LIV Indy: A matchmaker for landlords and tenants.
Written by Neil Charles
Two guys walk into a coffee shop. It sounds like the setup for an old-school joke, and in a way it is, because the two guys in question, aspiring real estate professional Matt Speer and magazine proprietor Jeff Cohen, probably passed each other a dozen times at Hubbard & Cravens at 49th & Penn before finally making a connection.
Cohen recalls: “One morning I was sitting across from this young guy who was talking intently to this other young guy, and they were discussing a real estate deal. Naturally my ears perked up.” A former real estate professional himself, Cohen a few years ago sold his interest in a Sotheby’s International Realty franchise to take on the full-time demands of a luxury lifestyle publication, Sophisticated Living, but had not entirely closed his mind to his former vocation.
“We were discussing this transaction, and were having a bit of trouble with it,” says Speer. “Then this very nice fellow leans in and says something like, ‘excuse me guys, I hate to interrupt, but I’ve done this same deal at least 200 times. Would you allow me to give you some advice?’”
The respect is mutual. “I’d never met anyone like Matt. His drive, his work ethic; he’s brilliant. Our rent-by-the-room model, that was Matt’s idea. That, and LIV being tech-first, has enabled us to garner significant market share in a relatively short time,” adds Cohen.
And so was born an unlikely partnership between Speer, a 20-something recent graduate of Butler University’s Lacy School of Business, and the somewhat older and more worldly Cohen. Having studied entrepreneurship and finance, a program that included extensive hands-on practical projects, Speer found himself gravitating toward real estate after a short stint in the digital world at Bluebridge Digital (later Emplify). Initially purchasing homes to remodel and flip, the young businessman found he could maximize his investments renting single rooms to graduate students and urban professionals. By the time he and Cohen met at the coffee shop, Speer had acquired half a dozen homes, and was beginning to feel stretched a bit thin.
They partnered up on an informal basis at first, with Speer running day-to-day operations and Cohen providing long-term strategic planning. For a few months the original business model worked very well, but after having acquired 16 houses, the two realized they were facing a supply and demand issue. With a waiting list of more than 300 tenants, they could not buy houses fast enough.
The first tweak to their model occurred in August 2017, when the decision was made to no longer purchase homes for their own portfolio, but instead to solicit landlords with properties to rent. Thus was born LIV Indy, an online matchmaking service that brings together renters with suitable homes based on specific needs, location and budgets. “We’re a digital company first, a real estate company second,” stresses Speer.
With the help of his fiancée, Kendal Leffler, who joined LIV last year as marketing director, they took the operation digital, and business began to grow at a furious pace. Leffler perhaps best describes LIV: “We’re a tech brokerage. LIV is modern real estate simplified, and we take great pride in wearing all the hats for our clients.”
With an average sales price of $175,000, LIV’s rental properties are affordable for young professionals looking to take on a lease for perhaps the first time. Dissatisfied with the status quo and the disorganized nature of the rental market, Speer and Cohen offer a streamlined service as well as a high level of accommodations, finishes and maintenance. “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” says Cohen, quoting a favorite aphorism of a luxury hotel chain and former employer. “Before we’ll take on a home, it needs to meet certain standards. Our goal is to provide complete satisfaction for all involved.”
To reach a broader base of both tenants and landlords, LIV’s next step was to hire three tech specialists: a website developer and coder, and two digital marketing experts. With just a “landing page” initially, they attracted several more landlords, who came with quite an appetite for more homes once they realized the extent to which Speer and Cohen were able, through geo-targeted digital marketing, to maximize returns on their investments. A quick visit to justlivindy.com illustrates how different LIV’s model is from, say, throwing an ad on Craigslist and waiting for the hoards to respond. So sophisticated is LIV’s technology, with its soon to be added LIV LĪV video application (pronounced Liv Live), prospective tenants will be able to view entire homes without having to leave their seats; and complete applications, submit to a background checks, sign leases and make payments—all from their devices.
Once fully vested in a high-tech platform, with its inevitable appeal to millennial professionals, the train truly began to gather momentum. Not ones to be caught napping, the partners earlier this year set about the acquisition of a Broad Ripple-based brokerage firm, Indy Home Shop, with a view to fully integrating the acquisition process, as well as, most importantly, establishing a conduit for investors to purchase precisely the right kinds of properties and bring them up to LIV’s requisite standards.
For the past decade, brothers J.J. and Zac Canull have run Indy Home Shop as a highly successful Broad Ripple-based real estate brokerage catering largely to the Broad Ripple, Midtown, Meridian Kessler and Butler-Tarkington submarkets. Building on the success of their father, Jim, who was a well-known and respected property manager and broker with more than 200 executive-level rentals, the brothers believe the integration into LIV will revolutionize the brokerage market in Indianapolis and surrounding areas.
“We were going to bring on agents over time. Instead, we hit the gas and acquired a brokerage,” adds Cohen. “We’re up to 15 people, and J.J. and Zac are adding more agents as we speak. We’re thrilled to have them on the LIV team.” Effective immediately, Indy Home Shop will be rebranded and known as Liv Indy.
The Canull brothers and LIV’s agents will continue to offer full-service brokerage to their many existing clients, and see LIV’s digital assets and specialized marketing team giving them a tech leg up. The common goal is to create customers for life, as tenants become first-time buyers, then move-up buyers and so on. Cohen describes it as one LIV hand feeding the other: “When J.J., Zac and our team sell a house that’s a good fit for LIV, it’s usually with the caveat the buyer (investor) sign with LIV to lease the asset. That’s win-win-win.”
With a vertically integrated program now up and running, LIV is actively seeking new investors, both, as Speer says “sophisticated” and “unsophisticated;” the latter being the type of casual landlord who has an extra house on their hands that they hope will bring them ancillary income, the former being the type who owns multiple properties and is in the business of being a landlord. “LIV takes the guesswork out of being a landlord,” says Cohen. “And the stress, too. We provide top-notch customer service, the difference being we serve both landlord and tenant.”
So enthusiastic has been the response to LIV Indy, even in its infancy, that Speer and Cohen have embarked upon a soon-to-be-announced venture, a spin-off of sorts, aimed at a different sector of the housing market. For more information, we suggest a visit to twoguysbuyindy.com.
Two guys walk into a coffee shop…