App lets you silently bid on apartments, and not everyone is thrilled about it

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The name-your-price feature may be a great thing for airfare and vacation planning, but how about your rent? That might be a bit more contentious.

It certainly is in Vancouver, B.C., where a new app called Biddwell is getting a lot of attention — and not all of it so friendly. Despite its summer launch, the app, which allows renters in Canada to make silent bids on apartments, has met with a rather chilly reception. In fact, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has called it a “real concern,” as the app may “create more bidding wars with rental housing.”

But what exactly is Biddwell doing? It is operating under the assumption that “tenants want fair prices and a simpler process,” and that “hosts want good tenants because bad ones are expensive.”

The app has created a flow that it believes streamlines the way in which renters find new homes. With Biddwell, Canadians can check out real-time availability of all verified listings on the market, and join “exclusive waitlists in the city’s best buildings.” Then, when they find a unit they like, users are able to “verify and apply with [their] renter résumé,” and make an offer, submitting a price they’re willing to pay.

Company CEO Jordan Lewis says the app doesn’t create an open auction, but rather gives more autonomy to well-qualified tenants. “We’re trying to create the fairest market online,” Lewis says. “The best way to assess fair market value is to let the rental market decide what it should be. For us, the most underrepresented person in the rental market now is the tenant. They’re our north star. Any decision we made internally, that’s who we look out for.”

And while Lewis agrees with Robertson about the problems surrounding bidding wars in cities like Vancouver, not everyone is aligned on the solution. “Tenants should have the ability to negotiate pricing,” the Biddwell CEO says, whereas the government notes that the “tough market” should be one that is watched very closely.

But whether the Vancouver mayor likes it or not, it looks as though Biddwell is around to stay. With plans to expand to Montreal, Toronto, and even the U.S., there’s no telling what city’s residents will soon be able to bid on apartments.

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