San Antonio’s real estate market is hot – it ranks eighth on real estate website Trulia’s list of markets to watch in 2017. That demand translates into a lower inventory of affordable entry-level homes. With San Antonio’s population projected to grow by 1 million by 2040, the need for affordable housing will be even more pressing.

That’s why Alberto Piña and his brother Jason founded Braustin Mobile Homes. Informally known as the “mobile home geeks,” the Piñas launched the unconventional startup in January as a way to help entry-level buyers achieve their dream of home ownership at considerable cost savings.

By leveraging technology, Braustin Mobile Homes has introduced what it believes is a disruptive model for selling mobile homes, creating a virtual mobile home dealership on the eighth floor of Geekdom that will be one of the featured stops on the upcoming SA Tech Trek April 25. The Rivard Report spoke to Alberto Piña about the housing startup.

Rivard Report: What’s your experience in the housing industry?

Alberto Piña: While the name of our company may be new to the manufactured home industry, our family has over 10 years experience selling and managing teams for big mobile home companies. My brother and I decided to start our own business where we could develop an approach more in line with the modern practices of e-commerce. When Jason and I founded Braustin Mobile Homes in January of this year, we developed our concept around many of Jonny’s ideas [brother Jonathan, who died after a motorcycle accident in 2015] regarding up-front pricing and an education-focused sales approach.

Four months ago we decided to venture out on our own and bring back the personal touch that only a small, family-owned and -operated business can bring. We were born and raised in San Antonio. South Texas is and always will be home. That’s why we love helping other families plant roots here.

interior of a Braustin mobile home
The interior of a Braustin mobile home in Poteet, Texas. Credit: Courtesy image
RR: How does your mobile home pricing compare to traditional home pricing and conventional mobile home sellers?

AP: The average cost per square foot for our mobile homes in San Antonio range from $28 to $29 per square foot. [In the first quarter of 2017 the average cost for a traditional home in San Antonio was $115 per square foot, according to the San Antonio Board of Realtors.]

Comparing the costs of mobile homes includes the cost of building the home itself, plus the cost for land, utilities, decks, driveway, and foundation. If potential homebuyers already own their own property, they can build a home under 2,000 square feet [the Wonder model is 1,896 sq. ft.] starting at $28 per square foot.

Our most recent customer paid $66 per square foot for a four-bedroom and two-bathroom home [1,896 sq. ft.] on a raw acre of land. The complete turnkey land and home package project cost was $125,865, which included the home, the cost of the acre of land, all utilities, decks, skirting, driveway, and foundation.

[By comparison, the median price of a traditional home sold during the first quarter of 2017 increased to $199,400 while the average price rose to $240,057, according to the San Antonio Board of Realtors.]

Because publicly posted pricing for mobile homes is not readily available, it is difficult to gauge exactly how much more cost-effective our business model is against conventional mobile home sellers.

Potential homebuyers are our best source of information. We routinely speak to folks who have done their shopping at traditional retailers around town, then they find our posted pricing online. It is not uncommon for customers to tell us we are $5,000 to $10,000 less for the same exact home.

RR: How does Braustin Mobile Homes leverage technology in selling mobile homes?

AP: We use technology in a number of ways to streamline our processes and enhance the home-buying experience.

We post our prices online, which is unheard of in our industry. By posting our prices it allows our team to focus on educating potential homebuyers and helping them make the right decision for their families instead of haggling over price.

We use Matterport 360 home tours to allow customers to virtually “walk through” show models online, over the phone, or by using [virtual reality] goggles when they come to [our location on the eighth floor of] Geekdom. That also allows us to further reduce our overhead by minimizing the amount of physical inventory we have to carry. This savings is in turn passed on to our customers through our reduced prices.

Adam [Dusenberry] and Wes [Pruitt] of White Cloud Drones have been an awesome team to partner up with to show the construction process and educate potential homebuyers on the process. We are using the drones to build a time lapse of a complete land and home construction project with a 360-degree virtual tour of the finished product.

On our website we have produced a series of educational podcasts that tackle “mobile home myths” such as depreciation and overall value. Our latest one is an interview with a San Antonio man whom we are helping to build a new home on his new acre of land. His project is the focus of our drone shoot.

RR: How has Geekdom played a role in helping you start your business?

AP: We wouldn’t have a company without Geekdom. We are bootstrapping our startup, so the low cost of the office space has allowed us to focus our resources on marketing and building out the digital infrastructure of our company.

We have learned so much from some of the members here. Luke Owen [of Lockaway Full Service and former Geekdom chief of operations] really helped us streamline our sales process by introducing us to Active Campaign [an automated follow-up customer relationship management system, or CRM software].

Jon Ambach of Flipmass [the influencer platform] and Morgan Kling [of Market Boost] have been tremendous assets in making sure we maximize the power of Facebook in our advertising. David Jones and Debra Innocenti [of tech-focused law firm Innocenti Jones PLLC] made the legal side of starting a business both smooth and enjoyable.

Getting to meet and bounce ideas off folks like Tom Cuthbert and Bill Schley has been absolutely invaluable. The Geekdom staff makes our day-to-day fun, which helps reduce the stresses of building a business from scratch.

RR: Do you have any competitors in this new industry space?

AP: Most folks in our industry think we are crazy. Rather than looking to maximize profits on every home we sell, we focus on helping as many families as we can achieve their goals of home ownership. Our business model allows us to keep our overhead at 80-90% lower than our competitors, which makes us the price leader in our industry. At the present, there is not another company in this industry that has embraced technology the way we have to drive their business.

RR: What are your short- and longer-term plans for the company?

AP: In the near future, we are partnering with a local investor who purchased a rundown mobile home park off Highway 16 just south of San Antonio. We have worked with him to renovate the complete space and have an agreement in place to keep a few show models on-site for customers who want to walk through a model home. We intend to split our time between there and our location at Geekdom during the startup phase of our company. Our intermediate goal is to purchase a large piece of property on San Antonio’s Southside to build out an affordable subdivision with our homes to help ease the need for affordable housing in our city.

Long-term, we plan to partner with additional builders and replicate our model throughout the country. Our ultimate goal is to change the way people purchase manufactured homes, similar to how CarMax changed the used car industry. There are 23 million people that currently live in a factory-built home nationwide. Homebuyers in this market deserve better than what they are currently getting, and we intend to deliver.

RR: What can SA Tech Trekkers expect to see April 25 at Geekdom?      

AP: We will be showcasing our 360-degree virtual home tours as well as educating people on how far technology has advanced this industry’s building methods. We hope to share our excitement and experience as starter home specialists.

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.