RentPrefs, With Matchmaking Approach to Apartment Rentals, Rolls Out Beta Service

7/28/11Follow @xconomy

Anyone try to rent an apartment lately? (I have.) Anyone annoyed by the process—the repeated posts, the inability to sift based on preferences that actually matter, the difficulty of getting in touch with realtors? (I am.)

Cambridge, MA, startup RentPrefs is making its bet that I’m not the only one. The company was founded by former Boston-area realtor Matthew Boyes-Watson, who saw firsthand the inefficiencies in the system, which is mainly built around renters responding to ads posted by realtors on sites like Craigslist. So apparently the process is frustrating for both sides.

“I was just really appalled by how much work it was; it was such an archaic system,” he says. Realtors, like himself, take time to set up showings, only to find it doesn’t fit at all what a renter is looking for, he says.

RentPrefs, which works out of Dogpatch Labs, is looking to cut through the noise with a software platform where renters fill out what exactly they’re looking for in terms of size, price, and lease terms. It goes further to ask renters questions like what they’ve disliked about other apartments they’ve seen, what their deal-breakers are, and what are some extras they’d like to have—hardwood floors, renovated spaces, and washer and dryer in unit, for example.

Realtors can check renters’ submissions and see how those match up against their inventory, but—here’s the kicker—they have to pay to actually contact a prospective renter with an apartment for them to see. The price will range from 50 cents to $3 per listing, so there’s an incentive for realtors to only contact prospective renters with apartments that actually meet their criteria. Realtors also have to put in their licenses on the site to ensure that they’re actually in the business. The idea is to encourage realtors to come forth with fewer, but better listings, says Boyes-Watson.

“It’s all about quantity currently, to post as much as you can,” he says. “RentPrefs is a bit more about quality, and a lot less wasted showings.”

The result is a platform that seems to be part bidding-style marketplace, part matchmaking service. There are plenty of services out there that are trying to go further than Craigslist, but few that focus on both the renters and the agents—those groups are completely segregated, says Boyes-Watson, who still has another year to go as an undergrad at Colby College in Maine. San Francisco-based RentJuice and Boston-based YouGotListings, for example, help landlords and realtors manage their inventory throughout the rental process. RentPrefs is looking to plug those services into its technology to speed up the process of connecting renters with the right listings. The company has already reached out to YouGotListings for that purpose, Boyes-Watson says.

For now, realtors check in and manually match up renter preferences with their listings. The whole process shouldn’t take more than a day, Boyes-Watson says. The hope is to connect the RentPrefs platform with the services that house listings inventory.

RentPrefs launched its service early last week, and had been generating interest prior to that by advertising on…Craigslist. The team posts ads under different apartment price points that link users to their site and preferences surveys. The startup has a few full-timers and outsources development to Cambridge firm SetFive.

For now, the RentPrefs beta service is focusing on rentals in Cambridge, but as renters come to the site (they hope) and indicate where they’re looking, the service will expand to realtors in other neighborhoods, Boyes-Watson says. The company is currently bootstrapped, but will shortly start its shopping for funding, he says.

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