Property firm Apartmint is using virtual reality in its daily operations. Owner and manager Craig Watkins shares his thoughts on competition and the market.
A brief description of the business
Apartmint is a one-stop apartment consultancy service to suit the varying needs of buyers, particularly the 'empty nester' category. We specialise in off-plan apartments in high-end developments in central Auckland.
As well as apartments, the other branches of this operation offer buyer advice on townhouse developments, house and land packages and modular housing solutions. My most recent enterprise is Developmint, a service for property developers where we source development land.
What inspired the business?
When I purchased an off-plan apartment I was surprised by the lack of good information available to make a buying decision.
I wanted to make it easier for purchasers by offering market information and a large range of apartment options.
Tell me about your background, when did you get into property?
I actually got into property a week before my 19th birthday - I made my first property purchase. My father was a builder and I grew up helping my parents build and renovate properties.
I studied property valuation then majored in economics at Lincoln University and have been attached to property for most of my life. I previously worked in marketing for apartment developers since the 1990's then spent three years in the US where I worked in construction and gained experience in different types of construction. After the global financial crisis in 2008 I established a house and land business. Apartmint is a similar concept but we build vertically.
When did the business begin and how big is your team?
We commenced this business model under the brand Key2Metro in September 2014, then rebranded to Mint Real Estate last year in December. There are eight of us in the team at the moment. Most of the team live and own apartments so they understand the market and really understand what they are selling.
You use virtual reality within operations, for what purposes and why?
VR is a headset that buyers can use to understand the interior of the apartment without being in a dedicated show room. Most people can not easily interpret property plans and an A4 render only provides part of the full picture.
The virtual reality experience is amazing as buyers can easily understand the volume of rooms, colour palettes, natural light, views and fixtures and fittings.
How is Apartmint different to other real estate companies?
We work at both ends of the initial development and apartment pre-sales which compliment each other.
We work with developers to source the best apartment development sites then advise current buyer preferences to ensure the product developed suits the market. This is based on the numerous apartment projects we are selling concurrently.
We also have access to a large range of apartment developments which are available to view in one central location. This then allows us to sit down with our buyers and discuss their requirements rather than just trying to shoehorn them into the one development that most agencies have to sell.
What's the most challenging thing about running the business?
It's been smooth sailing, but cash flow is difficult because we only get paid success fees when our apartments reach a sales threshold, and when they settle. In saying that, it is a great business to be in because we're out there helping people make decisions. The more information we can give, the more confident people can be.
The virtual reality experience is amazing, as buyers can easily understand the volume of rooms, colour palette, natural light, views and fixtures and fittings.
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What are your thoughts on the state of the property market?
The property market is taking a breather at the moment and it's understandable with strong growth over the last two and a half years. With the imbalance of higher demand and supply, I expect demand to increase and prices to increase again. I liken it to the stockmarket where people take a profit and that pushes the stockmarket down and then prices go up again, and that's just the nature of our market.
What are you currently working on?
Apartmint recently sold down the 30 development sites in Vinegar Lane in Grey Lynn, Auckland. We have since sold in a number of apartment buildings within Vinegar Lane. Long term, Apartmint will continue to be a one-stop shop for off-plan Auckland apartments.
The sister company Developmint has recently licensed the distribution of a pre-fabricated modular housing system where we can construct single dwellings, townhouses and apartments with speed and cost savings to provide an innovative solution to increase housing supply whilst lowering build costs.
What advice do you give to others thinking of starting a business?
[My industry] is a very dynamic space with many different markets within markets, so it's hard to give any specific advice. But, just take the plunge and do it.