When the last of her children moved out of home, Ludwina Dautovic felt “forlorn” without a clue how to utilise the extra space, until a lightbulb went off and The Room Xchange was born.
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With spare space in her nest following the departure of her eldest son and a $200 hole burnt in her and her husband’s pocket each week, Ms Dautovic “began to see his room as a wasted space and a cost centre”.
When friends of her daughter travelling from overseas needed a place to stay while visiting Melbourne, where she and her husband reside, Ms Dautovic offered them a temporary roof over their head while they explored all the Victorian capital’s offerings.
“We offered [the friends] our place and over the next few years we had a stream of people staying with us,” she explained in an exclusive interview with REB.
“At this time, some of my own friends started to ask me how they could find someone to rent their spare bedroom,” she said, adding this was the spark that lit the fuse for The Room Xchange’s birth back in 2016.
“It was at that point I began to see there was a potentially viable business model.”
Founded under a credo of “solving real-world housing challenges while championing social and environmental sustainability”, The Room Xchange hit a major roadblock in early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic’s claws clutched onto global and domestic society putting the brakes on any growth for the business.
Operating within Melbourne, which fell victim to the second highest number of days spent wrapped in COVID-19 lockdowns of anywhere in the world (263), meant COVID-19’s impact on the business was severe.
Aside from the external pressures brewing during an uncertain period, internally the business was bracing to scale up until the pandemic’s devastating blow hit.
“It was very difficult,” Ms Dautovic admitted. “In the two years we were in lockdown, we had to decide if we were going to fold the company or pivot.”
The decision? Pivot.
[We] moved the company in a direction that would serve the rental and housing crisis in a positive way for both the market and our company,” she explained, adding those involved in The Room Xchange at the time were “correct in our assumptions”.
It’s been 18 months since the business relaunched to a global environment devoid of the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Ms Dautovic sharing “our database has more than doubled in size” during that time.
Now, rather than coughs and COVID cases, Australian citizens are enveloped by rising interest rates and increased inflationary pressures running simultaneously with a rental and housing crisis. It’s a devastating four-punch combo, and one Ms Dautovic believes The Room Xchange can help defend.
“There are over 13 million unused spare bedrooms in 10 million homes across Australia. This is existing housing stock that is lying dormant in many households that, right now, are struggling,” she said.
“They’re trying everything they can to hang onto their homes and we want to help them do that,” she stressed.
“We need to generate rental supply but we can’t build it fast enough,” Ms Dautovic added.
With the business expansion assisted “greatly” by its partnership model, she expressed interest in “partnering with the real estate industry as we see house-sharing as being real estate’s third option: home ownership – renting – house-sharing.”
She insisted The Room Xchange has a role to play in solving these existing problems by “connecting home owners and renters to share the spaces within their homes”.
“We’re here to provide confidence and compatibility for [home owners] to do that.”
Ms Dautovic believes the business’s strengths lay in its blend of technological efficiency and human affability.
‘Digital when you want it, people when you don’t’ is The Room Xchange’s foundational principle.
She rationalises this modus operandi as: “If we had a purely human approach, the cost to service the industry would be far too high and we would’ve failed very quickly. We knew we had to offer a digital solution as the primary form of verification and profile matching, but with the addition of premium services that our customers can choose to take up.”
But it’s not just metropolitan Australia’s housing woes that the country’s first and only verified house-sharing platform has its sights set on fixing.
“We’re being approached by a number of organisations, regional areas and businesses that have a housing and accommodation problem,” Ms Dautovic explained, adding, “We’re implementing systems and versions of our technology to assist them with their own unique challenges.”
On top of this, with registrations for the platform received in over 60 countries, she revealed a potential global escapade for The Room Xchange is on the cards.
Ms Dautovic concluded with her belief the business is “building micro communities in the most intimate place of all – home”.
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