By Jack Stubbs
In an age where everything is going virtual, online platforms in the rental real estate market are continually transforming the industry. Rental Insiders is an organization whose goal is to help renters and tenants make more informed decisions about prospective landlords and properties before signing a lease. On October 23rd 2017, the company launched a new online platform, rentalinsiders.com. We spoke to Abel Fernandes, founder of Rental Insiders, about the company’s new platform, and how it is playing a part in shaping the rental market nationwide.
What can you tell me about Rental Insiders (the company’s founding, guiding principles, etc.)?
This project started when it became clear just how little due diligence prospective tenants perform before signing a lease. The U.S. has a large renter population, and yet the landlords seem to hold all the power. The landlord collects data on prospective tenants and decides to rent to them or not based on a variety of factors like credit scores and job history. The tenants, on the other hand, often had no way to test or validate if the landlord or property management company was reputable and would often sign leases they didn’t fully read or understand.
Rental Insiders is a small but dedicated team whose goal is to help renters make more informed decisions by providing what we call “rental insights.” The rental insights include ratings, reviews and stories from previous tenants about their experience with specific properties and landlords.
What can you tell me about the recently-released platform, rentalinsiders.com? How does this new platform build upon what the Rental Insiders team has done in the past?
The web site is a platform where we can now store data from previous renters and then make that information easily accessible to new potential renters. Our free-to-use web site gives past renters a voice by allowing them to easily write reviews and share experiences. We store and categorize that information so that new perspective tenants can find the reviews and make informed decisions about who they do or do not wish to rent from. With this platform, we seek to move beyond just listing floor plans and amenities by gathering first had experiences with renters who can accurately describe what it is like to live in the property and how easy or difficult it is to work with the landlord.
It seems as though one of the main advantages of the new web site is that it streamlines the process for people at all levels of the renting process, from potential tenants, landlords and property managers. Can you expand upon this element of transparency that the new web site enables?
Prospective tenants have traditionally relied on information gathered through the landlord, the rental property listing and the casual walk through of the property to make a decision. The only information that tenants had available to use came directly from the landlord, who could manipulate the information to make everything look perfect on paper.
A critical piece of information that has always been missing is the real firsthand experiences of the previous tenants. That information can reveal real insights about the property, the neighborhood and the landlord. These insights can also be helpful to the landlord: if the reviews are positive, they can bring a flood of new tenants to their properties. If the reviews are unfavorable, the landlord now has the opportunity to make changes and improve [his] properties or services. When used correctly, this platform can create a win-win situation for everyone.
Where does Rental Insiders mainly operate, both demographically and geographically? Does it identify a core market of focus? Is there any potential for it to expand into the housing/residential market in the future?
As an online platform, Rental Insiders operates nationwide across all states. With over 111 million renters across the country, the key demographic is renters between the age of 18 to 40. They can be male or female, with or without children. The rental pool contains a large variety, and our target market reflects that. Right now we are focused on renters but that doesn’t have to be just apartment buildings. Many people rent residential homes as well. We will be seeking to gain awareness across the U.S. in an attempt to reach and help as many renters as possible.
How does rentalinsiders.com build upon past strategies for renting? Is this new method replacing older methods of conveying rental data, such as tenants relying on the information from landlords and property managers?
Previously, when people were looking for a home or apartment to rent, they had to rely on newspaper postings or rental magazines. The invention of the internet changed how we gather and find information quite a bit—but as renters moved from searching on paper to searching online, they were still being served up property data that was controlled mainly by the landlords themselves. The data we provide at rentalinsiders.com fills in the missing pieces, giving renters assurance that they are selecting the right place to live for themselves and their families.
How is data on the web site gathered? Does most of the information on the site come from third-party users? Is there any screening process for information that gets posted on the site?
The reviews and experiences are shared by current and former tenants who are giving their firsthand experience. Prospective renters are reading stories that come directly from people who have rented from the same landlord they are considering. Reviewers need to sign up for an account and provide the address of the property they are rating. Since the reviews are tied to a name, they are more likely to be accurate and constructive.
To what degree is rentalinsiders.com exploring uncharted territory? What makes this platform unique, and how does it offer users a strategic advantage over other platforms?
We are committed to making rental experiences – the good and the bad – public information. It is not difficult to see why our platform is much-needed and incredibly valuable. As consumers, we are used to checking reviews on service providers before spending our hard-earned cash. Renting households spend more than 30 percent of their income on rental expenses every month. That’s an incredibly large investment. RentalInsiders.com is the platform that empowers renters with the knowledge that they need to make such a large financial commitment. While aggregate rental sites compile listing information from the property owners, our web site is focused on reviews from actual previous and current tenants.
Our platform also gives renters a competitive advantage when looking for a place to rent, because when they go to tour the property and meet with the property manager, they will be armed with the information they need to ask critical questions before signing a lease. It puts some of the power back into the hands of the renters.
Is there any sort of learning curve for the web site? How user-friendly and intuitive is it?
The web site is designed to be sleek and streamlined so that information is easy to gather and easy to retrieve. The minimalist design helps the site load and run quickly so that renters can have fast access to information wherever they are by using their smartphone or laptop.
In an era where technological innovation and advancement is paramount, what are some of the challenges involved in staying ahead of the curve? Looking ahead, what challenges do you foresee in terms of how to further hone and refine the platform?
We are constantly looking for ways to improve and expand our service. Over time, as we collect more and more data, the search and review process will only become better and more informative. The next version of our web site is due to be released in the first quarter of 2018. The more data we collect, the more reliable and useful our service will become.
How do you think the platform might transform the rental market, at a regional or national level? Is it the start of a larger trend, and what are the short- and long-term implications for the rental market moving forward?
There is great power in numbers, and with over 111 million renters, they should have the advantage. Until now, however, they were limited by a lack of data. Our web site helps connect renters and allows them to easily open a dialogue to help each other make informed choices. With the right information in hand, renters can help drive landlords to create more attractive offers and services. We see great potential for platforms such as ours to help empower the ever-growing and ever-changing rental population.