In 2012, three friends - Tim Dingman, Scott Lowe, and Max Nussenbaum - moved to Detroit as Venture for America fellows. Today, they're running a property management company that could soon have 500 properties under management.
In a city full of entrepreneurs, start-ups, and a crazy real estate market, this story and company is uniquely Detroit in its nature.
When they moved here, they (and their friend Sean Jackson) bought 760 Virginia Park through a tax auction and started a slow rehab process.
As the house became more livable, they moved in and also had other friends moved in. Soon, after seeing the rental market in Detroit, the lack of transparency, and learning how to be landlords themselves, they started their own property management business out of the house.
COO Tim Dingman says they did research on property management while buying the Virginia Park house and started to despise the industry. They learned that Detroit in particular, much of the real estate was found out by word of mouth, which makes it difficult for new residents. While learning to be landlords, they saw an opportunity to make the process better.
Castle aims to streamline the rental process for property owners and tenants. They've built technology to enable transparency in the process. Castle will list properties, take care of maintenance issues when they arise, and collect rent. Tenants can apply online with their basic information, join a showing of one of the properties or create one, and when they decide on a property, the team checks references. They can sign the lease online, pay online, report maintenance issues, post pictures, and write reviews.
The team started with their first property in late 2014. By the end of 2015, they had 250 units under management. Now, they have 451. For the past three months, the team has been going through the Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley-based program that helps start-ups get to the next level. The three month program culminates in Demo Day, where the companies pitch their idea to investors.
Currently, the team is operating solely in Southeast Michigan, but according to Dingman, they could possibly expand to other markets. Most of their employees live and work in Detroit. They also employ Stewards - neighbors and community members who are invested in the area - to show properties and help out.
And they still live in the house on Virginia Park where it all started.