Fortune

America’s A.I. Landlord

Data science helped Sean Dobson make a fortune in the housing crash. Now he’s deploying A.I. to build an empire of single-family houses—and profiting from properties that most investors wouldn’t touch.

ERIN BURRUS HAS ENDURED SOME MISFORTUNE IN RECENT YEARS: After a cancer diagnosis, she lost her home to foreclosure. Today she’s healthy again, and a stable job in sales has helped her mend her finances. “I’m climbing my way back up,” says Burrus. One symbol of her stability is the two-bedroom home she shares with her husband and their children in Greenwood, a solidly middle-class suburb of Indianapolis. The family rents the place rather than owning their home. But it was important to Burrus that they not be in an apartment. “I wanted to get a house with a yard for the kids, for that family atmosphere,” she says. • Burrus’s landlord is a company called Main Street Renewal; she found out about it from her mother, who rents a nearby home from the same outfit (and runs a thriving dress-alteration business with Burrus). And each is now playing a small part in an ambitious experiment.

Main Street Renewal is an arm of Amherst Holdings, a real estate investing firm with $20 billion under management. It owns or manages some 16,000 single-family homes, scattered across the Midwest and the Sunbelt. That portfolio makes Amherst one of the biggest, fastest-growing players in institutionally owned rental homes, a $45 billion subsector of the real estate industry that barely existed before the Great Recession.

Sean Dobson, Amherst’s CEO, is an imposing Texan data savant who dropped out of college to get into mortgage trading. A decade ago, he made a killing shorting shaky debt during the housing crash. Today he’s adding 1,000 homes a month to his empire with the help of artificial intelligence, using data modeling to make dozens of offers a day on potentially profitable houses. The Main Street homes are a $3.2 billion investment that generates

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