These Tech Companies Are Fueling The Do-It-Yourself Renting Craze
Today’s consumers can purchase new clothes, groceries, electronics and even cars online at the click of a button — so why not lease apartments?
“The experience of finding, renting and living in an apartment has been fundamentally altered by recent technology,” said Brent Steiner, founder and CEO of Engrain, an interactive real estate data and mapping solutions provider. “Keeping in step with online shopping, banking and hospitality technologies, the real estate industry has adopted apps for touring apartments, online leasing applications, paperless workflows, online rent payments and service requests, and a host of online chat widgets, most of which are bot-driven.”
With so much readily available through virtual means, today’s renters seldom have to leave the couch to find new digs.
Multifamily developers expect the leasing process to become entirely automated in the foreseeable future, with potential renters being able to tour buildings using augmented reality, screen their IDs and pay their deposits electronically — all without the help of an on-site leasing agent.
With most tech-savvy millennials preferring to rent over homeownership — though that trend is slowly shifting — PropTech startups are getting creative to help renters find, tour and secure new apartment units faster.
Here are a handful of companies already leading the do-it-yourself renting charge.
Using virtual and augmented reality tools to tour properties cuts down on the time involved in the tedious renting process, Matterport Senior Director of Rentals Brian Frisby said.
“With today’s technology, renters and buyers have more access to property information than ever before, affording them the tools necessary to make informed decisions. Oftentimes, a renter or buyer will know exactly what they want well before they even decide to tour a home with an agent because they've already done their research,” Frisby said.
Matterport is a 3D-camera and virtual tour platform that captures 3D digital copies of a space, enabling renters on the hunt for new apartments to virtually walk through a property. The images picked up via the 3D camera or using virtual reality are fairly detailed, allowing users to view every room and distinct amenities throughout the property.
“Through Matterport’s technology, you’re able to easily move from room to room, which is much more effective than viewing traditional 2D photos and black-and-white floor plans,” Frisby said. “Matterport also offers a highlight reel feature, which is a set of different perspectives from the property that can be automatically played as an animated walk-through of the property for someone who prefers a lean-back experience.”
Engrain comes into the picture early on in the apartment hunt.
The company’s innovative touch-screen, interactive mapping and data visualization products allow users in a host of commercial real estate markets to locate and visualize assets before securing a lease. Through its TouchTour products, renters can use their iPads to virtually tour apartment listings, galleries and amenities. Its SightMap tool is a bit more granular in that it allows users to search for available units within a property in certain neighborhoods.
“The TouchTour platform is compatible with an iPad app — and in some cases, a kiosk touch screen — to provide a prospective renter with everything they need to make a decision. Our interactive SightMap application provides the contextual location information to find and select a specific apartment. The platform is integrated with nearly all of the leading property management software systems and is tailored to work with any website to provide a seamless experience to the end user,” Steiner said. “Once the renter identifies which unit they want, they can begin the application process and leave a payment [directly] from the app.”
Sometimes the hunt for a new apartment includes finding new roommates to share the unit. This process has become much more efficient with the help of shared-housing platforms like Nesterly and Roomi, which aim to help renters find like-minded roommates.
While Roomi connects renters searching for individual rooms with renters searching to fill vacant rooms in their existing units, Nesterly’s model is a bit different (think empty nester). The startup, founded by MIT graduates Noelle Marcus and Rachel Goor, targets older homeowners who have available rooms now that their children have moved out. The app allows homeowners and students to search the app for potential roomies, using the messaging system to reach an agreement on rent and the duration of the stay.
“In some cases, renters want or need the traditional in-person sales process, but renting an apartment is a decision that can be largely automated from end to end,” Steiner said. "The apartment touring process has remained mostly unchanged for decades, and this technology will allow property management companies the freedom to rethink how they wish to leverage their teams and time.”