We caught up with Ben Leonard, founder of first-time-buyer digital platform, FirstHomeCoach.
PR: How did you get into the property industry?
BL: By accident really. My passion is about empowering people with their data and using this to fix broken life journeys....but most people don't understand what that means! I am lucky enough to own a house but remain scarred from my first attempt...the time it took, the lack of control, level of administration and so on. With home ownership also falling sharply it made sense to try and fix this using my view on how to deliver a re-worked approach to data.
PR: In an ever-changing and crowded market, how is FirstHomeCoach different to its competitors?
BL: We look at the outcome over the transaction which sets us apart from most firms. This can be seen in a number of product attributes. Firstly we bring everything together in one place so all you need to know and do is readily accessible from saving up to moving in. Secondly we personalise the experience so you can create a bespoke plan and also use your personal data to ease the admin burden as you move from one organisation to the next. Lastly, we are striving to remove the dead ends from the product; we know we won't be able to help everyone via the platform but do want to ensure we can introduce them to someone who can provide support.
PR: What are the main challenges FTBs are facing in the current climate?
BL: The main challenge for most, particularly in London is getting a deposit together. Helping to save faster, smarter therefore is key. We have all seen a widespread issue around credit worthiness; people rejected for mortgages or unable to build a credit profile to get a mortgage. This is in some ways a bigger problem because so many people are not aware of it or that a third party holds information on them which will determine whether they can borrow.
PR: What do the next 12 months have in store for FirstHomeCoach?
BL: Probably too much to get done! As the name suggests we are building a coach and with a coach comes a companion that holds your hand through the entire process. Each step you need to take our product needs to be there to help you make a smarter decision and make the process faster, cheaper and less stressful. We are breaking these steps down into missions and much of the next 12 months will entail us rolling out new missions and improving those we already have.
Open Banking, Digital Identity and, with these, an ability to pass more consented data to our partners are also a key part of the plan. I would stress though that these are tools we will use to create a better customer experience not product features in their own right. We will use open banking where there is a clear use case and an ability to explain succinctly to our customers why it is needed.
PR: What advice can you give to prospective FTBs?
BL: Get informed and make a plan. There is so much to digest when buying a house over an extended period of time it is easy to miss things and/or approach in the wrong order. It is clear that people need help, otherwise we wouldn’t see almost half of first time buyers getting ill from the process, and education combined with a step-by-step approach can make things seem that bit more manageable. Oh and download FirstHomeCoach! It's free and we can help you get there faster, cheaper and with less stress.
PR: If you could read one ideal property related headline this year, what would it be?
BL: That the amount of social renters seeking to buy in the coming years is rising again. As a society we urgently need to address the fact that home ownership is seen as unobtainable by a large part of the younger population and the fall in social renters seeking to buy is a worrying trend. We of course are building a product that is inclusive, so can help everyone, but making a difference on those least able or who feel least able is a core mission for the firm.