In this Millionacres Spotlight we take a look at a revolutionary idea for stackable container living. Janelle Briggs is the co-founder and CEO of Stackhouse — a Tucson, Arizona-based container living company specializing in eco-friendly, elevated living alternatives to the rising cost of urban housing.
Deidre Woollard: Welcome, Fools. I'm here with Janelle Briggs of Stackhouse. One of the reasons I wanted to talk to her is because I have an interest in affordable housing and tiny homes. I think, Stackhouse is a really interesting idea. Welcome Janelle. Tell me a little bit about Stackhouse?
Janelle Briggs: Thank you so much for having me Deidre. It's a pleasure to be here with you. Stackhouse is a prop-tech startup revolutionizing the real estate industry. We are the first company in the world to build vertical container communities where we can dock your shipping container home in our building connected to utilities and you joined a vibrant community of folks. When we build our locations around the country and around the world, we will be able to ship your container home from city-to-city so you can live in a custom-built home the same price as an SUV anywhere in the world.
Deidre Woollard: I just love that idea. Are these containers custom-built for Stackhouse or are they pre-used containers?
Janelle Briggs: We do build our homes in what are called one-trip containers. Generally, they have been used to ship over electronics, but they are fully tested and remediated. Then our manufacturing partner builds the home to order in that container home.
Deidre Woollard: Why do you think container housing is the future of fast building and affordable housing?
Janelle Briggs: We chose containers honestly because the entire world's economy is based on moving those dimensions as quickly and affordably as possible. That we think is the key to scale, is using existing systems in a way that they maybe weren't intended to be used so that we don't have to add extra infrastructure, we don't have to have our drivers get a special certification. We're using existing systems in a way that should facilitate a new way to live and move in cities.
Deidre Woollard: I think the most interesting thing about this is the idea that the home can be moved. I think, that's just fascinating. How is that going to work? Can it be transported on a truck? What does that look like?
Janelle Briggs: Absolutely. We can ship our containers really any way that things are moved, so by train, by truck, by boat. It costs about two dollars a mile to ship a container by truck, it costs about $2,000 to ship a container from LA to Tokyo. In the future, we plan to repurpose cruise ships and we'll be able to dock your home where your room would be. You can live in that home as you move all over the world.
Deidre Woollard: What about the utilities, and plumbing, and things like that?
Janelle Briggs: Yeah, we have regular connections. It's part of the patent protections that we've filed for the vertical infrastructure, but we connect the container home to utilities in the tower, the vertical infrastructure that we build. We're actually working right now on a way to build our container homes and put them on trailers so that folks can actually drive their own container home with a truck. Then, when we have a Stackhouse tower in that city, we can move it from their truck into the building. We're trying to be as inclusive as possible of all of the ways that people want to live and move.
Deidre Woollard: Can the house is also be used as a standalone houses outside of the structure?
Janelle Briggs: Yep. Our container homes received a HUD certification, so they are 50-state legal when they need the manufacturing center and that's how we're able to ship them from state-to-state. You can buy a Stackhouse container home and put it on a privately-owned piece of land, anything like that. That's one of the things that sets Stackhouse apart from some of the other companies that are coming up in the space like ARK or Blokable, these folks are building really cool, tricked out tiny homes, but they don't provide their customers the land, a place to actually live in that home. Stackhouse does that by building vertical infrastructure in city centers.
Deidre Woollard: How do you go about getting the land to build those infrastructures? Are you running into any zoning situations as far as how high you can build and things like that?
Janelle Briggs: Yeah. The Stackhouse tower always conforms to local building code, so we follow all of the local zoning for the piece of land that we purchase. My co-founder, Ryan Egan, he goes by Egan. His superpower is finding great locations and getting them under contract. Before we started Stackhouse, he worked for a company called Brake Masters, which is like Midas or Meineke automotive repair. Egan helps them grow to 70 stores in five states, and he would get on a Southwest flight fly to these locations, look at the land, work with the city on zoning, and then get those locations built and up and running. That's exactly what we do for Stackhouse. We started working with a broker in Denver, his name is Nathan Stern. He would send us property that he thought would work and we eventually found the site that we're under contract for. The address is 3425 West Colfax. We had our first conversation with the city of Denver planning department back in November. They put ten folks on that call including a city manager, which for folks in real estate is just unheard of for a first meeting. The city of Denver actually asked us to decrease our parking count and increase our unit count, so this first location will have docking spaces for 62 container homes. Our lot in Denver, it's just a ten-minute walk from Broncos Stadium. There's a lake close by, as well as an elementary school, and middle school, and a rail line. We always look for locations that are not only a good buy for the company, but a great location for our residents. We try to be very thoughtful about where we build so that we can pass on great locations and a great lifestyle to our customers.
Deidre Woollard: Sixty two units. How tall? How many are you stacking?
Janelle Briggs: It is a seven-story building that we will construct. In the Stackhouse tower, it's just like an apartment building or a condo building, so there are elevators, staircases, we've got parking on the first floor. Something else that we include in all of our developments, right now, we're calling them Privacy Pods. But if you can help us come up with a better name, we're looking for one. They are ten-foot cubes built-in containers and we've got them on every floor. We know that 320 square feet is a small living space, so we've got these Privacy Pods on every floor that folks will be able to reserve on our customer-facing app. If you've got a really important call or you're having a friend over and you want to have a condo away from the kids, you can reserve these Privacy Pods. You have complete places to go in the development outside of your tiny house.
Deidre Woollard: Interesting. That leads me to a question I had about people working from home and all of that, do you feel like that's going to impact Stackhouse? Can you get to and connect them or something like that?
Janelle Briggs: Yeah, we get that question a lot. Our goal especially for the first few developments is a one-to-one container to occupant, or a couple, or a small family, because we really want to increase the number of homeowners in any given city. But with that being said, in the future, we do want folks to have the ability to combine two units. We want to be able to meet all of the different lifestyle needs. But especially, as we're getting started, one of the things that cities are really concerned about are making sure that if they bring in new housing stock, that it's actually solving the attainable housing crisis, and that they aren't being bought up by investors or used for Airbnb. We get that question a lot too. Stackhouse is a owner-occupied development. We don't allow you to rent them out or post them on Airbnb because that would only jack up the prices for our other community members. We are very intent on being a solution to the homeownership crisis. We pivoted to building in Denver in part because we wanted to be in a location that would be really exciting for our customers and where we knew we could make sense from an investor perspective because we're a pre-revenue start-up. There are lots of different factors that go into how we're able to fund this development and we try to be transparent about that as well. Why our pricing is the way that it is? The access that folks have to be able to even purchase our homes? They don't qualify for FHA financing, you can only get a personal loan. Thankfully, we just finished up the Techstars Anywhere Accelerator, which was just a phenomenal experience for our company. That has given us the opportunity to get in front of different financial institutions. One of our asks is a pilot project for lenders on our container homes. Generally, tiny homes are on wheels and can be taken anywhere. Our homes are locked in a building, at least, two stories off the ground. We're working towards getting even a ten-year term on the container home purchase would make the Stackhouse lifestyle even that much more accessible for more folks.
Deidre Woollard: Does the owner of the stack, as you buy the house outright with a personal loan, do you then pay rent to be inside the tower?
Janelle Briggs: That's exactly how it works. You buy your container home with a personal loan or cash if that's your situation. Then we charge a monthly membership fee for folks to dock their home in our vertical community. That monthly fee covers all of your utilities, Internet, everything that you need. The average monthly docking price for the Denver location is slated to be $2,500.
Deidre Woollard: Are there any plans to have amenities around the building itself?
Janelle Briggs: That's one thing that we are always considering and that we want to be really cognizant of because anything that we build, we have to pay for and then charge for. We don't build a pool, we don't build a gym, but one thing that we are going to work towards is having like maybe a special punch card for our residents that gets them a discount at the YMCA or the local coffee shop. Things like that to incentivize, especially once the world is opened up and safe again for our residents to be involved in the community. People live in cities because of the amenity in the city and that's what we want to encourage.
Deidre Woollard: Excellent. The price of building materials right now is crazy, lumber is just through the roof. Price of steel for you, are you concerned about other building materials? How does that affect Stackhouse?
Janelle Briggs: I don't think I would be a good CEO if I wasn't concerned. I definitely am, we've watched the market, but with that being said, what sets Stackhouse apart from other builders is that we're able to separate the cost of the vertical infrastructure from the cost of the container home themselves, and because those two things are built separately, it allows us more control over materials. The Stackhouse infrastructure is essentially just a skeleton. We don't really hang a lot of drywall, anything like that, so the things that really ramp up the cost of home construction, Stackhouse doesn't encounter because those homes are built in a manufacturing center. What we would prefer to build our vertical communities in steel, we can do them in concrete if that's necessary. If steel really is out of control when we're closer to construction, we do have options on how to build, and we did that thoughtfully as well. Just because we have the cheapest way to build it, we also have contingency plans. That is a credit to the team that we've been able to build, Egan's expertise. We also have an architect working for equity for us. His name is Randy Jacob. He was also a general contractor for a number of years, so we've been very thoughtful about the team that we build so that we have all eyes and perspectives on the concept at all times so that we can pivot at a moment's notice.
Deidre Woollard: Where is your manufacturing facility?
Janelle Briggs: We actually keep that very tight. There are only a few manufacturers in the country that can build to the spec that we need, and we are also doing ongoing contractor negotiations. We have a 30-day out with our current manufacturer, and we're, right now, working to make sure we're getting the best deal for the company and for our customers, so we hold all of that pretty close right now.
Deidre Woollard: You had to work with Denver on putting that together. What about other areas? Do you feel there's going to be a change in zoning? That's one of the things that we've been covering on the site a bit, the idea of ending some exclusionary zoning, making it easier for multi-family to be in more places.
Janelle Briggs: I don't know what's going to happen. I am, unfortunately, continually shocked and saddened at how strongly the NIMBY community is, not in my backyard. It's hard to watch, as someone who wants to build housing, to see the pushback from folks who are well-housed. The fact that the irony that they don't seem to get is really frustrating, and so while I am hopeful, I don't think it's going to be any easier to fix this problem. Part of that is because we have this American myth that your home should and must increase in value, that somehow that has become an American right. That is not the case, but until we start carrying more about our fellow citizens being housed and cared for rather than the future worth of our assets increasing in value, I'm not sure we have a good incentive system to change zoning. I watched a lot of cities, and they seem to be really struggling with how to get folks on board with adding more housing stock. It's disconcerting as a citizen, it's hard to watch, but what I am hopeful for is that we've had such a strong reception from the city of Denver. We just started marketing to the Denver community about two and half weeks ago and so far, over 200 people have signed up to be on the waitlist for this development. My goal, always, is to do my job well, to be an advocate for folks who need new places and new avenues to live. I get up every morning and try to do the best work that I can to advocate for more housing stock because that is what is going to solve the problem, from my research and our understanding of the market.
Deidre Woollard: I love that. One of the things that I'm concerned about though, are there tax credits for this type of thing? Because there're tax credits around stick-built construction to incentivize developers. How does that work with something like Stackhouse?
Janelle Briggs: We don't fit any traditional box in any way, which I think is really exciting and shows that the real estate industry is long overdue for real change, for systemic change. It makes it a little difficult for us, we have to do a lot of navigating. I try to be very cautious and not use the word "affordable housing". We do not fit the definition of affordable housing even though our homes start at 45,000, and that's because when you combine the monthly community fee to dock your home with the monthly payment of purchasing that home, on average, it's a little over $3,000 a month, and that's a significant housing cost. It's still cheaper than buying a million dollar home in California, but we don't meet the definition, and that's because of the financing that our customers can get to purchase their home and the financing that our company can get to be able to actually build the vertical development. When you go to build a traditional apartment building, you can get 80-90 percent of the cost of construction in debt. We're only able to get a 60 percent loan from a bank because this has never been done before, and they see it as risky. All of those things go into that monthly rent that we then have to charge. We recognize that Denver is our proof of concept location, and I try to be very upfront with that when we talk to folks who are interested in living with us because it's my job, as a CEO, to get that price down, so we can have more people, and that means talking to investors, talking to lenders and really explaining to them, to the folks in this industry, why the price point is so high, and it's because of the entrenched lending system that we have. You have to have a comp. When you're trying to do something new, there is no comp, and that makes it expensive for us and our consumers, so I try to explain that like, "This is what we're working with. This is how we're trying to make it better." It's great to see folks get really excited about what we're trying to build, and I think that having such a huge waitlist will only serve to prove the point that people need housing alternatives and that Stackhouse is a very exciting and attractive alternative.
Deidre Woollard: What do you need in order to scale this? How big is your vision?
Janelle Briggs: My vision is global. We've picked 25 cities across the US to build in over the next five years, but we were always intentional about being a global company from the start. We designed the Stackhouse Vertical Community to San Francisco code, which is the United State's most stringent building code, and they have sister code agreements, 14 cities around the world, so we are ready to build around the world from day 1, and we would look to partner with developers in your major cities, like your New York, Chicago because a lot of the land in those market is spoken for by legacy families or legacy developers, and so we will absolutely need those partnerships to get a foothold in those markets. We're actually working with our attorneys to convert our provisional patents into patents right now, and so we would look to license our patent portfolio to other developers to stand up communities even faster.
Deidre Woollard: Interesting. So your goal then is to create this global community by partnering with other developers and really looking to go from city to city?
Janelle Briggs: Absolutely.
Deidre Woollard: I love that. Just to wrap up, how can people learn more? How can they get involved?
Janelle Briggs: Yeah, stackhouse.life is our website. You can find us on Instagram and TikTok at stackhouse_life, and on Facebook at Steakhouse Living. We're doing our best to post all the updates. Egan and I are actually downsizing into the model Stackhouse container home. We'll be picking it up from our general contractor on Wednesday, a week from yesterday. We'll be live-streaming literally I'm going through laundry. We're doing the downsizing ourselves and sharing that journey, so we would love for you to follow along. Stackhouse.life is the best place to find us.
Deidre Woollard: Awesome. I love that, the downsizing thing. It's challenging for people. It's great that you're eating your own dog food. You're doing exactly what you hope other people will do.
Janelle Briggs: That's it. I've never been more excited. We actually are staying in a 400-square-foot guest house right now. One of our investor is letting us crash there while we're waiting for the container to be ready. It's a little bigger than a Stackhouse container, and I have never felt more secure. Sure, it's cramped, but it's cozy, and it's everything I thought it would be. I'm excited to drink my own Kool-Aid. We've been talking about this since 2017 and now that we're finally there, I'm not even worried. It is a dream come true, and I hope the rest of the world is excited for this new way of living as we are.
Deidre Woollard: Awesome. That's a great place to end it. Thank you so much.
Janelle Briggs: Thank you.