The way people rent apartments hasn’t changed much over the past 20-plus years, but technologies are emerging that will simplify and disrupt the process beyond recognition.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve lived in 15 cities in 14 different countries, so I can tell you from personal experience that renting an apartment can be tedious!
Usually, the first step was getting to know the city and its neighborhoods by searching online, reading local blogs, and trying to figure out how long my commute was likely to be.
Once I got there, the search was on for temporary accommodations (hotels, Airbnb, corporate housing), followed by more extensive research to figure out where to settle for the longer-term.
“This type of knowledge-gathering required more time. I usually had to invest full days in the search, including to meet with leasing agents and to view potential apartments. Typically, I had to interact with a number of brokers and landlords and to visit 8–10 units.”
Most of these interactions were decent and fruitful, but others were frustrating and a waste of time. Eventually, I would find a place, but I would feel exhausted.
In cases when I was lucky and secured my first-choice apartment, I’d still have more work to do. Filling out paperwork, meeting the landlord, paying for the application and credit check, and signing the contract in person, were some of the activities on my “to-do” list. Next would be connecting utilities and buying furniture and equipment, not tasks for the faint of heart. I, like 99.7 percent of people in the world, do neither have a degree in interior design, nor any experience with what is essentially an artform. It would usually take me several visits to various furniture stores and a large number of purchases to finalize everything. Often, the results fell far short of my own aesthetic expectations. Upon move-in, maintenance issues with A/C or plumbing would usually mean more problem-solving and additional time wasted.
In the vast majority of tenancy contracts I experienced first-hand, the lease ran for at least a full year! Even if I was unhappy with the apartment because of noise, humidity, or for any other reason, I could not break the lease early.
Then, once I came up to the end of my lease and wanted to move out, I always faced the problem of what to do with all the furniture. Sell it? Give it away? Take it with me to a new apartment? All presented headaches of their own.
The time is coming when renting an apartment will be a pleasant experience. Tech start-ups are slowly but surely disrupting and improving various parts of the rental process. These companies are focusing on providing the experience renters expect and deserve. What do renters expect, exactly? Seamlessness, speed, quality, and the ability to get everything done via smartphone/laptop with a few taps, swipes, and clicks.
Broad-based trends in the way we live today, fueled by innovation, are providing tailwinds to these start-ups. Not just in real estate but in other aspects of their lives, people expect products and services that are mobile-first. They are much less eager to own, preferring to “share” everything from cars (Uber) to couture (Rent-the-Runway). Finally, they are focused on experiences rather than things. The new reality will further disrupt our attitudes towards ownership, much like Uber and Zipcar have prompted fewer people to own cars, and streaming services like Netflix have prompted people to stop owning DVDs and made binge-watching a national pastime. Amazon continues to transform how people shop for an ever-widening list of things.
In the residential real estate industry specifically, start-ups are tackling the industry’s pain points from all angles. Online listing services (Zillow, apartments.com, Zumper, Trulia to name a few) are increasing transparency. New wave brokerages (Compass, Redfin) are modernizing renters’ experience with brokers with the help of technology. Short-term rental marketplaces (Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, and Flipkey) are continuously improving their own corner of the industry. Co-living and roommate matching apps (WeLive, Common, Starcity, Convene) are improving that experience, especially for millennials. Companies like Matterport are creating 3D/VR experiences, making renters more comfortable signing a lease on a unit, sight unseen.
And finally, tech-enabled property managers (Vacasa, TurnkeyVR, Sonder, Lyric, and our own Blueground), are providing furnished, move-in ready apartments and houses for short and long-term stays.
In the future, renters will be able to view apartments, check availabilities in real-time, sign a lease for a duration of their choosing, pay rent, and file maintenance requests, all online. Not only that, but renters will have the flexibility to jump between apartments, neighborhoods, and even cities if they choose to, without constraints or penalties. Apartments will come fully (and beautifully) furnished, with all utilities pre-connected. Just bring a suitcase. The experience will be efficient, streamlined, and seamless. We’ve created Blueground to pave the way towards a new way of living!