Missing out on a month’s rent because you can’t find a tenant is a huge loss. Searching for someone to fill a home takes work, while property managers are incentivized to price your place too high, leading to costly vacancies.
But new startup Doorstead wants to take on the risk and the work for you. It acts as a property manager for single-family homes, but guarantees you rent at a specific rate starting in a certain number of days, even if it can’t fill the house or apartment. It also handles all the algorithmic pricing, advertising, tenant interviews, repairs, maintenance, leases and online payments in exchange for 8% of rent. Owners just sit back and receive the money, making it much easier to profit off of distant real estate. The startup claims to earn users 3% to 9% more than other property management models.
Doorstead’s approach to the hot sector of “iRenting” has attracted a $3.3 million seed round co-led by M13 and Silicon Valley Data Capital, and joined by Venture Reality Fund and SOMA Capital. They’re betting on co-founders Jennifer Bronzo, whose parents ran a construction and property management firm, and Ryan Waliany, who worked in product at Uber after his recipe platform Kitchenbowl was acqui-hired.
“I grew up going to job sites and learning about construction,” Bronzo says. “In the recent decade, my family purchased a lot of properties in the Bay and they needed help filling capacity. I saw so many opportunities in property management because of how antiquated the industry is.” Doorstead is now operating in five cities around the San Francisco Bay Area.
As consumers grow accustomed to zero-friction services, that approach is branching into bigger and bigger sectors like the trillions paid for long-term rentals. Waliany, Doorstead’s CEO, tells me, “We’re in the process of Uber’izing each step of the property management life cycle.” The startup is hoping to become the OpenDoor of rentals.
How Doorstead works
First, property owners contact Doorstead and provide some basic information on the home they want to rent out. They receive a preliminary offer before the startup does an inspection and takes professional marketing photos while digging through reams of data on local pricing, availability and demand to pick a rate its algorithm believes it can fill the home for quickly. Owners then receive a final offer agreement saying they’ll be paid $X per month starting in Y number of days (typically 21 to 45 days), with Doorstead absorbing all the risk if it can’t find a tenant.
From there, the startup does approved maintenance and cleaning as necessary, and then methodically lists the home on all the top rental platforms. It handles open house walk-throughs and runs background checks on potential tenants to find who will most reliably pay rent. Doorstead prepares a lease and gets it signed by a tenant, but even if it doesn’t, owners still get their guaranteed payments. Rent is collected online, and if a move-out or eviction is necessary, Doorstead takes care of the transition to finding a new tenant.
There’s plenty of margin for Doorstead to earn if it can consistently fill homes faster. Most property managers charge at least 50% of the first month’s rent, but instead, Doorstead keeps all the rent of any extra days if it fills the spot before the guaranteed due date. From there, it charges 8% of monthly rent with no tenant placement fee, which is close to or under the common 10% fee on single-family home property management. And if it manages to secure a higher rate from tenants than its guarantee, it gives 70% to the owner.
“Property management incumbents have a 43-day vacancy average which leads to $86 billion in economic waste in the U.S. alone,” Waliany tells TechCrunch. “This means that landlords could earn the same money and lower rents by 12% for tenants with an efficient market.”
The rise of iRenting
With Doorstead, even if the owner lives far away, the turn-key service lets them efficiently rent their home. That’s not only important to them, but to overcrowded cities like San Francisco that often see apartments left vacant by overseas owners because they’re too much effort to rent out. To date, Doorstead’s algorithm has allowed it to recoup 100% of its guarantees and it’s shooting to stay above 90%, while maintaining its NPS of 80.
But if the startup is working that well, it’s only a matter of time until incumbents try to barge in.
“It would be a no brainer for Airbnb to enter this market and Zillow to open this,” Waliany admits, given their existing pricing algorithms and popularity as rental destinations. But Bronzo says “the biggest barrier is the operations piece that an Airbnb and Zillow haven’t stepped into.” It would be a big departure from their lean software-based marketplaces. Other property management startups like Mynd, OneRent and BelongHome only offer guaranteed rent once tenants are found, absolving themselves of most of the risk. They’d have to take on a more precarious business model.
What about Zeus, Sonder and Lyric, which offer property management of homes they then use for corporate housing or as boutique hotels? “An owner of ours considered Zeus versus Doorstead and went with Doorstead because: 1) our offer was ~12% higher, and 2) they didn’t want the wear-and-tear that comes with having people move in and out of the property every few days or few months,” Waliany explains. “Sonder and Lyric have 300 move-in and move-outs over a six-year period. Doorstead has ~4 move ins/outs and that results in significantly less wear-and-tear and a much easier operations to manage. Not only that, the long-term rental market is 42x larger and has 12x more addressable revenue.” Doorstead will have to build a brand and product moat to defend against inevitable direct competition.
As iRenting is still a fresh concept, Waliany warns that “with any new business model, there will inevitably be ‘unknown unknowns’ that we cannot predict, black swan events and things that we might only be able to learn through calculated bets.” Luckily, because it doesn’t hold the leases for very long, and home rentals typically increase in an economic downturn, Doorstead’s liability is manageable in the event of a recession or other crisis.
“There are three large trillion-dollar industries — food, transportation and housing. At Doorstead, we have an opportunity to completely redefine the housing value chain by creating a new class of property management that eliminates unnecessary vacancies. In the end, this redefinition of the value chain allows ourselves to become the Blackstone of the future,” Waliany concludes. “It seems like we’re giving everyone free money.” That will prove either the startup’s downfall or a powerful growth tactic.