Hands down, the most miserable part of living in New York City is finding an apartment. The first stop for house hunters is Craigslist, but it’s mostly filled with bait-and-switch brokers, deceptive photos (“That’s what you count as a two bedroom?”), and cryptic locales (LOL at “East Williamsburg”) that make you want to give up and move home.
But Urban Compass*, a new startup funded with an $8 million seed round, is hoping to change that. At a press conference earlier this morning at the website’s sun-soaked SoHo offices, founders Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin, along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot, announced Urban Compass is now open to thousands of beta users.
“Whether you’re native born or coming from some place else, it could be challenging to find a right place to live,” said Mayor Bloomberg as he introduced the company. “Good name because Urban Compass aims to help people find their way in New York City and they’ll have an online apartment listing.”
“They’re going to help you find an apartment and make it a lot easier to go ahead and rent it,” said Mayor Bloomberg, emphasizing that the company is an optimal fit for the city’s burgeoning tech scene. He said jobs in that sector grew 30 percent since 2005, claiming that New York has the most tech jobs in the nation. To welcome the company, he presented them a welcome mat “in the spirit of the company’s mission.”
In the words of Mr. Reffkin, Urban Compass’ mission is to make finding an apartment “faster, easier, and cheaper.” From scheduling a showing to applying for an apartment, the site serves as a one-stop service for those entrenched in the painful apartment hunting process. The listings, which currently show available places in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, are collected directly from landlords and their exclusive brokers.
Unlike its competitors, Mr. Reffkin said Urban Compass is updated multiple times a day and it employs an army of “Neighborhood Specialists,” or community concierges who visit the apartment with the renters, and ensure the accuracy of the listings. Unlike the brokers, they are not paid on commission, but a rating system from satisfied customers. As for making money, Urban Compass charges users a fee that is lower than the average broker’s fee or one month of rent.
Established in 2012 by tech titan Mr. Allon (he sold his previous companies to Google and Twitter), the company is growing faster than the city’s average rent. He said the company will have 75 employees by early next week and, if successful, is looking to expand to other cities.