VC-Backed Disrupt Alum Zumper Jumps Into The Chicago Rentals Market, Builds Out Pro Features

Zumper — the online home rentals startup and TechCrunch Disrupt alum that quickly raised a $1 million seed round from a list of top-shelf VCs that included Kleiner Perkins, Andreessen Horowitz, NEA, CrunchFund and more — is growing. Today, it is announcing that it is adding Chicago as its next city, after debuting in San Francisco and expanding to New York last year.

And it is digging deeper into the services it’s offering both landlords and renters. Zumper has now started a private alpha of Zumper Pro for property owners, brokers and agents; and as a finalist in this year’s SXSW Accelerator, it will be revealing yet another product when in Austin — which may see Zumper also enhance the services that it offers to those looking for places to rent.

Zumper’s growth comes at a key time for the home rentals industry.

For starters, there is the competitive climate. Craigslist continues to be a major force in the online rentals market in a number of cities, a position it has looked to keep by sometimes launching legal challenges against those that appropriate its data for third-party services.

A lot of that development of third-party services has come in the form of startups that promise to make it simpler to search Craigslist’s data — with the implication that Craigslist and other legacy players have been slow to innovate in terms of technology and usability both for renters but also those renting places out (although that is slowly changing).

Zumper is among those companies that is looking to revisit the rentals market from scratch, having built a database that is populated by listings directly from landlords themselves and kept updated in real time to be as accurate and fresh as possible. “We’re obsessed with the quality of our data,” CEO Anthemos Georgiades tells me. Similar to companies like Lovely, it sees that there is an opportunity to improve the entire experience not just in terms of searching for places that meet your criteria, but also making the rest of the rentals process as smooth as possible, from the information that you get as a person looking for a place to live, to the way you present your applications, and the way that a landlord processes all that data.

In short, Zumper sees opportunity in innovation. Its new Pro service, for example, is a cloud-based platform that will let landlords update their listings directly from mobile devices (initially the iPhone), and the platform will include a dashboard that will help those landlords manage their property lettings up to the point of sale in a more efficient way. This is important for Zumper also to launch in order to remain competitive with other new players in the space, including larger companies like Trulia as well as other startups like Lovely, which has also launched in this space.

For renters, the innovation comes by way of services like hyper-local searches and newsfeed-style updates on places that you have your eye on.

Another important force driving the growth of Zumper is the macroeconomic climate. With the housing market and wider economy continuing to remain in a precarious shape, many people cannot afford or are holding off from buying property, thereby pushing up demand for renting. And there is another way that Zumper is keeping price in mind, says Georgiades. It is committed to offering paid products like Zumper Pro at two levels, with basic services free for smaller, independent landlords to use, and premium, paid services aimed at larger rental operations.

The wider opportunity is big: Georgiades tells me that at any given time there are some 40 million rental units on offer, and 100 million renters looking for places to live. “It’s probably one of the least disrupted industries on the Internet,” he says.

In addition to being a winner with VCs (who backed the company from even before it launched) its approach is so far proving to be a winner with its users, with “thousands” of leads being generated for brokers and landlords, and user numbers that are growing “aggressively.” Chicago, Georgiades says, was picked specifically after consulting with current customers on the platform, who said it was the next big market for them to tackle. That likely means that Zumper will be hitting ground in the Windy City with a good number of listings ready to go.

For more on Zumper, take a look at its presentation at TC Disrupt below.