When Wendy Gudalewicz heard about a new startup aimed at helping homebuyers afford down payments, she called her daughter Jamie right away.
“You need to check this out,” she said.
Jamie Carota, an East Oakland renter who teaches middle school science in Union City, has been searching intensively for a house in San Jose for about half a year. So far, she says, the process has been “defeating.” The 27-year-old has toured over 30 houses in the last eight weeks and scours the real estate website Redfin several times a day. But her husband also works in education, and their salaries put most homes out of range as Bay Area prices continue to rocket to new heights.
“Landed” — a year-old startup that connects investors to people who can’t afford houses on their own — could give the Carotas the extra push they need to finally stop renting.
Recent Stanford grads Alex Lofton and Jonathan Asmis founded San Francisco-based Landed to help out all sorts of homebuyers. They currently operate throughout California with hopes to expand, but in the last five months they’ve focused on promoting their company among Bay Area teachers and school districts. With their entrepreneurial approach, Lofton and Asmis hope to combat a growing problem in Silicon Valley as teachers struggle to get by amid runaway rents and tech industry prosperity.
Their solution: Get investors to pay for half of a standard 20 percent down payment in exchange for some of the house’s future appreciation — or depreciation — in value when eventually the house is sold or refinanced. In the case of the Bay Area, investors’ share is 25 percent. For example, investors would collectively get $250,000 if a house that originally cost $1 million doubled in value by the time it changed hands. If homeowners aren’t ready to sell or refinance within seven to 10 years, Landed helps them enter a similar agreement with a new set of investors who can pay back the old ones.
Lofton, a five-year resident of San Francisco, was inspired by his own experience as a young man eyeing the expensive leap from renting to owning a home. If a Stanford business grad was struggling, he wondered, how could someone like a teacher fathom buying his or her first house?
The Bay Area’s median price for single-family homes hit a record $755,000 in June, up 8.2 percent from the same time last year. That number shoots higher outside the more affordable East Bay: San Mateo County’s median was $1.2 million, while Santa Clara County’s reached nearly $1 million in June.
For Landed’s founders, the Bay Area’s expensive housing dilemma called for a new model to reduce mortgages and debt in which homebuyers don’t have to purchase all alone.
“We like to think of ourselves as an alternative to the bank of mom and dad, because not everybody has a mom and dad who can get them started,” Lofton said.
He himself has no such parental “bank” to draw from, with a public school teacher mother and a social worker father. In fact, Lofton, Asmis and a more recent addition to the cofounding team, Jesse Vaughan, all plan to use Landed themselves in the near future.
The company will fund its first cohort of teachers in the fall. Lofton cannot say yet how many will participate, but he did say that investors have provided millions of dollars in seed money.
Landed’s investor model is just one tactic among many as school districts around the Bay Area work to attract and retain teachers. The Santa Clara Unified School District has for years offered 70 rental units specifically for its teachers, and a San Francisco program loans teachers up to $20,000 for first home purchases.
But not every city has these resources, and some promising affordable housing programs for teachers have faltered or disappeared.
Cupertino Union School District, for example, announced in December that it wanted to turn an out-of-use elementary school site into 200 new housing units for its employees. But Gudalewicz, superintendent in the Cupertino Union School District, said that plan was scrapped after disagreement arose over how the land should be used.
San Jose’s Teacher Homebuyer Program, launched in 1999, used to provide zero-interest loans to help out with down payments. Jennifer Thomas, president of the San Jose Teachers Association, says the generous initiative was popular among her teacher friends, some of whom would have moved away from San Jose without it. But the city discontinued the program around the time of the Great Recession, and Thomas says nothing has replaced it. She thinks Landed is a good start.
“We’ve been asking the innovators and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to come up with a solution,” she said.
Asmis have a presentation about Landed at a Santa Clara County Office of Education event earlier this year that showcased a range of potential solutions to the teacher housing issue. Since then, its founders have been talking informally to educators throughout the Bay Area.
Jeff Harding, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, invited Asmis to speak to his area’s school board in June.
“We’re encouraging our staff to work with Landed if they’re interested in buying a house,” Harding said. “We’re just at the beginning stages. … Informal feedback from our staff has been very positive.”
And Harding’s district isn’t even in greatest need. According to state payroll data, the average teacher salary there was relatively high in 2015 at $113,000, which is $30,000 to $40,000 above the average teacher salaries in Mountain View and Los Altos school districts that serve middle school and elementary students. Still, Harding said, Landed could be particularly helpful for early-career teachers who struggle to save up while also paying high rents.
One first-year teacher in the Mountain View-Los Altos district who wished to remain anonymous said that although she found an apartment in Mountain View after a stressful search, house prices are “definitely a concern in terms of being able to stay here long term.”
Carota, meanwhile, is freshly disappointed after being quickly outbid two weekends ago on a rare San Jose house listed below her top price, around $700,000.
“We don’t have the ability to negotiate up like other people do,” she said, noting that this is despite $80,000 in help from her dad. Carota, who got married last weekend, has signed up for Landed and hopes it can expand her and her husband’s options.
“We make good money,” she said. “But when you look at the rental and housing market, we don’t.”
Contact Hannah Knowles at 408-920-5767. Follow her at Twitter.com/KnowlesHannah.