With thousands of displaced storm victims searching for homes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, boutique rental listing services have teamed up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supply the agency’s housing portal with thousands of listings.
The partnerships have proven a savvy business move for some listing services by providing them with a revenue boost and positive media exposure. In addition, the partnerships may help listing services discover creative ways to integrate FEMA data into their portals.
New York was one of several cities that FEMA sought to aid by beefing up its FEMA Housing Portal, said Lee Lin, co-founder of RentHop, a rental website that offers listings handled by brokers and landlords in New York, Boston and Chicago.
So to enhance its FEMA Housing Portal, the agency solicited bids from portals interested in supplying it with additional listings. RentHop and UrbanEdge, a no-fee rental website specializing in landlord-handled listings, both won contracts to furnish FEMA with New York listings.
"We charged far lower of a rate than we normally would do it for," Lin said.
The partnerships supply the FEMA Housing Portal with about 36,000 listings a week, Crain’s New York Business reported. That number is significantly higher than it would have been if FEMA had partnered larger with portals like Zillow or Trulia, Lin said, since city-specific listing services tend to be more successful at dredging up elusive listings that are often handled by mom-and-pop landlords and brokers.
"The larger services do OK nationwide," Lin said. "But with New York City, it’s just a very, very different animal."
FEMA pays a flat monthly rate for listings provided by its partners, Lin said. But partners also seem to enjoy additional benefits. RentHop and UrbanEdge have won some media exposure through their deals with FEMA, with Crain’s New York Business and real estate blog Curbed.com both covering the partnerships.
Listing partners of FEMA also may receive guidance in determining ways to integrate FEMA’s trove of data into their products. While the FEMA information is publicly available, Lin said, it’s no easy task figuring out how to utilize it. So assistance from its purveyer, he said, could give RentHop an edge over other services that have not won brownie points with the agency.
"Now that everyone has hurricanes and floods on their minds, it would be really cool if we took FEMA’s data," Lin said. " ‘Hey, this little apartment is a good idea, and also, as an added bonus, it’s in [flood] zone 3, instead of zone 1.’ That would be a really cool edge to have."