Bulkestate is a 100% home-grown Latvian technology company which has developed a unique solution for facilitating real estate sales. It has successfully tested its platform in Latvia and is now looking for expansion in other Baltic and EU countries.
How it started
Bulkestate founders were actively working on real estate development projects and brokering real estate deals and noted that many attractive properties did not sell due to low liquidity for large ticket sales. Many owners of residential buildings are willing to sell the building in one transaction to avoid the hassle of separate apartments. As an average deal carries a 2-5 million euro price tag (price level in the Baltic states), sellers are struggling to sell as there is a small number of buyers with this level of free capital and they usually want significant discounts.
There are significant segments of unsatisfied buyers who are looking for apartments at attractive prices in attractive neighbourhoods, with good infrastructure, and high-quality common areas even if they will need to make a subsequent investment in refurbishing the apartments themselves. These buyers often cannot be reached by the traditional sales channels because sellers who own entire buildings want to sell them in one transaction. This means that the price tag for the building is in the millions and not accessible to the ordinary buyer. There are also developers, who are interested in selling a batch of apartments in their projects to test the market appetite and facilitate demand for the remaining units. But they are afraid to deteriorate the market perception of the right price level of a particular property and fail to reach the full revenue potential for their project.
Igors Puntuss, one of the Bulkestate founders, said: “we saw that decisions made by the owners of apartment buildings with respect to the sales process often lead to one of two directions:
(1) those, who are ready to work with dynamic, bargain-hunting buyers sell their properties at optimum value. In the case of the owners of buildings, the price will be much higher compared to a transaction where it is sold to an investor who will take most of the profit from the subsequent sale of individual apartments; (2) those who wait for the buyer for the entire building often fail to sell at all or, in the end, are forced to sell at a much lower price than initially requested as the property is deteriorating and its maintenance is increasingly more costly. For developers delays in the sales process and failure to demonstrate market demand for their product may often lead to growing pressure from the investors and lenders and/or decreasing number of options to finance the completion of the project.”
Observing this market deficiency for some time, the founders decided to invest in developing the Bulkestate platform and it started operations at the end of 2016. It was not an easy start as marketplaces need to attract both sides – buyers and sellers – and it does not work with a lack of demand from either of these sides. Sellers were sceptical of this concept and took significant time to persuade first clients to consider placing their property on the Bulkestate platform. Another common big hurdle was the need to make a significant investment in the refurbishment of the building to make it more attractive for buyers, which sellers were not ready or capable of financing.
The big breakthrough was achieved by the successful completion of the sales process for an apartment building in the Riga centre. This was a complicated transaction involving many stakeholders, distressed bank debt, and significant construction work for the building to be suitable for selling. Its owners were seeking buyers but could not find ones that would help to resolve their financial liabilities. Bulkestate facilitated the sale of apartments and delivery of apartments to the buyers after the completion of construction work. Our solution was the only way to match the interests of all stakeholders and avoid another failed development project and another crumbling building in the city centre.
Now Bulkestate aims to facilitate 3-4 group buying transactions per year with an average transaction volume of 20-30 million euros. We have built a service which helps to connect the interests of the building owners with the demand from apartment buyers. We help to develop offers where apartment price usually is significantly below market level (as the price for the entire building is lower than for separate apartments) thus facilitating fast take-up. Our online offers are supported by ground presence via sales representatives and real estate agents enabling physical visits to the buildings or apartment portfolios on offer. Deals are closed when all offered apartments have been reserved by buyers and security deposits have been received. If a small number of apartments remain unsold, Bulkestate buys them and then re-sells at market prices.
Where required, Bulkestate arranges necessary renovation works in the building to ensure that its quality meets the buyer demand – usually this is funded by buyer security deposits or a Bulkestate loan and does not require investment from the seller. Our service has actually been a good development for Riga city as we help to rejuvenate and give new life to residential buildings which often are not well maintained as owners do not have interest or capability.
Bulkestate is building a reputation as a platform known for good quality apartments at attractive prices and this allows growing the number of regular users. At the moment we have achieved 11 thousand registered users. This volume helps to build a platform effect – Bulkestate becomes the place to sell apartment buildings fast and at good prices while buyers will look forward to upcoming bargains. None of the real estate agencies alone will be able to build sufficient deal flow to compete with the diversity and volume of Bulkestate offerings.
But we do not see ourselves as competing against real estate agents. On the contrary, we believe that there are strong synergies between our services – we help real estate agencies to accelerate the closing of their deals and usually all our projects involve real estate agencies to facilitate the closing of our campaign. And we are seeing growing recognition of the value of our service among Latvian real estate agents.
Actually, Bulkestate has been built on a collaboration spirit from the start as we are operating as a small team and a number of key competencies are provided by our strategic partners, such as Cube, which provides the majority of our IT development and maintenance needs and Vilson, a financial consulting firm, which helps us during the structuring of real estate deals as well as helps with financial management challenges.
Now we are working on an expansion of geography for our services across the Baltic states as well as Finland, Germany, and Spain. We believe that the market environment in these countries is favourable to achieve a similar win-win relationship between the sellers, buyers, and real estate agents we have achieved in Latvia.
Our initial market research has indicated significant interest in our services and we are actively building the necessary infrastructure for the execution of real estate transactions – arrangements with notaries, availability of custodian account services with banks, the adaption of legal documentation to the local specifics and many other things. But we believe in the benefits we will be able to bring to the European cities where Bulkestate will be present.