Knowledge & Insights

Interview Series: Conversations With VOOU + Dr. Janelle Briggs of Stackhouse

Dr. Janelle Briggs, Ph.D. is a feminist scholar, entrepreneur, author, and Tedx speaker committed to social justice. She is also the co-founder and CEO of Stackhouse, a real estate startup bringing vertical docking communities for moveable container living to downtown cities. Together with her partner, Ryan Egan, they are the way we live and experience the cities we love.

Stackhouse isn't an apartment building or condo building. It's a vertical community, seven stories tall, but instead of there being condos, there are docking spaces for shipping container tiny homes. We load them into the building, connect them to utilities, and then our residents can move in. Once we build our locations around the world, we'll be able to ship your container home from location to location. So, you buy one home and then we can move it to wherever you want to live.

I guess the best place to start is to ask where did this idea come from?

My partner, Ryan Egan, is a real estate broker, and a couple of years ago was building million-dollar condos in San Francisco. As part of this, he would host neighborhood meetings to meet with the community to discuss projects. He discovered that the people currently living in these neighborhoods couldn't afford to live in these new condos he was building and were therefore going to be priced out of their own homes. So there was a definite need for more housing stock at a price point that wouldn't disenfranchise the current resident was clear. The Stackhouse model allows us to build in really great neighborhoods but do a better job of controlling the price so that our homes are actually attainable.

Our target market is upwardly mobile millennials - people who want to buy a house or are in the market for buying a home but can't afford anything in the city where they live.

There's so much competition for starter homes because they are the most attainably priced. As such, folks trying to buy in this price point are getting priced out by Boomers and Gen Xer's and even international investors. As such, our container homes start at $45,000 - the same price point as an SUV. Monthly membership in the Stackhouse community entitles you to a space in the tower and covers all utilities. The average membership price in Denver, where we are launching, will be around $2,500.

Since they are moveable units, what does that relocation process look like?

We've made this easy. We've built the infrastructure into our membership model, providing you with a few different options that would enable you to say move from Denver to LA. To do so, we've created a customer-facing app that allows you to see what spaces are available and then transact that move on our platform. To my knowledge, we're the only company that takes care of where you're going to live in your container home.

Our goal is to enable folks to live wherever they want – a year in Denver and then a year in London, for example. That community, plus our app, will allow you to easily choose the next place you want to live, and in a click or two, make it happen.

What are three business trends do you see, or do you believe COVID-19 has accelerated in your industry for 2021 and beyond?

I think the big trend that is in our favor is remote work. People are now really starting to understand that you don't have to be in a particular place to do your job. And because of the pandemic, employers finally recognize that they don't need that either to get good work from their people. When your clients or your staff are taken care of, when they feel supported, and they have the time and resources that they need, they can do good work from anywhere. And so, what that's allowing us to really see is that where you live is what matters. When you can live where you need to be, or want to be, and not where your job wants you to be, that changes your life and what you're able to do as a person.

As a culture, we're slowly and steadily getting to that person-centric model where you're not just a work product, you're a human with needs and a life outside of (and within) 8am-5pm.

Another trend is the surge of tiny house builders due to the housing shortage. Cities are trying to get creative to solve this problem and grasping at straws to implement things quickly. For example, currently, in California, they passed an ADU law allowing a homeowner the ability to put an accessory dwelling unit or a tiny house in the backyard. In some areas, you are allowed to rent it out, but only long-term rentals, not monthly. In others, the laws are different. So, we're starting to see the effects of these changes, but no one has done a really great job of looking at all of the effects before these things are implemented.

Why do you think that is?

I think a lot of government leadership is reactive. That's kind of the nature of that beast. But if we can get folks who are forward-thinking in these leadership positions, it really changes the conversation. From my perspective, when you have leaders who are constantly looking backward to try and solve past problems, their focus isn't in the right place because you aren't able to see what problems you might be creating in the future.

At Stackhouse, we're trying to look at the real estate market holistically – at what people really need to thrive - a customer, residence-centric focus. We are focused on how people live and the experience we can provide – control over a home that they own that they can take wherever they want to be. There are so many sunk costs in the way the homeownership market works right now. It's not intuitive, it's not flexible, it's outdated based on the world we live in now.

Can you tell a bit more about the residential shortage - where did that start and why or how? And has it now changed as a result of the pandemic?

The market force that we're seeing is this starter home market.

In New York City, for example, we've been reading all these articles about people that are leaving the city and moving to the suburbs. What's really happening is that it's everyone who has the money to own a $1M plus home in the city, buying a second million-dollar home outside of it and renting out the city apartment. So, it's not actually creating more housing stock for the folks who are priced out of the market. Rich folks are just trading their assets and getting out of the city. It's not actually creating this boom that our customers can access because they were never in that market to begin with. They were never in that price band.

And the price drop that you're seeing on rentals is very circumstantial. It's not because the market is actu