Our story: the background behind Property Detective
Over the past few weeks, quite a few people have been asking us why we set Property Detective up and the motivation behind it, so in the spirit of transparency I thought it might be useful to share our story…how we got to where we are and why we feel we’re needed in a busy, stressful, home-moving process!
How did Property Detective begin?
The story actually begins in May 2010, when I bought a property with my (then) fiancee (now my wife). It was the first house I’d ever bought, having rented privately for some time, failing to save enough on my own to take the first steps onto the housing ladder.
Within a few months of moving in, we learnt that all wasn’t as expected with the property, however: there were things that hadn’t been disclosed, problems that appeared to have been concealed…and what followed was basically two years of back-and-forth legal letters, meetings with solicitors, mediation and much more, placing the relationship with my wife under huge strain at a time when we should be enjoying our new home. One particularly sad memory is sitting down for mediation on the day between our wedding day and flying out for our honeymoon.
To cut a long story short, we failed to have the issues addressed and instead had to live with the problems, which fortunately have now been rectified and which no longer impact our enjoyment of the property. The early legal proceedings never materialised, for long and technical reasons not worth going into here.
It was the act of conducting that legal due diligence however (my background is in law, I should add) that made me realise that in spite of all the issues we found, we had done nothing ‘wrong’ in our property research. We commissioned all the surveys, searches and checks that a prudent home-mover should…we asked the neighbours, visited the property, did our own due-diligence…and yet all the problems we suffered were because of things that fell between the cracks.
Data will help home movers buy property
In realising this, I figured that data was a solution to the home-mover’s ‘blind spot'; and that if I could pull together and play with data in an intelligent way, I could help other people spot problems with a property that otherwise disappeared into a due diligence black hole.
With that in mind, Property Detective was founded in October 2011 and started life as a very vague idea: could data be crunched in a really smart way to answer the questions a home-mover should be asking about their new home, before they even realising they need asking? Or – to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld – can we create a product that tells movers about the ‘unknown unknowns’ as much as the ‘known knowns’?
And that, is the raison d’être of Property Detective. We all know to do basic checks, like looking at schools, transport links, council tax etc…but there are so many things that can destroy your enjoyment of the local area, many of which you just wouldn’t foresee at the time. Things like…
- The fact that the local train line is the most unreliable in the UK and 1 out of 3 trains are either cancelled or delayed each day, making you late for the work
- You can’t get a takeaway delivered to the property, even though you live in a densely-populated urban area
- The nearest gym to the property is 21 minutes’ drive away, despite being a popular commuter town
All of the above statements are – or were – true for where I live. And I wish I had known them before I’d moved in. Sure, I very much doubt that the lack of availability of the local Chinese takeaway would have swayed my decision to move there, but it would have been nice to know. All of these things add up.
So, at the very end of 2011 I teamed up with two friends to develop the first ever prototype for the site, which we then took to a major European startup scheme called Seedcamp. The prototype was incredibly basic (pictured below) – it told you whether you might be affected by church bells depending on where you live – and only worked for Exeter – but it was good enough to secure us a place and very nearly secure us Seedcamp investment. Alas, it was not to be.
What it did do was convince us that we had a great business idea that satisfied a genuinely consumer need, which then gave us the conviction to secure funding from a very ambitious group of angel investors in Spring 2012. Their funding enabled us to build the very first ‘proper’ version of Property Detective, which we put live in the morning of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Then we took two weeks off!
From there, things snowballed. More funding came in allowing us to expand the product further, leading to a major rebranding and relaunch in March 2013. More datasets were added, new functionality was developed…until our most recent product expansion in April of this year, when we moved out of ‘beta’ and started properly telling the world about our product.
Over the past few years, so much has happened. We’ve delivered almost 25,000 property reports to customers and given people much more confidence in their home purchases as a result. Revenue has grown and grown…and the team has expanded, allowing us to bring the very best people into the company. We’re now rolling out a huge national scheme, in which estate agents, solicitors, surveyors and other property professionals are snapping up exclusivity in their local areas as resellers of our reports to their end customers. The future is incredibly bright.
In the past quarter, we’ve been given accreditation by the Council of Property Search Organisations (COPSO), secured compliance with the Property Codes Compliance Board (PCCB), fallen under the regulation of the Property Ombudsman and much more. We’re about to start announcing some partnerships with some of the biggest property firms in the country. And we’re also now firmly on the radar of the industry, appearing at and sponsoring some of the biggest events and awards within estate agency and real estate.
When I look back at everything we’ve achieved over the past few years though, it’s the little things of which I’m proudest. Although we’ve built what I would call the market-leading residential property product, the greatest achievement is sitting around a table at our Christmas party, reflecting on the journey that’s brought such a dedicated group of hard-working people together, all joined harmoniously in a team that enjoys each others company. In my opinion, that’s a far harder task and a much bigger success than simply building a great product.
So, here’s to the next 12 months. I’m hoping that in a year’s time I’ll be writing another blog post celebrating everything that’s been achieved in that time, though I suspect it might be much longer than this one. The thought of it is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Will you be a part of it? I hope so.