Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rental Beast: A Better Way to Search for an Apartment?

Apartment hunting can be a painful process. Just check the Twitter stream and you'll see plenty of tweets like this:

(And as popular as it has become, Craigslist is what it is.)

There are a LOT of websites that are trying different models to improve the online apartment hunting experience. The major Internet Listing Sites continue to innovate, while new competitors like Cazoodle are trying to aggregate all apartment listings in one place to create a one-stop shop of sorts. (Cazoodle's tagline: "One Search, All Apartments, Entire Web!")

But according to one new player in the industry, the "show me everything you got" approach just creates more noise and frustration for serious apartment shoppers.

I had a chance to speak with the Ishay Grinberg, President of Rental Beast, a site that is trying to make apartment hunting easier, particularly for renters in large metro areas where brokers and apartment locators are commonplace.

Here's the pitch that Rental Beast makes to apartment hunters on its site:

  • Never pay a broker fee

  • Search validated listings

  • Get direct contact to owners and management companies
Ishay wants RentalBeast to become the "ultimate rental database," comparing it to an MLS for single-family homes. He didn't provide details about how the property information on the site is sourced, but Ishay is confident that his site's differentiator is the quality of its content. He believes that "content is king" -- he is focused on taking care of his users first, and he thinks those users will gladly pay for better listings. To access the site as an apartment shopper, it'll cost you ... plans start at $29.

To get the word out and build their userbase, Ishay's team has spent a lot of time networking with off-campus housing, corporate HR offices and other similar resources, sharing their story with anyone who will listen.

Rental Beast verifies the listings on their site -- it's free for apartment marketers to list their available units. (Marketers can post their apartments here, even if your property is outside the Boston area.)

Because the site doesn't rely on apartment operators as their primary source of income, I asked if they would be open to posting property reviews on their listings. Ishay said they're certainly open to the idea, but it's not a feature they're actively working on.

The site launched in March 2009 and is already profitable, even though it's only available in the Boston area for now. Ishay believes he has a strong model that will work well in other key "24-hour markets" such as New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. (All are strong markets for brokers and third-party locator services.) As an example, Ishay claimed that one REIT told him that 65% of their leases in one market come from brokers. This contact-the-owner-directly could be quite appealing to apartment shoppers and property owners who typically deal with a go-between.

Ishay sees other opportunities for the database of properties that he is accumulating, and he claims to have other interesting strategic partnerships in the works (although we didn't get into details about any of these partnerships). In general, Ishay is very open to new ideas and partnership opportunities. His primary message: "Renters should stop going to Craigslist, and come to Rental Beast instead."

What do you think? Are you listing properties on Rental Beast? If you're in a market where brokers are common, do you think apartment shoppers will use the site? What about smaller markets? Let me know what you think!

blog comments powered by Disqus