SAN FRANCISCO — Owners and managers of rental properties who once feared posting detailed information on the Internet are now posting photos, floorplans and videos of vacant apartments on the Web to sign up tenants.
“Today, the theme in the rental industry is embracing technology,” said John Helm, founder and chief executive officer of MyNewPlace, a new Web site that helps landlords find tenants. Speaking Friday at Inman News‘ Real Estate Connect conference, Helm said that more than 70 percent of renters start their search on line.
The owners of Avalon Bay, a 250-unit, high-rise development in San Francisco, are now finding about 40 percent of tenants signing new leases come to them from the Internet, compared with 10 percent through newspapers and other print media, Helm said.
“Consumers can pre-qualify themselves,” Helm said. “They’ve seen the floor plans, they know if they accept pets — the close rates (on Internet listings) are three or four times higher.”
Helm said landlords’ new-found enthusiasm for the Web represents a “huge sea change in the rental industry.” Just a few years ago, rental property owners “would hold information close to the vest, because god forbid competitors would see what you’re renting that apartment for.”
Now they are creating their own Web sites, and revealing previously guarded details such as which units in a building are available, Helm said.
With renters willing to use the Internet as a marketing tool, aggregators like MyNewPlace and eBay’s Rent.com are pitching themselves to landlords as magnet sites that can attract visitors by offering a wide selection of listings.
Helm said landlords pay MyNewPlace on a “cost-per-lease” basis of $200 to $375.
“We only get paid if we deliver a qualified renter to the property and the renter signs a lease,” Helm said. Landlords are willing to pay such fees because they lose an average of $800 a month for every vacant apartment.
MyNewPlace launched two months ago and is seeing heavy activity in areas where many apartments were converted to condos, Helm said.
“Speculators who bought a condo and thought they were going to flip it are now trying to rent, often competing with the people who own the rest of the building and the apartments that didn’t convert,” Helm said.
Helm was the founder of AllApartments/SpringStreet, a rental and relocation site that sold and re-branded as RentNet.com. MyNewPlace landed $8 million in financing last year and will soon announce new backing, he said. Helm’s advice to renters building their own sites?
“We do extensive consumer surveying on our site, and we are finding they love mapping mash-ups,” Helm said. “But don’t forget the number one thing consumers are looking for is breadth and depth of content.”
In other words, lots of listings in lots of places, and lots of little details about each vacancy.
“They want to see as much information you can get up — pictures, floorplans, videos … that’s in your best interest because then you’re not getting calls…’Does that have a den? Does that have a pool?'”