Ember raises $17.4m in round led by PayPal co-founder

US: Real estate proptech company Ember has raised $17.4 million in a financing round led by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook.

The firm aims to reimagine the vacation home experience through co-ownership powered by technology, management, and concierge services, developing a streamlined technology platform for buying and owning luxury vacation property.

Pando Ventures also participated in the funding round, along with prior investors such as Todd Pedersen [former founder and CEO of Vivint Smart Homes], Ryan Woodley [former CEO of Progressive Leasing], and Curt Doman [founder and chief innovation officer of Proggressive Leasing].

Ember is built on four core pillars:

  • Buying and / or building high-end, professionally designed vacation homes in destination locations;
  • Creating a property-specific LLC so that the home can be purchased in shares by co-owners at a fraction of the whole home price;
  • Streamlining vacation home ownership by stripping out the burdens of a second home and instead providing white-glove property management and a thoughtfully designed app that centers on the experience;
  • Increasing vacation home accessibility to significantly more people.

The investment is set to fund Ember’s plans to expand beyond 20 markets in ten US states, including Oregon, Utah and New Mexico.

Ember CEO Kurt Avarell said: “Ember is enabling the dream of vacation homeownership for millions of people and we’re making the experience radically simple. This idea was born out of my personal experience co-owning a houseboat on Utah’s Lake Powell with friends and family for the past decade.

“We recognise that so many families want vacation homes, but their dream home is just out of reach. Ember intends to make second home ownership attainable, affordable, and enjoyable for millions of want-to-be second homeowners,” he added.

As opposed to timeshare, Ember co-ownership brings together vetted homebuyers to collectively own a property. In a one-eighth ownership share, each owner then gets to use the home exclusively for their enjoyment for up to 45 nights per year.

The Ember mobile app uses a proprietary scheduling algorithm to ensure that co-owners have equitable and fair opportunities to enjoy the property. In addition, the app and website allow buyers and owners to browse vacation properties for sale, view and pay expenses, and get one-touch access to their own Ember concierge.

Though it acquires existing properties, Ember is focusing on building homes designed for co-ownership, with homes ranging between $1.5 million and $5 million in total home price on average, and individual shares ranging from $100,000 to $500,000.

Homes are typically equipped with private amenities such as pools, hot tubs, entertainment spaces, plus value-added benefits like dedicated owner storage, professional interior design, and high-end appliances and finishes. Ember also handles maintenance and management of the home for a monthly fee.