The first-time homebuyer app, Gravy was born to be a reward platform for renters. The reward? Homeownership.
Co-founder and CEO Jeff Dinter has spent a decade building software to help renters accomplish their goals. He was originally inspired by a leaking faucet and an unresponsive landlord in his own apartment. Today, millions of renters use the solutions he’s helped create to better communicate with their property managers and pay rent online.
Through this experience, by listening to renters, understanding their hopes, and learning about their problems, a pattern emerged: nearly every renter wants to stop renting someday. It turns out, homeownership is an almost universal goal for the 100 million renters in America.
It was at that same time that Jeff and his wife began looking to buy their first home in the suburbs of St. Louis for their growing family. Mortgage lenders and real estate agents were eager for their business, but only once they had successfully saved a down payment and built their credit.
Unfortunately, no tools existed to help these aspiring homeowners achieve this important, but daunting, ambition. They knew they wanted to own their home, but not where to start. This problem was not unique to Jeff and his family. Many renters have low-to-no savings, limited credit histories, and having never purchased a home before, no experience to draw upon.
Housing is often the largest expense in a renter’s budget, and yet, the fees for paying rent with a credit card are prohibitive, so consumers do not earn rewards on rent like they do on other purchases. Gravy enables their members to earn cash-back on rent for free, which they can apply toward a future home purchase.
In addition, the Gravy mobile app includes an FDIC-insured high-yield down payment account, a mortgage credit score hub, and homebuyer coaches. Their aim is to be a one-stop-shop for aspiring homeowners, helping them save money and buy their first house with confidence.
As part of my research on purpose-driven business, I recently talked to Jeff about why it was important for Gravy to be a public benefit corporation from day one, and how they are disrupting the traditional real estate model by giving millions of renters a place to go to prepare for homeownership and build financial freedom.
Christopher Marquis: Can you describe what Gravy is and how do you give everyday folks a chance of buying a home? Where did the idea come from?
Jeff Dinter: Gravy is the super-app for first-time homebuyers. We help renters save money and buy their first home faster.
The Gravy app is designed to be both the first step toward homeownership and each step thereafter. Save for a down payment, build your mortgage credit score, learn about the process, and ultimately find and finance your new house––all in one place. Plus, members can save thousands on their home purchase with Gravy Rewards, a first-of-its-kind homebuyer rewards program.
Before Gravy, I worked with my co-founders, Will Dunn and Jimmy Lien, at a leading property management software company called Buildium. We built software that millions of renters use to manage their apartments, and it was there that we witnessed firsthand how few tools exist to help renters navigate the path to homeownership. Most renters have limited savings and credit history, and have never bought a house before, but the traditional homebuying industry is catered to mortgage-ready shoppers that can buy now.
We believe this needs to change in order to make homeownership more achievable for aspiring homeowners. We launched Gravy to bridge this gap between renting and homebuying.
Marquis: Buying a home is often a confusing and complicated process. Can you describe how Gravy makes it less so?
Dinter: Homeownership is a common goal that almost all of the 100M renters in the US share, but the vast majority are not ready to buy today and there is no central place to go to get there.
From opening a free high-yield savings account for a downpayment to connecting with Gravy’s team of homebuying experts, we designed Gravy to work for 100% of renters, which means we’ll meet you wherever you are in the process and help you take the next steps toward buying a house. No landlord or property management sign-up necessary.
When a Gravy member is ready to buy their first home, they can use the Gravy app to find agents and lenders in all 50 states, from some of the most trusted names in real estate, to redeem their Gravy Rewards and ultimately get the keys to their new house.
Marquis: What is your theory of change? Why is homeownership important?
Dinter: Owning a home is one of the primary drivers of wealth creation for Americans. The median net worth of a homeowner is 40 times greater than that of a renter. But, access isn’t equal, especially for historically marginalized groups like Black and LGBTQIA+ folks. And with rising home prices, rents, and mortgage rates, it has never been harder for renters to buy their first house.
Increasing access to everyone will need to be an industry-wide effort, but this is the reason we started Gravy, to level the playing field for all aspiring homeowners. Regardless of where you are in your homebuying journey, Gravy’s singular goal is to help renters prepare with confidence and to get the best deal when they’re ready to buy.
Marquis: How does Gravy differ from other startups that have a similar mission?
Dinter: Today, there are at least a dozen companies, and probably many more, with nearly identical mission statements: to make homeownership more accessible. Each helps renters with either savings, education, credit, or financing, but what makes Gravy different is that we combine all of these in one app.
We also take a longer view of the run-up to homeownership. We help folks prepare to buy not just for months, but in many cases, years. Gravy Rewards, which create motivation and momentum, is the key to our success with that approach. A typical Gravy member will earn thousands of dollars in Gravy Rewards while they save for a home, which they get to cash in with our partner lenders and agents when they buy a house.
Marquis: How does Gravy work in today’s competitive market? Do members still have to worry about mortgage rates and home prices?
Dinter: It has never been harder for first-time homebuyers to succeed than it is right now. It’s times like these when Gravy can be a real difference maker – the more you save, the better your credit is, having an amazing lender and real estate agent in your corner, are all things Gravy brings to bear to help our members win in today’s market.
Marquis: What does Gravy’s public benefit corporation status mean for the company and also the greater real estate industry?
Dinter: To put it simply: purpose over profit. We want to build an enduring company that cares about much more than just the value of a stockholder’s equity. Our mission is to make homeownership more accessible for all. We measure our success, first and foremost, in terms of the number of first-time homebuyers we help.
Traditionally, real estate has revolved almost exclusively around the property or the purchase, not the person. We think there is a better way, which is why we take a human-centric approach in all that we do.
Marquis: What is your long-term vision for Gravy?
Dinter: Today, we are laser focused on being the absolute best way to buy your first home, but we are just scratching the surface.
Longer-term? The truth is that homeownership is amazing for so many reasons, but it is no picnic. First-time homebuyers become first-time homeowners, which brings a whole host of new challenges, and we intend to be right alongside our members to help solve them as they graduate from starter homes to dream homes and manage everything in between.