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Opportunities For Tech Startups In The Residential Rental Market

Andrew Collins is co-founder and CEO of Bungalow, a residential real estate platform providing beautiful homes with great roommates.

Americans use technology to find personalized matches for just about everything. Dating apps are a dime a dozen and have become so popular that roughly 40% of relationships now start online. Millions of people use fitness apps that recommend workout and diet regimens tailored to their individual physique and goals. There’s even a startup that utilizes DNA sequencing to pair customers with the perfect wine for their genetic profile!

Yet when it comes to finding a roommate or rental property, consequential decisions that affect people’s day-to-day lives immensely, some young professionals are on their own. For example, folks moving to unfamiliar cities sometimes feel there’s no better option than scouring Craigslist and hoping the new roommate doesn’t turn out to be weird.

But where people live and who they live with are too important to leave to chance, since these decisions influence our emotions and behaviors — for better or worse. Fortunately, this means that startups have the opportunity to help eliminate much of the guesswork and randomness from these processes.

Creating A Successful Rental Platform

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The residential rental market is highly fragmented and very old-school when it comes to integrating technology. That makes it tough for prospective renters to vet not only future roommates but also properties and landlords. Someone checking out an apartment or house through Craigslist can’t look up roommates’ or landlords’ ratings the way they can look up drivers’ or hosts’ scores through Uber or Airbnb.

Because of these obstacles, in the past, I myself struggled to find good roommates when moving to a new location, whether it was San Francisco, Miami or Philadelphia. I knew there had to be a better way and founded Bungalow, a roommate-living platform. Along the way, I learned some valuable steps for startups in the property tech and residential real estate sectors, or really any industry, to consider.

First, my team and I did substantial research to clarify what customers cared most about, what existing solutions were already on the market and where we could add the most value. Conducting this sort of research and planning, and using it to develop a clear strategic vision, is important.

Then, think about creating a “minimum viable product,” a comparatively barebones platform that invites applicants to fill out profiles to best match them with whatever your service is, whether it’s rental properties and housemates. And consider pushing hard on distribution to determine what features customers cared most about, and at what prices.

That responsiveness is important for startups. Entrepreneurs don’t need a perfect product on day one, but they do need to use customers’ feedback to constantly iterate. These constant improvements can pay off. For example, after incorporating our customer’s feedback, we found that tenants using my firm’s platform are now more likely than the average renter to renew their leases, which is great for renters and landlords alike.

How To Work With Other Companies Effectively

Entrepreneurs often feel like they have to bootstrap their companies all alone, but they don’t. In the property tech and residential real estate sectors in particular, and many other industries, there’s enormous opportunity to complement the efforts of other startups, and even partner with them.

For instance, at Bungalow, we rely on Matterport, another startup that uses 3D cameras to automatically create digital “walk-through” tour videos, to help potential tenants visualize houses. With this cooperation, a prospective roommate can identify their ideal house and tour it virtually before ever meeting the current tenants and deciding whether or not it’s a good fit. The goal is to eliminate awkward fallouts and unnecessary exchanges of personal information.

Choosing a partner in real estate can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to. First, research a potential partner’s track record and read testimonials from previous users. From there, determine whether the partner will look after and work to improve a property (if you’re a landlord) or your business as if it was their own. Finally, to make the partnership successful, businesses should clearly communicate their goals. For example, perhaps a landlord wants help with a longer lease at a higher rent or a shorter lease to keep the property filled at all times, hands-on decision-making about the property, or a partner that will manage the home on its own.

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Leaning Into The Next Generation Of The Rental Market

Online platforms have simplified nearly every aspect of our lives, from selling an old couch to finding a compatible life partner. By applying a similar model to the rental market, companies can enable young professionals to find the ideal city, home, roommates and leasing terms — all without ever having to leave the couch.

Just about the only thing these platforms can’t do is help them unpack their belongings and move in. But hey, that’s what new roommates are for.

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