No one in the real estate business wants to be the one to say it, but here is a highly technical fact about real estate wholesalers:
For the uninitiated, real estate wholesalers are the wheeler-dealers of the development game—the ones bombarding your mailbox with postcards offering to buy your home “in cash!” For homeowners (often vulnerable, often uninformed) who take the bait, wholesalers buy the homes, but typically at lowball prices—then quickly turn around and gouge developers…and effectively drive up real estate prices at all levels in whatever market they’re operating.
Stacey Mosley, who The Citizen first wrote about in 2016 when she’d just launched FixList—the first iteration of her company, now called Stepwise Real Estate Analytics—is on a mission to arm those involved with any real estate development transaction with the information they need to make the best deal.
“We’re trying to even the playing field by having information available in an unbiased way,” Mosley explains. The company name change came from thinking beyond blighted spaces, the prevalence of which had originally motivated Mosley to transition from her role as a data scientist in the Nutter administration’s open data team to launching FixList in the first place.
While the target audience has broadened, Mosley’s visionary commitment to making data accessible, and using it to empower others, has remained constant. “We’re seeing in this digital age that real estate still has not necessarily picked up the tactics of using information. And I think there are so many people that don’t really even know what’s out there to help them make informed decisions,” Mosley says. “There’s much more that can be done when you have the numbers in front of you to understand your position in a broader marketplace.”
At trystepwise.com—which in March will be launching its newest valuation models—users will be able to enter the street address of a property of interest, and instantly find out not just property value or price per square foot for it and the property around it, but the physical condition, tax balances, ownership, construction activity, violations, permits, and post-renovation value for the property at hand and surrounding ones as well. Info and charts are colorful, easy-to-use, and dynamic—meaning you can easily shift and expand your search—thanks to Stepwise’s proprietary algorithms.
Sure, other companies have similar approaches: HouseCanary, for example, also generates valuation models but, as Mosley points out, it and others like it shine much more in the suburbs. “They’re less granular,” she says—they focus on a zip code or a neighborhood, as opposed to Stepwise’s block-by-block specificity. And sites like Reonomy, she says, are focused on commercial assets, where “the dollars are bigger but the volume is much less.”
“We’re seeing in this digital age that real estate still has not necessarily picked up the tactics of using information. And I think there are so many people that don’t really even know what’s out there to help them make informed decisions,” Mosley says.
To be very clear, Stepwise’s services don’t just minimize the risks associated with real estate wholesalers (and, to be fair, the conversation around wholesalers is nuanced). Stepwise is a tool for anyone in the development game—from individuals to brokers and lenders. “We are committed to helping those folks quickly find and evaluate opportunities in the market,” Mosley explains.
Unlike with FixList, Mosley does not talk about Stepwise in terms of tackling blight in Philly, something she set out to do when she left city government three years ago. But by disseminating credible market info, Stepwise helps potential buyers lift the market—which has the effect of reducing blight in neighborhoods, indirectly or head-on.
Mosley says it’s first-time real estate investors who have found Stepwise the most valuable, particularly when they are looking at houses and other property in emerging Philly markets, like West Philadelphia. The tools have helped them make decisions, inform other stakeholders—whether parents or partners—and given them the confidence to go ahead with an otherwise daunting deal.
Mosley got her start down this path at the City’s Department of License and Inspections, where she first began to understand that she had access to information that could make redevelopment less haphazard for people. Later, she worked for Mayor Nutter’s open data team, before leaving in the early days of Mayor Kenney’s tenure and starting FixList, a blend of her two city government experiences.
“It was born out of wanting to take the knowledge that I had about the data and what was happening in the marketplace, and creating tools that could help make the most efficient use of capital in revitalizing our cities,” she says.
Stepwise’s services don’t just minimize the risks associated with real estate wholesalers (and, to be fair, the conversation around wholesalers is nuanced). Stepwise is a tool for anyone in the development game—from individuals to brokers and lenders.
Stepwise’s data is updated nightly, and available on a subscription basis—a “starter” plan is $40 per month, the “premium” one is $500 per month, and a custom “Enterprise” package costs more—or for a $25 fee for single reports. (Like many early-stage startups, Stepwise is generating revenue but is not yet profitable.) Mosley says the custom reports typically appeal to larger clients who are interested in doing a “a whole market study before they land on a particular asset.” While their reports are not certified appraisals, for loans under $250,000, lenders can choose to accept them in lieu of an appraisal, which can add weeks to a transaction.
The Stepwise team is small but mighty: Since 2016, it has grown to include four full-time employees (all former City of Philadelphia staffers). Stepwise is currently in operation here and in Baltimore and D.C.; Boston is next. “We’re really focusing on secondary and tertiary markets up front, where we can get in, build relationships and have a more immediate impact before tackling some of the bigger cities,” Mosley says. One thousand people currently subscribe to the free Stepwise blog, which has become a go-to for its thoughtful white papers. And Mosley continues to be recognized for her ingenuity—in December, she was given an Influencer of Real Estate Rising Star Award by The Inquirer.
As Stepwise grows—the company secured $400,000 in funding in 2018 from Spring Garden Lending, a strategic partner who does real estate construction lending, and is raising another round of funding in 2019 to expand its team and its marketing and sales—Mosley says one thing will remain constant: her passion for educating residents.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the valuation feature of trystepwise.com was already available. It will go live in a few weeks.Photo via Stepwise