Real Estate Envy

Listings Site ‘Swapt’ Reveals How Former Tenants Really Feel About Your New Building

The new site launches today in an effort to make apartment hunting feel less like Russian Roulette.
unnamed 1 Listings Site Swapt Reveals How Former Tenants Really Feel About Your New Building

Swapt is moving fast, collecting enough reviews to cover 500,000 housing units nationally in only two months. (Screengrab via Swapt)

You know the dilemma: you suddenly realize your lease is running out, you have two precious weeks to find a new place, so you trust-fall into Craigslist. While Craigslist can be a great way to find a quick fix with roommates already included, it’s also unreliable, virtually anonymous, and sometimes downright creepy.

A new service is launching this morning called Swapt, and it wants to make the apartment-hunting process way more legit. There are a dozen sites that handle online listings, but Swapt socially verifies most of its users, and reviews only geotagged locations with actual addresses.

It’s like Yelp for apartments — and while there are other sites that do certified reviews, Swapt has a cleaner design. Also, reviews are of entire apartment complexes as opposed to individual apartments, making it easy for a few reviews to cover more ground.

Swapt spent the past two months in beta testing while the cofounders hustled for the first batch of reviews, asking family and friends to dish on their apartment complexes. They eventually racked up enough property reviews to cover 200,000 housing units in NYC alone.

“Some reviews came from helping people find apartments,” Swapt cofounder Michael Downing told Betabeat. “We would go on different sites, answer questions for free and then ask them to write reviews.”

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“Those prices are entirely unreasonable,” said every non-New Yorker reading this. (Screengrab via Swapt)

Swapt seeks to bring some transparency to the anonymous mess of sloppy Craigslist postings. Realtors often don’t even list the address of an apartment on Craigslist, for fear that desperate hordes of apartment-hungry New Yorkers will simply skip over them and go straight to landlords and building managers. You often don’t get apartment complex names or a landlord’s identity.

On Swapt, over 80 percent of reviewers so far have come from people who’ve signed up through Facebook.

“An anonymous review is helpful, but we want people to stand by what they’re saying,” Mr. Downing said. “Promoting that aspect of trust and transparency is huge for us.”

Swapt representatives also boast that Swapt reviews are overall more positive, at an average of 3.9 out of 5 against Yelp’s average of 2.8. The way Swapt sees it, this means people are using the site for more than just complaining about their apartments and sharing horror stories.

Then again, anyone who shops on Amazon knows that even if dozens of five star reviews look great, they just make you want to dig around for some honest dirt.

There are a half-dozen apps that are trying to replace Craigslist by looking cleaner or more transparent. Swapt will have to keep up its momentum toward massive adoption to rise about the growing crowd.

Follow Jack Smith IV on Twitter or via RSS. jsmith@observer.com