It has been whispered by some that Riccardo Iannucci-Dawson is the ‘Elon Musk of PropTech’. Whether or not those people are right, his presence in real estate is great news for housebuilders and estate agents, because his company, Yourkeys, has solved a multi-million-pound pain point that has plagued the sector for decades.
Yourkeys is the sales progression ‘Traccelerator’ for house builders and estate agents which ‘made history’ by achieving exchange of contracts on a repeatable basis in just 7 days.
For the new home developers and housebuilders, it’s a revolution, radically reducing costs, saving time, and ensuring constant connectivity and transparency for all of the central stakeholders involved in the buying process; a process that is rooted in the 1925 Law of Property Act and has remained virtually unchanged in almost 100 years.
Founder and CEO, Riccardo Iannucci-Dawson, founded the company in 2017 based on the belief that commoditising the inefficiencies within the transaction process is far better than commoditising real estate as an asset. Speaking via video from his flat in Catford, he sat down to tell us more.
Riccardo Iannucci-Dawson’s background
Riccardo Iannucci-Dawson was raised in Burton on Trent, completed an architecture degree in Birmingham, and then arrived in London when he joined Gensler, the largest architectural design firm in the world, responsible for global bricks and mortar icons such as Shanghai Towers, Facebook offices, Apple stores, and the GCHQ building in London’s Westminster.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the way we engage with spaces,” Riccardo says. “If you combine the home, the office, and our leisure time, we spend 90% of our lives engaging with architecture.”
This passion made Riccardo a perfect fit for his role as Creative User Experience Designer at Gensler, focusing on the fields of interiors and urban design. A central part of this work is understanding the emotional connection we have with spaces, and how they can be manipulated and controlled through architecture.
“Take Apple as an example. When you step inside one of their stores, you’re not in control. Everything down to the way the tiles have been laid is designed to make you behave in a certain way and experience certain emotions.”
After three years, Riccardo was promoted to Associate, before being headhunted by a housebuilder backed by big Chinese money.
“They wanted me to help create a new regional housebuilder in the UK, forming a new team from scratch in order to help to acquire sites and curate the user experience.
At this point, Riccardo was twenty-five years old.
Exposed major flaws in the process
After eighteen months, Riccardo was sat in a meeting when the idea was presented that the firm should start conducting direct sales rather than going through agents.
“Ignorance is bliss” he says, “and therefore, up went my hand to volunteer to take care of it.”
This was the start of a new journey for Riccardo, a first foray into the world of sales which would go on to give him first-hand experience of the profound flaws within the house buying process. But before you can experience the pains of selling and buying property, you must find eager buyers. As such, the first step of transforming sales was to transform how property is marketed.
“While at Gensler, I had learned a lot from Angela Ahrendts, the former Creative Director at Burberry who was then heading up retail for Apple.
“In this new role, I took a lot of lessons from her, especially when it came to making the property buying process more theatrical and exciting.”
By theatrical, Riccardo is talking about flash mobs at train stations, and interactive pop-up showrooms in historic London locations.
Strange as it may seem, it worked, and as the buyers started rolling it, so it was, that his attention turned to the buying process itself.
“I couldn’t believe how painful and stressful the whole sales process was. It took so long and there were so many people involved, most of which were constantly switching in and out.”
“There are 1.2 million residential transactions every year in the UK, each with a minimum of five key stakeholders, all pulling in different directions, despite the fact that none of them get paid until they all get paid. Ultimately it boiled down to piss poor communication.”
As Riccardo points out, each transaction has at least one broker, one agent, two conveyancers, a surveyor, and a buyer. And it’s a different mix of each for all of the 1.2 million transactions each year.
“If only all of them could align for a common goal,” Riccardo thought. And so, after completing north of 2,000 sales transactions across the Midlands and the South, the idea for Yourkeys was born and Riccardo left his enviable position to enter the perilous world of entrepreneurship.
Before and after for all of the stakeholders
Housebuilders want to sell their developments as quickly and efficiently as possible. But due to working with such a convoluted buying process, they tend to have relatively low expectations as to what ‘possible’ really means.
Yourkeys now propose to have changed what that means entirely. They have done so by taking the housebuilder as their central client and massively reducing their completion time by directly enabling all of their key stakeholders to work faster and smarter.
“In the traditional process, the stakeholders are fragmented because their individual systems are different and disconnected. As such, they cannot communicate and collaborate efficiently. In order to facilitate transactions, they’re relying on letters, emails, spreadsheets and phone calls to share data for their sales progression.
“It all starts with the people who are responsible for gathering information, namely, negotiators and estate agents. But they’re notoriously poor at gathering data, feeding it to the other stakeholders and passing it down the supply chain.
“Even something as simple as an I.D check, can take weeks to complete. This is due to mortgage brokers running I.D checks, then lenders doing the same, then the conveyancers, and so on down the line. We identified that the only thing getting passed from the negotiator was the main reservation agreement. “We recently ran an audit for one of our housebuilder clients and discovered that their buyers were being I.D checked six times during the process.”
“Unless you’ve got a tool that can automate the aggregation of all of the data and then tie the many different systems together so that they’re all updating in unison, you will never make the process move any quicker.”
In creating such a tool, Riccardo believes that Yourkeys directly addresses all of the major sticking points for all of the various stakeholders in the buying process, thus helping housebuilders complete a higher number of sales transactions more quickly.
We can examine exactly how, by looking at each stakeholder individually.
Riccardo stated, “With all stakeholders conveyancers are typically ‘public enemy number one’. Most days they are fielding constant requests such as “What progress is being made with the surveys? Where are we on the searches? Has the mortgage offer been issued? And so on.”
“Unfortunately, most of the time, the conveyancers themselves don’t know the answers because they’re still waiting to receive the information from someone else.”
All in all, Riccardo says that on average, conveyancers spend three weeks gathering all of the information required for completing their own part of the process, and only their own part. Furthermore, each of them are dealing with up to 120 cases at any one time.
“It is therefore an impossible task,” says Riccardo, “constantly having to give updates, produce progression reports, and communicate effectively with the client.”
By using Yourkeys, conveyancers benefit from two vital features. First, much of the data and information they require to complete their part of the process is automatically captured. The fact is, it’s all already out there in the world, buried somewhere in one of stakeholder’s systems somewhere along the buying process. Yourkeys finds, uncovers, and gathers it all.
Second, the sales progression tracker means Yourkeys can provide real-time sales progression updates directly into their dashboard so that they’re always able to keep all required stakeholders up to date in an instant.
These two offerings alone mean that conveyancers can cut down a process which used to take up to three weeks, down to as little as just a few hours.
For mortgage brokers, the traditional process is flawed in a simple yet profoundly affecting way.
“We work with the Mortgage Advice Bureau,” Riccardo says. “They typically employ a team of four people within most of their 600 branches, whose sole job is to contact the different stakeholders to find out what the estimated and achieved dates are for exchange of contracts.
“That’s literally all they do.”
The inefficiencies of this are clear, and, again, Yourkeys addresses this issue by enabling mortgage brokers to easily integrate Yourkeys into their own sales progression platform to receive live updates of each of their cases. All of the information they require is there to be seen.
The lender’s themselves suffer enormous financial losses as a result of the fragmented buying process.
Riccardo says, “The biggest lender in the country, for example, loses around £25 million a year as a direct result of rejected applications.”
“Once applications are made, each one requires a certain amount of due diligence and a valuation. The time and resources spent doing this could be eliminated if they already had the required information ahead of time. Therefore they could automate a digital rejection, whilst providing insight and an explanation of the decision, at almost zero cost.”
The point is, this information is already available: water and drainage issues, lease issues, ground rents and so on. It’s all held within the housebuilder’s systems, but lenders don’t receive it until it has a specific application for a mortgage on a specific plot.
“It currently takes twelve days on average to get an offer from a lender. With the work we’re doing with the finance sector, this could happen almost instantaneously.”
“For surveyors, the biggest problem with the buying process is actually quite a comical one.
“When a surveyor is sent to a site, they request a Disclosure of Incentives form which outlines all the parameters of the deal required to conduct a valuation, and then walk around inspecting stuff.”
“But, very often, many of these forms have been lost, or are uncompleted, or have gone missing presumably hidden in a drawer somewhere.”
“A surprising amount of those valuers state they go out and return without ever having carried out the valuation. So, for many valuers, they believe the whole process is a mess.”
Yourkeys populates and digitises the Disclosure of Incentives form automatically because they have gathered the information from the reservation.
“Our ethos has always been to collect what everyone needs and put the responsibility on the people selling the house to pull all that together. Therefore, we have to provide tools which can aggregate it all in minutes, better serving buyers who are anywhere in the world at any one time.
“This is how you improve the process.”
Conveyancer on vendor’s/seller’s side
Conveyancers on the vendor’s side often spend hundreds of thousands of pounds every year gathering data on their new developments and locking that knowledge into their case management platforms.
“Therefore the trick is to identify and uncover that data that is already there but just in the wrong location. Riccardo stated, “we integrate directly with all the case management systems and as everything is updated – service charges, ground rents, PPC, title information, etc – we push that information into their case management system in real-time.”
“Due to the vast amounts of inefficiency, just being able to push and control data in the correct way, at the right time and ultra-securely, completely flips the industry on its head.”
The buyers – the most important stakeholder of all, certainly for housebuilders – have been made to endure an equally frustrating and fragmented experience as any of the stakeholders.
It is invariably the largest expense of their life, and yet the experience they receive suggests that nobody is remotely bothered about keeping them happy.
While paying fees, signing documents, finding witnesses, completing ID checks, and so on, weeks and months pass by.
“We’ve eliminated all of these buyer frustrations,” Riccardo says. “Once a horrid, analogue chore, we have streamlined it to the max by automating many of the tasks, removing duplicates and disintermediating human beings from the process. Buyers can now track the purchase process in real-time, completing all of their necessary tasks in minutes via the Yourkeys app.”
To illustrate this, one can more closely examine the process of ID checks.
It used to be that the buyer was required to have photos taken at the post office, verified in-person by a trusted associate, and sent off through the post. As already discussed, they would have to do this up to six times.
All in all, for ID checks to be carried out and the results delivered to those who need them, it would take weeks.
Yourkeys make it instantaneous. Let’s repeat that; instantaneous. That’s PropTech progress.
The buyer jots a few pieces of basic information into the app, name, DOB, address, etc, and Yourkeys runs a background check – are they affiliated with any unsavoury political groups? Do they have a criminal past? Does the information they’ve provided match that on the official central database?
Then, to verify that people are who they say they are, the buyer takes a selfie with the app and biometric data is used to confirm their identity.
Once completed, the results are made available to all stakeholders who need them, ensuring that everyone is in the loop, has access to the required data and, therefore, helping provide the buyer with the smoothest possible journey.
How YourKeys works for housebuilders
There are three ways of onboarding with Yourkeys, each suited to different requirements and desires of the housebuilders.
1. Buy Yourkeys as a standalone platform –
This option sees Yourkeys become the de facto sales progression platform used by housebuilders from start to finish. This gives access to all of the platform’s features and tools.
2. Embed the Yourkeys reservation engine and tracker into existing CRM –
Compatible with all of the major CRMs, housebuilders can choose to only use the reservation engine and access it through their current system.
This method sees a ‘Reserve with Yourkeys’ button appear in the CRM which means no-one has to change the way they operate, and still they can track the sales progression and with ease.
3. Progression Tracker API.
It hasn’t been launched yet, but Riccardo is very excited about it; the progression tracker API is perfect for those who don’t want to use the majority of the Yourkeys features, including the reservation engine, but do want to connect their systems with the conveyancing and brokerage ecosystem.
“It’s an API you can embed within your CRM that allows you to send instructions through to the conveyancer and pull-in all of the updates.”
Once onboarded, the fun really begins.
“When you’re ready to reserve a plot,” Riccardo says, “You open up the plot’s workflow and click a button that says, ‘collect ID check from buyer’. All of the required information is then sent to the buyer, the check is carried out and the results distributed through the system.
“This simple button and a completion tick-box, easily tracks what every stakeholder is doing for every sequential step of the buying process, for complete visibility to all parties.”
When each person completes a job, everyone who needs to know is instantly updated and any required documentation is saved within the housebuilder’s workflow. These updates flow both ways – from Yourkeys into the CRM, and from the CRM into Yourkeys.
Results speak for themselves
Yourkeys hit the industry headlines last year by completing exchange of contracts within seven days; a process they are able to repeat again and again.
But outside of a cash sale then that timeline is unrealistic. For the average time to exchange of contracts, Yourkeys reduces the completion time by 45%. It also reduces dedicated sales progression time by over 50%, equating to about 25 hours (per plot) saved doing repetitive admin tasks to complete the transaction.
“We have some very cool plans coming soon to reduce this even further,” Riccardo says.
All in all, when examining their housebuilder clients’ performances in Q1 2020 (using Yourkeys) in comparison to Q1 2019 (before using Yourkeys), sales fall-through rates were found to have fallen by 25%.
“There is a tonne of research that shows that, when you reach the six-week point of the purchase process, fall-through rates increase dramatically. Our ability to help the process reach exchange and completion before this point, is a major reason we’ve been so successful.”
“Speed is an essential part of it, but so too is transparency. When buyers can see exactly what’s going on, the more confidence and trust they have in the process. Improved communication has the same effect. All in all, the chance of them getting cold feet and backing out is greatly reduced.”
Fixing all verticals simultaneously for massive ROI
“The number of verticals involved in buying a property makes it a unique transaction,” Riccardo says. “This makes the process too fragmented. And while any sane entrepreneur would choose to fix only one of them, realistically, the only way to improve the overall process is to fix all of them at once.
It’s taken Riccardo and his team two years of what he calls ‘the three T’s, testing, trialling and thinking time’ to figure out exactly how all of these stakeholders connect on a granular level. As a result, his company now knows more about how housebuilders operate than the housebuilders themselves do, especially when it comes to the ways in which all of their major stakeholders interact and think.
“Out of everybody involved, it’s the housebuilder who is working with the greatest sense of urgency, an urgency not necessarily shared by the other stakeholders. So it’s clear to me that to make the process better for everyone, we, as a software platform, must concentrate our efforts on the housebuilders.” By following this belief, Yourkeys can bring enormous savings to all of the nation’s housebuilders.
Riccardo uses Barratt Homes as an example “If Barratts used nothing other than our sales progression tool, and it saved them 8 of the 50 ‘sales progression’ hours it takes to get a plot to exchange, which is a very conservative estimate, we could save them 18,000 working days per year – That’s pretty substantial.”
It’s often said that, if you wish to turn people’s heads with your innovation, it must be ten times better than the current best option. By creating tools which improve the sales process for all stakeholders, Yourkeys can confidently expect to gain market attention, and they already have with the likes of Hill, London Square, Higgins Homes, Lioncourt and Vistry already utilising the platform to great effect.
“It’s about commoditising the inefficiencies within the process,” Riccardo says, “not commoditising real estate as an asset, and certainly not commoditising the replacement of professionals.
“Yourkeys is about facilitating humans, not replacing them. People will always be the most essential part of the process.”
Yourkeys’ current run rate of clients acquisition suggests they should secure 60 of them by the end of 2020, representing around 15% of the new build market. And then, by the end of 2020, new features will have been launched which will make it an ideal tool for the resale market, too. This market sees 1.1 million annual home transactions and therefore opens up the technology to more than 12,000 Estate Agents working with resale properties.
It is, therefore, not inconceivable that within a few short years, Yourkeys could become the underlying transactional and data layer for the majority of property sales in the UK. When this happens, it will be an overnight success, 95 years in the making.