Just a guess, but I bet a good 90% of those reading this have, at one point or another, been frustrated with their apartment search.
Taking it a step further, I’d venture to guess that even real estate agents realize the process is flawed.
Yet, here where are in 2014, with technologies that allow us to track our health metrics with a sticker-like product place on our bodies, help us find the closest and cheapest off-street parking space and ride our bikes to work without breaking a sweat, but still scouring through listings (many of them fake or misinformed) that don’t meet our needs and leave us wanting more.
I recently caught up with Raleigh Werner, Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer of Jumpshell, the Somerville-based company looking to ease the industry pain points and give every renter a phenomenal apartment search experience.
Werner, a Boston native, attended Colby College where he met Co-Founder & CEO Mathew Boyes-Watson who is originally from Cambridge. The third Co-Founder, Parker Woodworth, Chief Technology and Design Officer, was introduced to Raliegh and Matt through a mutual friend in 2013 while still attending Middlebury College. Their first conversation came via Skype and with nothing lined up for the summer, Woodworth jumped right on board.
Prior to Jumpshell, Werner held various marketing roles while Boyes-Watson was a real estate agent in Cambridge. His experience (and frustrations) around the industry was instrumental in the start of Jumpshell, which is now focused around apartment tours to save both agents and renters time and energy.
The current model, like many startups, isn’t what they initially rolled out with.
Their first run attempted to create the best apartment search process by essentially cutting out the agents and focusing on referrals. This would save renters significant money by removing the broker fee. They had early traction with larger property management companies, but ultimately realized the goal was too lofty and not a viable business model.
The process was beneficial however, as they met a lot of key players and compiled significant meaningful market research.
They spent another couple of months exploring other models before coming to the conclusion that they needed the agents on board. They had to find a way to work with the agents while still improving the process for renters. Enter the Tour element – to improve and incentivize the experience for everyone involved.
So how does it all work?
It starts with their website, which is intuitive and easy to navigate for those looking for a new apartment. It is also educational as they include a “Renters Playbook” with blunt honestly about Boston living. (Sorry folks, no $600/month 1 bedrooms in the City)
You can view and sign up for existing tours (blue dot indicates existing) or request a tour of a particular area (in gray) that doesn’t yet have anything scheduled.
Another option allows you to browse availabilities by specific neighborhood. When prompted, Jumpshell offers up key data specific to that neighborhood such as cost relative to Boston’s median rent, average cost for various sized apartments as well as nearby attractions.
Renters don’t even communicate with an agent until they arrive on site for a tour. This eliminates the back and forth between agent, renter, landlord and current tenant – improving the experience all around.
Renters are ensured that they’ll see multiple properties that meet expectations within the designated area of choice. And if for some reason a renter leaves a tour unsatisfied, Jumpshell wants to hear about it. This feedback will not only help them keep track of proper inventory, but also narrow down the best agents to work with on the tours. Werner says a grading system for the agents may be implemented in the future.
For agents, who pay Jumpshell a referral fee, these tours provide the opportunity to show multiple properties to multiple renters at once. Again, saving valuable time all while increasing their number of leads and leases signed.
Thus far, according to Werner, Jumpshell has organized more than 20 tours with an average of two prospective renters and four properties seen on each tour. These tours have amounted to eight signed leases.
Admittedly the data is scarce, but the team is encouraged with the early results. Feedback from both agents and renters who have been on tours has been positive and Jumpshell will continue working on creating a promising experience all around. While the agent fee isn’t being removed for the renters they are (at least thus far) feeling like they are getting better service for their money.
What does the future hold?
Jumpshell recently made their first non-founder hire in Chris Bolin out of MIT who is now Lead Software Engineer, allowing Woodworth to focus on user experience moving forward.
The team will continue adding tours and improving the tour experience (potentially rolling out an app to aid in that improvement) while hammering out both front and back end technology upgrades.
More specifically, Jumpshell plans to raise $1.5 million in seed funding by the end of 2014 to expand to all of Boston and Chicago by the end of 2015. They previously raised a friends and family round that will carry them through 2014.
“At the end of the day,” Werner tells me, “the team at Jumpshell is really excited and driven to give every renter a phenomenal apartment search experience. We're confident we've found a way to accomplish that goal, while also making it advantageous for agents.”