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Improving The Rental Process with Social Context

We don’t spend much time covering the rental market here on Geek Estate, though clearly it’s a significant chunk of business for many agents in markets like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. This post on AG got me thinking about rentals a few days ago. I’ll admit I haven’t done extensive research, but I don’t think anyone has solved the rental market with a GREAT solution for renters. At least not for renters like me. What’s missing? SOCIAL context.

Say I want to move to New York City from Seattle. What matters to me? A few things:

  1. Where do my current friends in NYC live?
  2. What type of neighborhoods are those friends located in?
  3. Where do my current NYC friends hang out regularly?
  4. How far from public transit is a particular unit?
  5. Are those neighborhoods safe?
  6. Cost

Other sites cover items #2-6 above, but #1 is largely untouched (from what I have seen). Even more so than the buying process, I believe that social data that answers the “where do my friends live” question can — and should — play an extremely large part of the online rental search.

However, for the social data to be utilized, it must be captured. What’s required?

  1. All my friends to have “claimed” the apartment unit they live in on the same website
  2. I have to be a member of that website, and be “friends” with those of my real friends who live in NYC
  3. All my friends need to share their address with the right privacy settings (assuming I am close enough friends with them to get access to it)
  4. The website needs to expose the right data via an API to rental search sites
  5. The rental search sites need to integrate that data in a way that makes it intuitive to search for properties in the vicinity of my friends

It seems to me that Zillow (my former employer) would be in a prime position to capitalize on this opportunity for a better rental search experience given the following:

  1. Zillow has the ability to “claim a house”; “claiming” an apartment unit/building would not be that far of a stretch
  2. An existing rental search product
  3. A world class development team
  4. 25 million unique visitors

But what is up in the air is what would entice someone my age to actually claim their particular rental unit. Owners claim houses because they own them and want to track their homes value over time. But rentals are a totally different ball game. As a renter, you don’t own your unit and really could care less what it’s worth now or in the future (unless your landlord raises the rent, THEN you care). My hunch is, without integrated social context, no one is going to claim a rental unit. And if no one claims units, then using that data to help others make more informed decisions is a bit hard. Quite the conundrum…

Is anyone working on solving this problem? Does the solution exist and I just don’t know about it?

*Photo via Investopedia

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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  • Interesting post, Drew. I agree that nobody has soled the rental problem with a truly good solution, social context isn’t the *only* thing missing from the equation. Part of the problem with applying social context of your friends as you describe is that what are the odds that there’s necessarily an overlap between where your friends are living and what your personal living preferences (and what you can afford)? It’s a tough problem to crack 😉

    • I agree with Mr Speeb. It sounds like Google’s Latitude. If you are friends choose to check in at home assuming you are connected to your friend and your friend is willing to share his location.

  • Tenants might not “claim” a property but they might “check in” or “recommend”.  Relating “check ins” at home to an address that is a rental might be useful.

  • Sena Shellenberger

    Great post, and great idea.  Being a current renter myself the social aspect is one of the top two aspects influencing my decision.  I think this could be a niche market for a Foursquare type of app, and agree that checking in and reviews might be more… realistic than people claiming buildings or rooms in buildings.  Thanks for sharing!

  • I completely agree that the social component to marketing rentals is missing.  Among my friends who have relocated to Seattle, they all care about #2-6, but they ask for feedback on their rental options via their status update.  Check-ins would be beneficial.

    • Yea…so crazy that people use their status updates as a mechanism to do that. The chances the right person sees that particular update are fairly slim.

  • This is a very cool concept and i think it would be very beneficial for folks looking for good rental properties. Also would help folks better find what properties fit their lifestyle if that was somehow incorporated in the system.

    • Would love to get some additional feedback on a concept I’m exploring. You have time to chat for a few minutes?

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