MBA NewsLink Tech All-Star 2021: Benjamin Schweitzer and Freddie Mac’s Multifamily Innovation Lab
Little more than a year ago, virtual and remote business solutions went from a convenience to critical as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Traditional multifamily property inspections require in-unit inspections, a walk around the property grounds and interviews with property managers to understand property value and lender risk. All this became impossible nearly overnight due to COVID-19 restrictions.
To deal with the disruption, Freddie Mac Senior Director Benjamin Schweitzer and Freddie Mac’s Strategic Transformation team immediately accelerated their work on technology that supports remote property inspections, widely known as virtual inspections.
The Multifamily Innovation Lab that Schweitzer leads built on the foundation of an on-site mobile app developed in 2018 to create a virtual inspection platform. The team collaborated with software company HappyCo, San Francisco, and created a live video mobile application to capture details at the property for inspectors to view behind their desk.
Most importantly, given last year’s sudden COVID-related shutdown: the virtual inspections platform went from idea to market in well under two months.
“We were really excited about that,” Schweitzer said. “Through the Innovation Lab we have set up this mechanism to collaborate and partner with different fintechs. We had previously established a relationship with HappyCo, which before COVID was one of our partners in building a digital inspection platform. So, we used that platform and collaborated with those same partners, telling them, ‘think of virtual inspections as a feature of our broader digital platform.’”
“We had this incredibly challenging problem statement of not being able to get to our properties because of COVID,” Schweitzer added. “So, working with our partners, our team was able to take that platform and that infrastructure and get to that solution within 53 days.”
In addition to solving a problem brought on by the pandemic, virtual property inspections have the potential to improve the inspection process in the future. Virtual inspections through the Optigo Happy platform helped cut travel costs by $1 million due to significant time and travel savings. Inspectors using the platform record and observe 28 percent more data point observations, write more words per comment and take 56 percent more pictures in a virtual inspection versus on-site at the property. This yields better data, which improves decision-making and risk management.
The video produced from virtual inspections can also serve consumers downstream: inspectors can refer to the inspection videos at a later date should a question arise that requires more insight.
A graduate of Georgetown University’s real estate program, Schweitzer joined Freddie Mac 12 years ago. “Freddie Mac has recently undergone a big digital transformation,” he said, noting he had previously co-founded Freddie Mac’s small-balance loan group and led an underwriting team on the business side. “But I’ve always had an affinity for technology and had done a number of technology and process initiatives making that group more efficient. At that time, they determined that as part of a digital transformation they wanted an innovation lab to accelerate the business using modern technology. So, they asked me to come in and set it up from the ground up.”
Schweitzer also graduated from the MBA Future Leaders Program, a leadership training experience. “Looking at my career, that program has really helped me, especially from a networking perspective,” he said. “It’s been several years, but the Future Leaders program has people that I still talk to.”
Schweitzer currently advises on a Berkadia startup accelerator program called BeEngaged, among others. “We’ve now experimented with several fintechs within that community,” he said. “So, I think that network that MBA offers is a powerful thing. You see people start to collaborate in a really open way.”
Schweitzer stresses that he didn’t launch the virtual inspections program by himself. “It’s meaningful to me that this work embodies a lot of different people and a multidisciplinary team that works on innovation,” he said. “None of these accomplishments or this award would be there without them.”