A Tinder for real estate: David Dawson, Co-owner, Kohab

There is a sense of adventure about entrepreneur David Dawson. Like many young Australians, Dawson was eager to travel the world but “didn’t want to do the normal London backpacker thing”. Instead, the path he chose was a Swiss education, he funded himself by balancing study and work in Switzerland.

He was “lucky to finish top of the school”. After working in Zurich, he moved to Moscow just after Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika drove a more open nation. In the Russian capital, he worked for a hotel, an oil company and in executive recruitment. After five years, the currency crisis of 1998 – 1999 hit the region and by then Dawson felt it was time to leave and return to his home in Melbourne. Nevertheless, his experiences in Russia made him realise that he could thrive in all types of environments. 

"If I had not left Russia, I would have ended up staying. I liked the fact that there was very little order and structure. I thrive in those types of environments despite my self-discipline... I enjoyed working and living in a culture that was going through enormous change. I loved the Russian people as well

It was also the right time for Dawson to return to Melbourne. Frequenting a restaurant, he loved so much he ended up buying the business through a friend who was also a business broker. He hired Ian Curley - who later went on to star in the television series Conviction Kitchen. A couple of months later the business scored two hats from the industry bible, the Good Food Guide. “It was a great experience but not one I would do again,” Dawson admitted.

I realised I wanted to earn enough money to go to restaurants not work in them”. Nevertheless, Dawson’s instincts in the restaurant game paid off. Twelve months later, he had made money from the business and managed to sell it for double of what he paid for it.

The next phase of his not-so-linear career was in executive recruitment. After four years working for the business, he set up his own firm PAC.

His experiences in Moscow “gave him a nose for reading people” and so over the next decade, Dawson built the business across funds management, banking, insurance and wealth management. In 2014 he merged his business with its “biggest competitor” Profusion. He was now the biggest shareholder of the combined business and in doing so created a large independent search and recruitment firm in financial services.

"He was now the biggest shareholder of the combined business and in doing so created a large independent search and recruitment firm in financial services."

One plus one equals three

He “stuck with the merged business for 12 months” but after that, he had enough and wanted to spend time with his children. It certainly was a period of reflection for the serial entrepreneur. By then Dawson had also been involved in property. A self-confessed property tragic he had bought and sold many properties and even led a number of commercial property syndicates.

The idea of Kohab – a shared platform for property ownership, started with a beach house in Victoria. “I would go to my beach house weekender every two weeks, and then every four weeks. Once the kids came along, it would be every three months. In the end, the property was empty for 90 percent of the time. I had friends who had wanted to go in halves with the property. It really got me thinking. With the experiences of the beach house and property syndicates, I learned that you can buy together and that it can be a good experience,” he said.

The idea got further momentum from consistent media reporting around the housing affordability crisis. “Every newspaper seemed to be running a front-page story on the housing crisis. At the same time, the shared economy was booming. If people were happy to share their homes why couldn’t they also share property ownership,” he said.

He added: “The phenomenal growth of brands such as Uber and Airbnb have clearly demonstrated that the sharing economy is alive and thriving. These types of concepts have created a seismic shift in how society views sharing in general.”

Dawson eventually meet Darren Clark through a friend. At the time, he had just sold his business – a digital agency. He had also been running digital platforms for over 20 years, building such businesses for a broad range of industries including finance, entertainment, recruitment and property. The idea of shared property ownership also appealed to Clark on a personal level.

“He liked the sound of my idea. Darren was also in a situation where he didn’t own property and was keen to buy with someone else. He agreed to join me. One plus one equals three and there was Kohab."

Launched in March, Kohab is a digital platform that provides a marketplace for friends, family and like-minded buyers to purchase a home together.

The marketplace connects property, real estate agents, legal, mortgage and insurance providers in one place. In terms of the platform, Kohab will help potential buyers in three main ways: by co-living – where one or both parties choose to live in the property; co-investing in property and thirdly co-lifestyle – facilitating two or more parties to share a holiday home or second home.

“It may not be for everyone but potentially it is a solution as well as an opportunity to address housing affordability,” Dawson said. Indeed, National research commissioned by Kohab in February with over 1,700 people found that 27 percent of Australians would consider buying a property with someone else.

National Australia Bank was selected by the start-up business as its lending partner. Dawson said NAB’s philosophy around first home buyers was consistent with the objectives of the platform.

“We looked at all the banks and what they were doing. NAB’s strong on its charter of getting more Australians into homes. They were a first-mover in embracing what we did,” Dawson said. “We did have to lobby them. It took months of discussions but to their credit, they followed through.”

A Tinder for real estate

Dawson also knew former NSW Premier Mike Baird who is now the chief customer officer at the bank. “The idea resonated with him. He wanted to see more Australians in their home. It was Mike’s mantra on power”. Baird said the initiative was like a “Tinder for real estate”.

While Baird was not at the launch, NAB general manager of the retail bank, Paul Juergens said the bank was committed to supporting first home buyers and expects to see more innovation in this area. “We are the enablers to help people purchase the property. This will only accelerate and with that comes innovative solutions,” Juergens said.

"We are the enablers to help people purchase the property. This will only accelerate and with that comes innovative solutions,"

Under the partnership, NAB will launch a co-lending product. The product will apply the lending criteria outlined in the platform’s co-ownership agreement. Dawson said this standardised agreement will give better transparency and security in buying and selling the property under a co-ownership relationship. The co-lending product will also hold each party responsible for their part of the loan only.

This means individuals do not have to guarantee their co-buyers mortgage repayments and if buying one half or one-quarter of the property, their deposit and repayments are based only on that percentage of the ownership.

According to Dawson, Commonwealth Bank will be rolling out a similar product and he expects Westpac, ANZ and Macquarie to follow suit once they look at changing their credit policies. “Obviously all the banks provide mortgages, but we needed a product that supported co-ownership,” he said. Mortgage insurance is provided in the case of one party defaulting on the loan.

"The Kohab initiative has already been adopted in parts of the world. In fact, Barclays has launched a similar lending product with a number of housing cooperatives in the UK."

Calls for mortgage innovation are growing in the Australian market, however, there is a general view that action on this front has been slow. For Dawson, Kohab wanted to create an ecosystem that supports shared home ownership as well as support confidence and trust in the process. He acknowledges that industry innovation is slow, but the initiative has caught the attention of some levels of government.

He has since been contacted by NSW Treasury “to discuss innovating solutions around affordability. Those guys are listening” he said. For now, however, the next few months for the business will be focusing on finetuning the platform to make it easy for consumers to navigate.

"We will also be looking to secure more lenders as partners to the platform. We can’t really be the marketplace with just one lender. We need to bring in more experts to give people the choice.”

The platform also expects to launch a product soon that will allow existing property owners to unlock equity and sell a portion of their property, which may appeal to existing investors or an older demographic.

“We will use our position to lobby state and federal government where we see significant opportunities for housing affordability. We want to be a voice in the community.”


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