’t try to take control as venture investors might. However, banks are reluctant to lend to new businesses without a track record. Using a bank to finance a startup generally means taking out a personal loan, which means the owner will need a good personal credit score and be ready to put up collateral to secure approval.

Credit cards – Using credit cards to fund a new business is easy, quick and requires little paperwork. However, interest rates and penalties are high and the amount of money that can be raised is limited.

Self-funding – Rather than simply putting money into the business that he or she owns, the founder can structure the cash infusion as a loan that the business will pay back. One potential benefit of this is that interest paid to the owner for the loan can be deducted from future profits, reducing the business’s tax burden.

Alternatives to Startup Loans

Crowdfunding – This lets entrepreneurs use social media to reach large numbers of private individuals, borrowing small amounts from each to reach the critical mass required to get a new business up and running. As with friends and family, credit history isn’t likely to be a big concern. However, crowdfunding works best with businesses that have a new product that requires funding to complete design and begin production.

Nonprofits and community organizations – These groups engage in microfinancing. Getting a grant from one of these groups an option for a startup that requires a small amount, from a few hundred to a few tens of thousands of dollars. If you need more, one of the other channels is likely to be a better bet.

The Bottom Line

Green plant growing out of a jar of coinsStartup businesses seeking financing have a number of options for getting a loan. While it is often difficult for a brand-new company to get a conventional business bank loan, friends and family, venture investors, government-backed loan programs, crowdfunding, microloans and credit cards may provide solutions. The size of the loan amount and the personal credit history and financial assets of the founder are likely to be important in determining which financing channel is most appropriate.

Tips on Funding a Startup

  • If you are searching for a way to fund a business startup, consider working with an experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • One way to minimize the challenge of getting startup funding is to take a “lean startup” approach. That approach could be especially helpful to baby boomers, who are “aging out” of their careers and living longer than earlier generations but still need (or want) an income. Learn how many of them are turning their retirement into business opportunities.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Andrii Yalanskyi, ©iStock.com/teekid, ©iStock.com/Thithawat_s

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