Local Tech Founder Wants to Bring Real Estate Investment to Everyday People
Startups like Robinhood and Tradestation have become big – and sometimes controversial – players in the financial world by offering commission-free stock trading that is accessible to just about anyone willing to download an app.
Calvin Cooper, cofounder and CEO of the Columbus-based startup Rhove, thinks that the same kind of thing should be happening in real estate.
“Financial populism is happening in other markets – like crypto and public equities – and those are a lot less relatable to the average person than real estate,” he says. “People understand the value of owning real estate…we just need to lower the barrier to entry.”
His company has been focused on that goal for the last two years, starting with a rewards program for renters at the Gravity development in Franklinton that eventually was expanded to other properties. Then, last summer, Gravity residents were offered an ownership stake in the building through a program Rhove called Rentership.
(Brett Kaufman, the founder and CEO of Gravity developer Kaufman Development, is a cofounder of Rhove).
Cooper describes that program as the proof of concept for the company’s latest initiative – Rhove Invest, an app that allows users to browse through and select projects to invest in around the country, with none of the account minimums or income requirements that are the norm in real estate investment (an income of more than $200,000 a year or a net worth of over a million dollars is required to be certified as an “accredited investor“).
The app can be downloaded now, but users won’t be able to actually make investments until the official launch, which Cooper says is on track to happen before the end of the year. Once the platform goes live, investors can choose between what promises to be a pretty wide range of projects – currently listed on the app, for instance, are several major new apartment complexes in Colorado, a co-living project in South Carolina, and the Third Way Cafe in Columbus.
Cooper’s background is in finance and venture capital, but he insists that it was his experience as a renter that most influenced his path with Rhove.
“I wanted this product for myself, to own a piece of the building I lived in,” he says. “Just because I was a renter, that didn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to take part in the value created in our cities.”
“Until now, people have had to watch cranes go up all across our cities and can’t participate in the value…real estate ownership is getting further out of reach, [and] millennials have zero dollars in net real estate wealth,” he adds. “Just walk around Downtown, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know where money’s being made, it just takes a millionaire.”
Cooper is bullish on the Columbus economy and its potential for growth, sharing that he thinks the region will actually exceed the widely-cited estimate from the Insight2050 initiative and end up adding more than a million people before 2050.
“What that means for real estate prices is, they increase every time there’s economic growth in a city. I’m a firm believer that the housing crisis that follows economic growth is a self-inflicted wound; we need to be embracing the YIMBY ethos,” he says, referring to the “Yes in My Backyard” movement, which pushes for more housing everywhere, but especially in existing neighborhoods. “More housing for more people – we should not artificially restrict ourselves from solving the housing crisis because people are afraid of change.”
Cooper thinks that the new Rhove app can help build the YIMBY coalition, by giving neighborhood residents who aren’t homeowners a direct stake in local projects. He also thinks that it can help with what he acknowledges are valid concerns about equity, both by bringing more people into what is now an exclusive world, and by spreading around the benefits when the price of real estate increases in urban neighborhoods.
It remains to be seen how much of an impact the new platform will have, and if the reality of crowd-sourced real estate investing will live up to the lofty rhetoric. Cooper, though, says interest in the platform – from both real estate developers and potential investors – has been strong, and he does not back down from making bold claims about how it will disrupt the real estate industry, both in Columbus and all over the country.
“The missing component of the YIMBY movement is ownership,” he says. “Imagine if YIMBYs succeed and meet the demand, and we have multifamily and single family housing at every price point to meet everybody’s needs; you’d still have a scenario where most people don’t own anything, and we can solve that problem.”
For more information, visit rhove.com.