In cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, where overpopulation and sky-high costs of living go hand in hand, finding a suitable apartment can be as time-consuming and cutthroat as landing a job. (For the latter, at least there's a paycheck in it for you at the end.)
San Francisco-based startup Lovely seeks to change the way landlords and potential tenants interact in the early stages of the rental process. Using Lovely's website or mobile app, renters can search for apartments by specifying an area or neighborhood in which they are interested, price range, preferred number of rooms, and pet policy.
Renters can also create alerts based on their rental interests, so that when an apartment that matches their preferences comes on the market, they are notified. Lovely says it sends out 30,000 alerts per day through its iPhone app, drawn from listings aggregated from more than 100 data sources.
“We’ve found that a lot of anxiety for the renter comes from not being able to be at your computer constantly and hitting ‘refresh,’ and that fear that you might be missing out on what can be your perfect home,” said Elizabeth Pietrzak, a spokeswoman for Lovely. “The reassurance that in your pocket you have that personal assistant that’s going to ping you, and that with one tap, you can contact the property. It enables you to act fast.”
The service also works to ease the burden of the process for the broker or landlord. With Lovely, would-be lessees fill out "renter cards" that attach pertinent information -- contact details, income, employment history, pets, number of roommates, move-in date -- to inquiries to help get the ball rolling.
April Hansen, a 28-year-old business development director in the software industry who used Lovely and Craigslist to find her current home in San Francisco, concurred. “I am so happy with where I ended up," she said.
Like a dating service, Lovely and its peers fall out of favor once a match is made. But co-founders Blake Pierson and Doug Wormhoudt have designs to expand beyond that and recently acquired the online payment processor Rentmatic to manage the recurring rent payments between landlord and tenant.
“Paying rent is the only reason I have a checkbook,” Hansen said, adding that she would be very interested in using the new service.
The company is also working to capture new customers. Last week, the company announced its expansion to Google's Android operating system, roughly doubling its potential mobile user base. (Previously, Lovely was only accessible on the web and through an app for Apple's iPhone.)
Though Lovely only serves people in the U.S., its executives have expressed interest in expanding to the U.K., Australia, and Canada. In anticipation of growth, the company spent the year expanding its team from 10 employees to 25, with the specific intent to bulk up on engineers and developers.
Lovely's goal of improving the rental process for millions of people is not an easy problem to solve. “Most renters start out optimistic, but become less so once understand realities of market,” Pierson said. With persistence, it just might be able to make the process more pleasant -- perhaps even lovely.