HOW THIS SAVVY, SKATEBOARDING REAL ESTATE ENTREPRENEUR AND HIS TEAM STREAMLINED AND DIGITIZED THE ONCE PAINFUL PROCESS OF FINDING AN ABODE IN THE BOROUGH
BY CATHERINE GIGANTE BROWN
Harley Courts’s company, Nooklyn, was founded on a simple principle: becoming an end to end digital platform where clients could find roommates and apartments, plus submit applications and deposits. Originally launched as a real estate blog in 2010, “It was at first just a place where I could keep listings up to date and post photos,” Courts recalled. “We were doing a lot of roommate matching at that time, when Bushwick was just emerging with artists and bands.”
As with so many ideas in commerce, the concept was almost incidental in its formulation in this instance to a recently failed attempt at another enterprise.
“I ran a skateboard company during high school,” the Manhattan native recalled. “When the recession hit in 2008, my investor pulled out. To earn a living, I became superintendent of a 140 unit building. That’s when I met Joseph Friedman, a realtor, and started referring renters to him. Soon after, we became business partners.”
The pair’s idea was to improve the experience of finding apartments and roommates, removing common frictions by adding transparency. “As a renter [using Nooklyn], you can find and meet roommates, see the local businesses around that listing, and go through the application and payment process right there on the site,” Courts explained. “We make renting much easier than traditional realtors. I don’t think people will ever go back,” adding that technology set the company apart from the competition. “Other real estate firms’ websites all look the same, act the same, and often times barely load,” he said. “Our culture and our platform are different than anyone else’s. We understand technology, and people who grew up with technology understand our product. This led to a sharp growth curve. Everyone else treats tech like it’s an accessory to their business. But to us, it is our business.”
Moiz K. Malik, Nooklyn’s technical co-founder and CFO, crafted its digital platform. “The first three years, Moiz did it all himself, single handedly,” Courts said. “We were recently nominated for a Webby award in the real estate category against some of the biggest brokerage companies in the world. They had 100 plus engineers…we have five.”
Within a year, Nooklyn, grew too quickly for CEO Courts and COO Friedman to handle themselves. (“We literally couldn’t answer our phones fast enough,” Courts recalled.) In 2011, the business morphed into a brokerage firm and opened its first brick and mortar office on Scott Avenue in Bushwick. Since 2015, it has moved more than 25,000 renters and processed over $52 million in rental payments. The bulk of clients are app happy millennials, and the lion’s share of listings are in Bushwick, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Greenpoint, and Ridgewood, Queens.
The now four office company boasts 50,000 users each month. In 2017, it processed 4,216 deposits 3,507 signed leases, and $19 million in rental payments ($15 million of that through the Nooklyn Pay platform). It currently has 310 agents, with a goal of 375 by year’s end. In May, the business expanded into Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “Our ultimate goal is to build the world’s largest end to end leasing platform,” said Courts.
“Our short term perspective is to take on the five boroughs and to be the biggest leasing company in the New York City area. Ultimately, we’d like to see our software being used across the U.S. Our leasing platform empowers owners as well as renters. In fact, our next big technical feature is ‘Post A Listing,’ which allows property managers to use Nooklyn software to process applications. It will also let individuals use our leasing software to process a room. Right now, there are a ton of websites where you can list your room, but none where you can process the application side of it.”
And, although Brooklyn rents are falling, Courts isn’t concerned.
“We built this business at the tail end of a recession,” he explained. “In a good market, people rent. In a bad market, people rent. I think prices will continue to drop because of how much inventory is out there, but I’m optimistic there will still be a huge rental market. People in the 18 to 34 age bracket watched their parents over leverage their properties, so they aren’t buying homes as quickly. They also value mobility, which brings an upward trajectory in rentals.”
When it came time for Courts and his wife, Tristin, to put down roots, they actually chose Ridgewood to raise their daughter, Harley June, and his son, Hayden. “It’s near our Bushwick office,” Courts said, “but I just fell in love with the neighborhood. The brick, Tudor style, single family homes. They’re gorgeous.”
Could Ridgewood be the next Bushwick?
“Maybe,” he smiled.