Fintech’s innovations in the real estate market for homebuyers have prompted the emergence of an entire new kind of fintech company, the mortgagetech, that specializes in leveraging technology to improve the homebuying experience for all parties involved.
Less discussed are the ways that technology is helping those involved in the commercial end of the real estate market do their jobs better and more efficiently. To this end, we caught up with Tim Milazzo, co-founder and CEO of StackSource, a company that connects borrowers and lenders seeking commercial real estate financing.
Headquartered in New York City and founded in 2015, StackSource recently made fintech headlines with the appointment of commercial real estate industry veteran Richard Caldwell as EVP – Head of Originations. We talked with Milazzo via email about his company, how it serves the CRE industry, and the importance of blending technical innovation with human experience and talent.
What problem does your technology solve and who does it solve it for?
Tim Milazzo: StackSource simplifies the process of finding the best commercial mortgage for a given property investment by tracking the loan programs of hundreds of active lenders and offering borrowers a transparent experience.
Commercial mortgage brokerage has traditionally been a local, relationship-driven game. If you’re buying a home in 2021, you can know your rate and get pre-approved for a mortgage in minutes. But in commercial real estate, finding the right financing is only unlocked by developing relationships with the right set of lenders based on dozens of variables from the property’s asset type, location, income, and physical characteristics, as well as the borrower’s track record, financial strength, and business plan. We’ve streamlined that process of finding and connecting with suitable lenders to boost the investors’ financial returns with the right debt.
What in your background gave you the confidence to tackle this challenge?
Milazzo: My first exposure to commercial real estate was through family ties. My father was a successful commercial real estate broker in New York City, so I’d hear stories about office building negotiations at the dinner table growing up. While I went to college to study Finance, I interned at a large real estate firm, where I was known as the smart spreadsheet kid that sat in the corner. Honestly, I didn’t come away with a big interest in the industry at that time; my eye was on big tech companies. I went on to work in advertising technology, first with Google and later with Facebook. I came back to commercial real estate because I found an area where online technology could deliver a superior value proposition: helping investors find the best financing for a commercial property investment without the need to track hundreds of lenders’ programs themselves.
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of investing in commercial real estate?
Milazzo: Many old-school brokers are quick to point out that commercial real estate is a “relationship business.” And that’s true. But what’s missed is the fact that it’s also an information business. If you can leverage the correct information, you can scale beyond your local relationships in the capital markets, which is a significant advantage.
You recently launched a new Chrome browser extension to make the discovery process easier. Can you tell us more about this feature?
Milazzo: We’ve been delivering competitive financing quotes to real estate investor clients for a couple of years now. Still, we wanted to go the extra mile in the name of transparency and efficiency. We came up with a tool that draws on our pool of loan quote data to allow real estate investors to apply financing quotes to any commercial property listing across the web and analyze potential investment opportunities. Sourcing acquisition opportunities is a competitive process, and this tool can add speed and accuracy to acquisition analysis. It’s completely free and open, with no obligation to use our financing service.
One interesting aspect of StackSource is how you combine a technology platform with a fleet of experienced industry veterans. How do you see the balance between enabling technologies and “the human touch”?
Milazzo: The commercial mortgage space is not nearly as commoditized as residential mortgages. Even in the most “simple” commercial mortgage lending scenarios, where we can go as far as automating an instant soft quote, these are major financial investments, and borrowers want the guidance of an experienced Capital Advisor from submission to close.
How did COVID-19 impact your business and customers?
Milazzo: We doubled our market share in 2020 as many investors were looking for answers on how to secure the best financing for their real estate investment properties. People were staying home, and our online process is easy to access from anywhere, which was especially attractive. At the same time, funding from many local banks was pulled back in response to the pandemic. We even saw many traditional financing sources get distracted by things like issuing PPP loans, while we kept our focus on the long-term and stayed exclusively focused on commercial real estate.
What can we expect from StackSource over the balance of 2021?
Milazzo: We just raised our first proper fundraising round for the company in Q2, allowing us to push the limits of how efficient the commercial mortgage origination process can become. Think automated quotes on specific qualified properties and integrating additional data sources seamlessly into the investment and financing process.