Until recently, when people entered non-traditional home-buying partnerships, they had to seek costly attorney services or navigate the system on their own. Bellevue-based startup CoBuy aims to make things easier.

With low inventory, rising prices, and recent hikes in interest rates, prospective homeowners across the United States are finding it challenging to buy a house. In fact, a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau noted that homeownership is the lowest it’s been since 1965.

Matt Holmes, co-founder and CEO of Bellevue-based CoBuy, is one of those working to bring those numbers back up.

CoBoyFoundersIn 2015, Holmes, who has a background in investment banking and financial investments, had been living and working in the United Kingdom for about 14 years when he decided to move back home to the U.S. and start a business with his mom, Eastside real estate agent Pam Hughes.

The mother-son duo wanted to help make it easier for people to buy homes and identified co-buying — a way for a pair of siblings, a small group of friends, or even an aunt and nephew to jointly purchase a home — as a solution.

“We noticed there was a massive opportunity in terms of the fact that people are increasingly pooling resources to buy homes, and yet there’s no easy way to do it,” said Holmes.

So Holmes and Hughes founded CoBuy, a startup focused on helping small groups of people navigate their way through the confusing world of co-buying.

“People have been doing what we call co-buying for some time,” said Holmes. “But most of them aren’t calling it co-buying. And many of them are not aware of the nuances of the process, nor are they aware of the risks involved.”

With CoBuy, a group of people can jointly purchase a home, fully aware of the viability of their partnership and the risks ahead. Holmes calls these different partnerships permutations, and he said despite the permutation, the end goal is the same: homeownership.

“The goal is to provide a framework, because regardless of the permutation, what (these people) are trying to achieve is very similar,” said Holmes.

Holmes said the first step of the process is identifying with whom you want to buy. Since CoBuy isn’t a matchmaking service, people need to form their co-buy groups first. Once a group has been established, that’s where CoBuy comes in. Holmes said the next step is creating an account on CoBuy’s website. Then, CoBuy will prompt the users through a series of questions that solicit key information, like personal and financial details, as well as information about the co-buy group itself.

“Once you fire off this information to CoBuy, it helps us do what we call ‘streaming and screening,’” said Holmes. “We’re kind of predetermining your eligibility and viability as a group, and then we’re able to assess what type of co-buy (group) you are and plug you in accordingly with a real estate agent who is CoBuy-certified, meaning that we have vetted them and they have experience in co-buy transactions.”

Since launching CoBuy’s pilot program earlier last spring, Holmes said his team realized that co-buying benefits more than just lower-wage-earning millennials struggling to break into the market — it benefits investors, as well.

Issaquah resident Kathryn Stueckle is no stranger to investment properties, but she said CoBuy has opened up new doors for her and her family.

“My interest in real estate these days is as an investor. I am the parent of a son who has disabilities, and my husband and I need to provide for his well-being,” said Stueckle. “Real estate has been a good investment for our family.”

Having invested in real estate in the past, Stueckle is familiar with the process. “I’ve done some flipping, some buy and holds, and I’ve purchased a place where I hope that our son may one day live with supervision and others his age who need care,” she said. “The opportunity to use CoBuy’s site allows me to be more efficient and enlist the help of professionals when needed to navigate through this complex process. Every transaction is unique, and CoBuy’s platform puts all the resources I may need together in a neat package.”

Given her experience, Stueckle said she may be in a better position than others to appreciate how CoBuy’s online platform streamlines the process of jointly purchasing a home.

After a successful first year with its pilot program, CoBuy now is accepting clients. Currently, CoBuy is free to use, but Holmes said eventually there will be a TBD user fee. Regardless of the fee, Holmes said, CoBuy is a good value.

“Homeownership has a statistical correlation with financial stability and wealth creation, and co-buying kind of seems like a natural solution in developing a system to really help people pool resources and access homeownership,” said Holmes. “For me, the goal is to help people access homeownership. If we are able to provide a few people with an avenue to better their station, then I think that’s amazing.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of “425 Business.”

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