Zillow’s new online tools are going to make apartment hunting much easier

An aggressive new move by real estate database giant Zillow aims to streamline the process by which millions of people find housing by integrating rental application functions into its most popular apps. The new tools will allow people looking to rent houses or apartments to complete a rental application and file background and credit checks on the fly, under the umbrella of a single application fee.

The new tools, which will also enable renters to pay their rent directly to Zillow, could potentially disrupt the multi-billion secondary services market for companies that process the rental application market and rent payments. But Zillow says it’s simply responding to the majority of renters it recently surveyed for the upcoming 2018 Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report. The new survey found that most apartment dwellers have less than three months to find housing, so streamlining the process could be a huge improvement.

“Renters tell us they want the entire rental process to happen online, from search to application to payment,” Zillow President Jeremy Wacksman said in a statement. “However, most landlords don’t have the resources to offer these services. We’re excited to provide the technology to help renters and landlords have a better experience.”

The tools will allow renters to engage with potential landlords through three of its most popular sites, Zillow, Trulia, and HotPads, to apply for multiple apartments through one all-encompassing application for a flat fee of $29, allowing users to send applications to as many properties that they want (that accept Zillow’s application structure) during a 30-day period. That’s a pretty dramatic shift for a rental market that is typically forced to pay application and background check fees of $50 to $100 per property, usually three or four times in a given search period. One real estate market that misses out on the new bells and whistles for the moment is New York City, where Zillow’s StreetEasy platform is popular with those seeking housing in a dense urban center.

Zillow hasn’t built all the functions of its new toolbox from scratch, though. The real estate giant partnered with Checkr to handle background checks and eviction histories as well as Experian to process credit reports. Zillow will also accept rental payments directly from tenants, passing on those potential billions of dollars back to landlords via the existing Zillow Rental Manager. Zillow says it isn’t charging landlords for any of these new services.

It’s a massive move into the property management services market for Zillow and follows hot on the heels of the launch of Zillow Offers, a new prototype service recently opened in Denver that allows home seekers to make cash offers for homes. The service is also currently available in the real estate hotspots Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Atlanta.

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