It aims to replace transactional drudgery into a 'beautiful experience'
With $170 million in new funding recently secured, Lev – the digital commercial real estate transaction platform – has vowed to transform the industry’s “notoriously manual lending process into a beautiful digital experience.”
The company this month announced it had closed a $70 million Series B round led by Parker89 and Cross River Digital Ventures with participation from: NFX; Canaan; JLL Spark; Animo Ventures; Capital One Ventures; Citi Ventures; and Citi SPRINT, StepStone Group and Blitzscaling Ventures. In addition, Lev secured $100 million in debt refinancing from Cross River’s Strategic Direct Lending Group. The new round brings Lev’s total funding to more than $200 million, company officials said.
Lev’s CEO and co-founder Yaakov Zar took time to speak with Mortgage Professional America to discuss plans now that the funding has been secured. His description of those plans appears revolutionary for the CRE market, using in-house technology to provide borrowers with instant access to customized financing, based on their precise needs, from leading institutions. Speed is of the essence too: to date, company officials said, Lev is closing CRE loans up to three times faster than existing methods that take upwards of 100 days.
“Commercial real estate is one of the largest industries on the planet and has somehow completely resisted the fintech revolution that has taken over virtually every other industry in the past decade,” Zar said. “We’ve been blessed with the right team, building the right products in a gigantic industry, and that’s the driver behind our continued growth. We’re honored to have the world’s best investors, as well as leading fintech, real estate and banking institutions helping drive development and adoption of our industry-defining technologies.”
The new funding will enable Lev to continue to enhance its product offerings, recruit top talent across all departments, and double down on research and development for its marketplace and end-to-end lending experiences, Zar explained. “We are in a constant hiring mode,” Zar added, noting in particular the need for talent in the product engineering team as a result of the new funding.
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The new funding comes amid a rapid growth period. In 2021, the company closed nearly $1 billion in CRE mortgages, growing 10x year-over-year thanks to their reimagined approach to CRE financing, Zar noted. Lev’s growth in the last year has put it among the top 100 CRE loan originators in just its second year of existence.
In many ways, the technological wave to which we’re bearing witness was accelerated during the height of the pandemic to circumvent around an inability for people to gather in avoiding infection. That tech push has opened opportunities for companies like Lev to enhance client offerings.
“I think that everyone is becoming more used to doing more online,” Zar said. “Things that were novel are now pretty standard. I think people are becoming more comfortable doing business online – how to use Zoom, e-signatures, etc. We’re in a unique state of having the market adopt more and more technology, and we’re leading the way in commercial real estate.”
Gilles Gade, founder, president and CEO of Cross River, agreed with the assessment: “Yaakov and his team have introduced technology to disrupt the last bastion of traditional lending that is resisting the wave of innovation,” he said in a prepared statement. “We’ve worked closely with Lev since our initial investment and are confident they will continue to revolutionize the CREF value chain and the way borrowers and lenders interact.”
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Nate Levin, managing director at Parker89, has also seen the tech wave cresting: “Having witnessed the increasing digitization of the residential mortgage process over the past few years, we believe that commercial lending will undergo a similar evolution,” he said in a prepared statement. “Yaakov and the Lev team are leading this charge, and we couldn’t be more excited to partner with them as they continue to reinvent the process.”
Not that some preferring old-school methods don’t require a bit of coaxing to ease into the 21st century: “There’s definitely scenarios when we have to hold the hands of our clients a little bit more than others,” Zar said. “For the most part, we’ve been able to build tools that are intuitive. We built technology that is really focused on enabling the borrower to engage with us however they like. So, if they still want to fax a document, email or interact with us in whatever way they want, we can support that. But for those who want to be more engaged digitally, we have that experience also.”
Founded in 2019, New York City-based Lev has grown 10 times year-over-year, according to corporate literature. Company officials attribute the growth largely to a proprietary approach to CRE financing, including the industry’s only API (Application Programming Interface), a software intermediary allowing two applications to talk to each other.