Are you looking for a place to live in Toronto? Perhaps renting an apartment or a condo?
If you are in this booming rental market, you know three things:
- Prices are outrageous;
- Reasonable units can be snapped up within 24 hours;
- The process of renting is horrific.
As someone who is currently in this market, nothing has stuck out to me more than how badly the rental process is. Encountering fake Craigslist listing? Check. (No “Sandy”, you cannot have my credit card information via email.)
Clicking on an apartment listing in Etobicoke even after you’ve restricted the search to downtown Toronto on Kijiji? Check. (And I love Etobicoke!)
Being interrogated by the landlord while you’re viewing her rental unit? Check. (Yes, I have a job. Thank you. Yes, I really do.)
A Waterloo Accelerator Centre startup called Apartmint believes that it has found a better way – by bringing the entire rental process online for renters and landlords together. Founded by Margaret Cichosz, Davy Chiu and Ignacio Mongrell (full disclosure: they all graduated from University of Waterloo’s Master of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technology program like myself), Apartmint has recently expanded its services in Toronto this month.
Eventually, they hope to transform the $18.2 billion Canadian rental market.
“We are excited to bring our services to Toronto. Organic listings are up daily from both small landlords and large property managers, so we’re thrilled that leads are occurring and spaces are being rented,” says Margaret Cichosz.
However, Cichosz also informs me that the web app is still in beta and the team is incorporating customer feedback as fast as they can. For example, the platform now enables users to easily flag inaccurate listings and allows users to create a personal profile that doubles as a standardized apartment rental application for multiple listings.
Relief for the Apartment Seeking Process
Eager to remove myself from the frontline of the rental market, I tested their website (with all of the caveats in mind). While I could not find a reasonable rental unit within my price range close to downtown Toronto, the features that the Apartmint team developed has made the website work better than their most direct competitors.
Apartmint’s map-based navigation is superior to the ones found on Viewit and Padmapper. Listings are more accurate. The overall experience feels more integrated and tailored for Millennials and Gen Z (i.e., those who grew up with mobile devices can’t take their eyes off their screens.)
“We’ve been testing the platform in Waterloo since late October and have received overwhelming positive feedback about the design and overall experience using the platform. We are focused on bringing a less painful experience for everyone by integrating traditionally interdependent services and streamlining existing processes,” states Davy Chiu, who works as the lead developer of Waterloo startup. According to a new study by Millward Brown Digital, Millennials use smartphones more than laptops daily, while the opposite is true for Gen X and Boomers.
From Slumlords to Landlords
Like all other startups looking at a two-sided market, Apartmint realizes that they must take care of the buyer side as well as the seller side of the market. Not being a landlord myself, I can’t speak directly about the features that Apartmint has built for landlord; however, both Cichosz and Mongrell stress that having experienced life as landlords, they understand the landlords’ needs.
“We think that many landlords become slumlords when they encounter bad tenants, so we think that our profile feature will help the landlords to remove some risks of landing bad tenants,” argues Mongrell. “We also made it very easy for landlords to manage their listings. We think that landlords, especially the large ones in the Greater Toronto Area, will find that managing apartment listings on our platform is easier if they compare us to Kijiji or Craigslist.”
Keeping ‘em Honest Through Ratings and Reviews
While Apartmint seems poised to incrementally improve the current state of affairs in the housing rental market, the feature that could truly set Apartmint apart is the upcoming ratings and reviews system.
Ultimately, people want to do business with people that they trust, and Apartmint could bring a new level of trust and transparency to the Canadian housing rental market. Indeed, this is the playbook used by modern marketplaces like Airbnb and Uber.
If things go according to plan, Apartmint could accumulate a set of social capital in the Canadian housing rental market that might turn Kijiji and Craigslist into the Nokia and Blackberry of today’s smartphone market.
Find Your Next Billion
While the Waterloo (Canadian) tech community is quick to celebrate potential billion-dollar startups like Thalmic Labs and Pebble, let’s cheer for startups like Apartmint, who simply look to improve people’s lives by some reasonable percentage points rather than seeking “moonshots.”
You could just as likely create the “next big thing” out of something as old and boring as serving the housing rental market better.