1. Web

Apartment hunt got you down? This startup may be coming to a rental search near you

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 12.11.47 PMLooking for a new apartment is almost as awful and soul-sucking as looking for a new job (both compete for a special place in hell). Apartments are always more expensive than you remember them being last time you looked; everywhere you go under your budget is in a basement that smells like stale cigarettes and failure. Anything over budget is tantalizingly nice but will decimate your bank account. Nobody calls you back. Craigslist is teeming with poorly-photographed, all-caps entries, and the site’s no-sharing data policy means other sites are lacking.

This is where Zumper comes in. Zumper is an apartment hunting service working to streamline the entire process for both apartment hunters and landlords. It wrangled $1 million in seed money from major players like Andreeseen Horowitz in September 2012, and since then it’s been growing its services. The company recently launched an app called Zumper Pro aimed at landlords and brokers, which lets them easily upload listings to both Zumper and places like Craigslist from their phone. 

At first glance, Zumper reminded me of a prettier version of Padmapper, but it’s a very different beast – while Padmapper grabs information from sites like Craigslist and Apartments.com, Zumper does not scrape listings. Instead, the company has aggressively reached out to landlords and property contacts to establish a unique, native listing system. Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 12.10.37 PM

There are some obvious benefits of starting from scratch instead of borrowing from other sites. “The main thing that people were telling us is they had issues with the quality of data on the site,” says CEO and co-founder Anthemos Georgiades. “There were so many times they made phone calls to the major sites out there, and they didn’t hear back. We wanted to build from the bottom up so that we control the data feed ourselves and make sure the listings were real and still available.” This way, Zumper users won’t have to deal with landlords that already found renters – their phone calls will be welcome.

“The main thing we wanted to fix in the short term was data. On our site, renters are much more likely to hear back.” Georgiades also mentioned that they wanted to avoid the legal issues associated with scraping Craigslist, and because not scraping made it more important for Zumper to make good tools for the professional side of the market.

Georgiades explains that landlords and brokers initially had to take a leap of faith by signing up with Zumper, but now that Web traffic is strong and they’re expanding, it’s easier to get people to sign up – and the Zumper Pro tool makes it even simpler for professionals to use. Zumper is also working on an app for consumers, to make it easier to look for apartments on your phone. The iOS app is coming up in the next two months, and an Android app will follow afterward. They just do one-year leases at the moment, though they’re looking at ways to include sub-leases and other kinds of rentals.

Zumper already expanded from New York and San Fransisco to include Chicago, and Georgiades says more cities are on the horizon. “The most requested city we have is L.A., so that will be soon. We’re excited because, due to a couple of deals we’ve done recently, we’re going to be national sooner rather than later.” So this means Zumper will be making a big leap from city-specific service to national tool in the near future.

“We don’t have an exact national launch date,” Georgiades says, “But in the next few months we’ll be going nationwide and we’ll be taking on the big guys.”

So Zumper is moving on up, but as it gains users, Georgiades also hopes to widen the scope of services offers. Instead of just focusing on helping people find apartments, he sees Zumper as a service that also helps people close on their apartments. “It’s useful to fix search, and I think all renters would say search sucks, due to the crappy response rates, but we’re also really interested in the moment when you’ve already gone to visit, that moment when you’re standing there. It’s an apartment you like. We think it’s very old-fashioned that you still have to write an application against a refrigerator and race to hand it in before other renters – that process is still very broken.” Georgiades says that this next project isn’t ready just yet, but he says it will make signing a lease much more transparent and intuitive. 

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