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San Francisco rental search startup gets major backing, plans to go national – exclusive

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Connecting landlords and renters in a lovely way

SAN FRANCISCO – After several month in private beta, Lovely is opening to the public and the company aims to improve the search experience for renters. Currently, the site is available in San Francisco, but with an impressive list of investors, the company will expand to metros across the nation. Additionally, they say they will be offering more landlord and property management tools that will roll out next year but are currently focused on helping renters stand out as the housing market begins to favor landlords.

“Lovely connects people and places, helping renters find the new homes they seek. With comprehensive listings, visual location-based searches, renter profiles, and more, Lovely makes it easy to find rentals and interact with landlords,” their site says. Listings are posted in real time and are aggregated from sites like Trulia. Because users can log in with their Facebook credentials or an email address, search parameters and favorites can be saved and renters can email landlords (or listing agents) directly from the site to speed up the process (and help expedite while on a mobile device).

Lovely Founder, Blake Pierson, says, “I’ve moved around a lot and one of my worst apartment search experiences led to me, my co-founder Doug Wormhoudt and our significant others living in a doublewide trailer in a beach community in Maryland. Luckily that was only for a few months during our bootstrapped days and we now live, separately, in apartments in San Francisco, but the search experience for renters hasn’t gotten any better which is why we created Lovely.”

What sets Lovely apart

Besides clean, modern design, the site boasts an innovative tool called the “renter resume” which helps renters to “stand out,” but we see it more as a means of prepping a renter to apply, priming the pump if you will, a move that landlords will surely enjoy. The information requested is relevant and private, but our only worry about the site is that it allows users to upload a photo, which puts them in a vulnerable legal position in that storing visual data on renters (or in retailers’ case, of buyers of any kind) can later be used in a lawsuit if someone feels discriminated against (“you knew I was Hispanic because of my profile picture and you refused to rent to me based on that fact”).

Overall, the company looks like a breath of well designed fresh air in the stale world of rental search, and we wondered where the name came from. Co-founder Leslie Chicoine said, “Looking for an apartment in the city is frustrating, aggravating and just plain annoying. Our product aims to provide an experience that is just the opposite of that, something that is, well, lovely.”

As a strong vote of confidence in Lovely, the financial backing is impressive as investors include Keith Rabois, Benjamin Ling, Colin Evans, Chris Dixon, Ron Conway, Dave McClure, Aydin Senkut, Kartik Hosanagar, Alex Zubillaga, and Kal Vepuri.

Photo tour of Lovely:

Click any image to enlarge.






Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Tina Fine

    October 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    And yet another site with data from Trulia, gee.

  2. Todd McGregor

    October 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

    My two cents for what it's worth:

    1) Requiring someone to create an account before they can search for rentals is a REALLY bad idea. Let people in the front door, then provide incentives to create an account later.

    2) I don't think landlords will care much about a renter's resume. They all have different approaches to the application process and I don't see this adding much value. A portable rental application which can auto-populate some of the most common questions on an app, now that would be great (shameless self promotion: we're actually working on this at Zakits.com. I just wish I had the investors this company does.)

    3) Are they a listing aggregator or do they allow people to list directly on the site? If it's the latter of the two I wouldn't expect them to be around for very long.

    -Todd

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Housing News

San Francisco suburb bans smoking inside all condos, apartments

In a unanimous vote, the city of San Rafael joins various other California cities to ban smoking inside of any multi-family home.

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smoking ban

smoking ban

No butts about it, smoking in apartments is illegal

The City Council of San Rafael, just 15 miles north of San Francisco has unanimously voted to ban smoking inside of any multi-family home, whether the tenant is a renter or owns the unit or building. According to Reuters1, nine other municipalities in California have already taken the same measure, adding the 57,000 residents of San Rafael to the non-smoking roster.

The ban includes condos, duplexes, townhomes, apartments, or any other multi-unit housing, and goes as far as simultaneously making it illegal to smoke on downtown streets. Reuters reports it is the city’s hope that other cities across the country will follow their lead and do the same.

“We are happy to blaze a trail,” Mayor Gary Phillips said, pun likely intended. “We’re most happy to be in the forefront of the issue because we think it will greatly benefit our residents and those visiting San Rafael, and we think it will set the tone for other cities as well.”

According to the American Lung Association, California is the only state so far where smoking has been banned in homes. The move is praised by anti-smoking advocates, but smokers may be upset by the move. Privacy advocates are likely to continue speaking out against the in-home smoking bans, as what a person does in the privacy of their own home is just that – private.

“This is tyranny”

“This proposed smoking ban actually intends to punish people for what they do in their own homes,” Thomas Ruppenthal told the council. “I really feel this is tyranny.”

Some have taken to Twitter to ask what’s next? @Aaron643 asks, “In your own home…what’s next? Soda? Fatty foods?”

San Rafael’s ordinance is applicable to all multi-family homes, be they new or old, owned or rented, while other cities have installed anti-smoking bans inside homes with rules such as restricting the ban to new construction.

Look for other California cities to take similar measures, and for the movement to leak into other states.

1Reuters’ report on San Rafael’s new law

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Leasing

New site for landlords, using new credit scoring

Independent landlords have access to traditional screening methods, but until today have not been able to use a new predictive scoring model.

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mortgage trends

CoreLogic launches MyRental.com

In an effort to help independent landlords lower tenant risk, CoreLogic has announced today their newest service, MyRental.com, a comprehensive tenant screening data which includes the new supplementary credit scores previously only available to the mortgage industry.

The predictive credit scores were announced in 2011 and made public this spring, it includes scoring for data previously ignored in a credit check like information on evictions, applications for payday loans, child support judgments, property tax liens, the status of homeowner’s association dues, whether or not someone owns a house (or other properties credit agencies miss) or is underwater, and could soon include utility bills or cellphone bill payment histories.

CoreLogic says that the new service provides the same applicant rental histories, eviction data, and criminal reports to small landlords who rent properties independently as those large apartment complexes and property management companies use to mitigate renter-applicant risk.

Purposeful and accidental landlords on the rise

“The recent growth in U.S. rental households is sparking demand for risk management tools tailored for independent landlords,” said Tim Grace, senior vice president of data & analytics product management at CoreLogic. “Previously, small landlords relied on their instincts, a few documents, and applicant-supplied character references to assess rental applicants. Now they have a tool to limit uncertainty and accelerate decision-making with more reliable information to qualify renters.”

“Very high-risk and very low-risk rental applicants are easy to spot but the majority of applicants are average risk,” said Bagrat Bayburtian, vice president, product management at CoreLogic. “By basing their decisions on a few factors—income, references and bank information—landlords accidently eliminate high-quality tenants. Independent landlords now have access to tenant scoring from MyRental.com to help avoid these mistakes.”

The company says that MyRental.com offers a predictive score which indicates the likelihood that the applicant will satisfy the lease. Using inquiry, credit, and eviction data, MyRental.com generates a three-digit score that summarizes the potential risk of the applicant. Just like a credit score predicts the likelihood that a loan will go unpaid, the tenant score from MyRental.com returns a three-digit number that indicates the risk that an applicant will not fulfill their lease. This screening solution enables each property manager to set the risk level that is acceptable to their property.

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Economic News

Multifamily developer sentiment hits highest level since 2005

As a forward-looking economic indicator, we look at the improving sentiment of multifamily developers as a sign of improving market health overall.

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Production on the rise

The Multifamily Production Index (MPI), released by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) today, improved for the eighth consecutive quarter with an index level of 54, marking the index’s highest reading since the second quarter of 2005.

The MPI measures builder and developer sentiment about current conditions in the apartment and condominium market on a scale of 0 to 100, rising from 51 in the first quarter to 54 in the second quarter.

According to the NAHB, “The MPI provides a composite measure of three key elements of the multifamily housing market: construction of low-rent units, market-rate rental units and “for-sale” units, or condominiums. The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates that more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse.”

With this sentiment reading, multifamily has officially surpassed the optimism felt in the single-family new home market.

Recent increases in the MPI

In the second quarter of 2012, the MPI component tracking builder and developer perceptions of market-rate rental properties recorded a level of 63 and has been over 60 for four consecutive quarters—the longest sustained period of strength since the inception of the index in 2003. For-sale units had its highest reading since the fourth quarter of 2005, coming in at 41, while low-rent units recorded an all-time high of 61.

“The apartment and condo housing sector is continuing on a path of steady recovery as new construction has increased to try to keep up with current consumer demand,” said W. Dean Henry, CEO of Legacy Partners Residential, and chairman of NAHB’s Multifamily Leadership Board. “However, credit continues to be an issue for many developers around the country, making it difficult to keep pace with this demand.”

The improving Multifamily Vacancy Index

The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), which measures the multifamily housing industry’s perception of vacancies, increased five points to 36, bringing it back approximately to the level it sustained throughout 2011. With the MVI, lower numbers indicate fewer vacancies. After peaking at 70 in the second quarter of 2009, the MVI declined consistently through 2010, then held steady at either 35 or 36 in every quarter of 2011.

“The strength of the MPI suggests that multifamily production is likely to increase somewhat going forward,” said NAHB Chief Economist, Dr. David Crowe. “Multifamily production has already recovered substantially from a historic low of about 110,000 starts a year in 2009 and 2010 to the current annual rate of a little over 200,000. However, prior to the downturn multifamily starts remained about 300,000 per year for 12 consecutive years, so there is room for further improvement before apartment and condo production return to normal, sustainable levels.”

The NAHB reports that “Historically, the MPI and MVI have performed well as leading indicators of U.S. Census figures for multifamily starts and vacancy rates, providing information on likely movement in the Census figures one to three quarters in advance.”

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