Mark Douglas’s daughter was shopping around for an apartment. But the person showing apartments just assumed that because she was young she didn’t have the buying power to afford an expensive apartment — and they didn’t have any data to back that up.
That’s where HomeMe, an application that helps people get pre-approved for apartment rentals, comes in. With such a huge market, Douglas and his co-founder Lindsey Holland decided that they wanted to help streamline the process of finding an apartment rental, and built a service that looks to replace the way people hunt for apartments. HomeMe launched at TechCrunch Disrupt NY.
“People would rather do their taxes than rent an apartment, or go to the DMV,” Douglas said. “it’s something consumers don’t like, and property management companies don’t like either — it’s super inefficient, showing apartments to people you don’t know and don’t know if they can even afford to rent it.”
The experience is pretty simple. Users download the app and give it some basic income data, and then eventually their social security number. Then the app shows them which apartments are in their price range for which they are pre-approved. Users can start the lease directly from the app after looking at the apartment, Douglas said. On the back end, the app is basically crawling through its database of apartments to match up the right ones with the user.
When users want to book a lease, that’s when HomeMe asks for more information to verify their income. Users can pay security deposits through the app, as well with a credit card, Douglas said.
The app launched in Houston two months ago in a beta. Users view 21 apartments per session, and 15 percent of them are booking tours during those sessions, Douglas said. HomeMe is free to consumers — who don’t actually have to pay an application fee any more — and the company charges property management companies a fee when they rent.
HomeMe works with property management companies to connect pre-approved customers to the right apartments, so it isn’t a waste of time showing an apartment to a prospective buyer who couldn’t afford it or doesn’t have a good enough credit score. It’s a problem that most people can relate to: Hunting for apartments can be a huge pain, especially after looking at an apartment only to find out you’re not qualified to rent it.
HomeMe is starting off in Houston (though the team is in Los Angeles) primarily because it’s a huge apartment rental market. About 40 percent of the apartments in that market are signed on to the app, Douglas said. The company has already been looking outside the U.S., in places like the U.K. and China, where the problems are similar, Douglas said.
Scaling, to be sure, will be a big challenge. HomeMe has to basically connect with property management companies in order to add inventory to the application and streamline the pre-approval process. But a smaller number of property management companies manage the bulk of the apartments in the United States, making it easier to sign partnerships.
This is Douglas’s second go-round, and he spends other parts of his time as CEO of SteelHouse, a marketing platform that’s raised more than $60 million in venture financing.
“I think the core — getting pre-approved from the next apartment — that one sense encapsulates the value for all sides,” Douglas said. “It takes all the anxiety out and empowers the consumer and the property managers as well, them seeing renters they know meet their qualifications.”