RentJuice Seeks to Help Landlords and Brokers Get Serious About the Web, Like Consumers Already Are

7/7/11Follow @wroush

David Vivero, the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based RentJuice, was raised in the real estate business. His family owns and manages several apartment buildings in Miami Beach. He grew up fixing air conditioners, traipsing up and down the stairs collecting rent checks, and negotiating with tenants over security deposits. Even after he went off to Harvard College to study economics, he’d spend every school vacation back in Miami, helping with the family properties.

So when Vivero says landlords and rental brokers are in pain, he knows whereof he speaks. The problem, he says, is that the convenience brought to the consumer side of the market by Web services like Craigslist, Zillow, and Trulia never filtered back to rental offices.In some ways, the new demand for up-to-date online listings has actually made owners’ and brokers’ lives harder.

It’s not that brokers don’t have computerized databases of apartment listings—they do. They’re just not integrated with anything else. Vivero paints a picture of the process that sounds as if it were coming straight out of 1992. “It would start with a property owner trying to understand what units might be vacant on September 1,” says Vivero. “They produce a document. They transmit those listings to apartment-finder services and brokerages. Each broker gets stacks of these and processes them into their database. By the time they finish that, a new one has already been sent, so they’re always playing catch-up. They’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just on data entry. The whole supply chain suffers. And the reason there is a lot of unreliable information on Craigslist is because even the most genuine broker trying to market a listing may not have the latest info.”

David Vivero

Even before he’d finished his MBA at Harvard Business School, Vivero had decided that what the real estate world needed was a single online platform where landlords and brokers would be able to manage the entire rental process, from a vacancy to a signed lease. “I walked up and down Newbury Street and Commonwealth Avenue and Brighton Avenue [the main loci for rental offices in Boston] and spent time in the offices of brokerages and real estate management companies and listened to their issues,” Vivero says. “I didn’t have a computer science background, so I taught myself Python and started programming.”

The result was RentJuice, which opened its doors in San Francisco in 2010 and collected $6.3 million in Series A financing this spring from Lexington, MA-based Highland Capital, Boston, MA-based NextView Ventures, and a group of high-profile individual investors, including Tim Draper, the co-founder of venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. In March, RentJuice acquired its main competitor—Boston-based Kahoots—and its only real rival now is yougotlistings, a much smaller startup, also based in Boston, that emerged from the Y Combinator venture incubator this spring.

Vivero describes RentJuice as a “virtual rental office” that landlords and brokers can access at any time from any Web browser. It includes a whole lot of features. There’s a database for storing and searching apartment listings; interfaces for publishing these listings on the broker’s own website or Facebook page; an ad-builder that automatically sends listings to 35 outside rental sites such as Craigslist, Rentbits, and Rent Jungle; and a “lead management” area for responding to inquiries from potential renters and scheduling apartment showings. There’s even a tool that spawns instant background checks and credit reports on rental applicants and generates ready-to-sign lease paperwork.

The system, Vivero says, eases the three biggest pain points for any rental broker: tracking apartment availability and pricing, maintaining listings across dozens of websites, and playing both lawyer and banker during the application process. But he hastens to add that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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