Bellevue’s CoBuy seeks to make home ownership a reality for Millennials

Despite older generations fretting about the fate of Millennials, most people in that much-maligned age cohort (born between about 1982 and 2004) still want to purchase homes.

It’s just hard to afford them.

Bellevue-based business CoBuy hopes to help these prospective homebuyers out.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer Matt Holmes thought up the company when he returned from working in London. He was making decent money, but buying a home at a responsible rate was out of the picture for him.

“In London, a lot of people had joined forces to buy property, pooling their resources,” he said. “It’s an issue of supply and demand, and there is a disconnect between property prices and real wages. Property prices have skyrocketed not just in urban areas but in suburban ones too. People still need a place to live.”

Stagnant wages and increasing housing costs make purchasing a home a more difficult prospect for many working young people.

“Millennials are the largest generation the U.S. has ever seen, and 40 percent of them live at home,” he said. “The vast, vast majority do want to buy a home, but a lot of people aren’t necessarily sure how to go about it.”

CoBuy hopes to take some of the variables out of that equation. It’s “leveraging the sharing economy,” Holmes said. A group of people pool resources to buy a home, and CoBuy helps sort out how to get joint-financing, how the ownership structure will work and what will happen if situations change.

“The first thing is that finances are really key,” he said. “Dealing with a lender is a big hurdle. We sit down and help the buyers understand the inputs. How much do they intend to own? Once we get some of those inputs taken care of, we know what properties to target.”

CoBuy works through realtors and home sellers, who pay a fee to use the sharing site to reach the end users. Holmes said that by doing this, realtors can find likely buyers and buyers can find properties in their price range and search area.

“People start backwards,” he said. “They find properties they want and then see if they can get financing. It leads to some major inefficiencies.”

Holmes (and his co-founder, mother and certified real estate agent Pam Hughes) founded CoBuy about a year ago, but have been ironing out details and have done no marketing. But now, the company has reached out to Bellevue politicians and has 15 groups in the process of buying a home right now.

The founders aren’t trying to pass CoBuy off as a one-size-fits-all option. Holmes said there are people who have the knowledge and capital to purchase a house by themselves, but for those first-time buyers who might need a little help, streamlining the process through CoBuy was a smart step.

He said Bellevue city government was open to CoBuy, which was a breath of fresh air compared to a certain neighbor across the lake.

“We believe in home ownership. Here in the Pacific Northwest I love what Bellevue is doing,” he said. “Seattle, on the other hand, has one of the most regressive home buying attitudes anywhere.”

With just three employees (Holmes, Hughes and Business Development Manager Connor Freeman) CoBuy is hoping to expand its services quickly to elsewhere in Washington. Holmes said the largest hurdle the company has experienced so far was the lack of risk-taking investors — something other dynamic markets like the Bay Area and New York do not want for. CoBuy operates out of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce.

But even with that issue, the company hopes it can create a higher return of investment for real estate agents while not passing costs onto the prospective home buyer. After all, Millennials need a little help with buying homes.

“Buying a house is a core tenet of the American Dream,” Holmes said. “I found it challenging to buy a home. I’ve lived a very privileged life and I was having these struggles. Someone less fortunate likely has even more trouble.”

CoBuy is poised to add seven employees before it undertakes a marketing plan.

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