More real estate sites go after renters

Mitchell Hartman Apr 7, 2010
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More real estate sites go after renters

Mitchell Hartman Apr 7, 2010
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Bob Moon: Whether it’s good or bad news very much depends on your perspective, but fresh numbers show apartment rents are starting to edge back up again, after taking a big dive during the recession.

Don’t be mistaken, though. Even with the housing crisis turning millions of homeowners into renters, it’s still very much a renter’s market out there. Vacancy rates remain at a 30-year high. That’s a lot of empty apartments. And an opportunity.

Trulia.com, one of the top search Web sites for home buyers, is moving into the rental business. Trulia joins a growing crowd of online real-estate sites going after the rental market.

From the Entrepreneurship Desk at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Mitchell Hartman took the new rental tool for a spin.


HEATHER FERNANDEZ: Let’s go ahead and type in Portland, Ore., into the search box.

HARTMAN: OK, and I haven’t given any preferences yet — bed, baths, whatever.

FERNANDEZ: No, I’ll let you do that on the next page.

Trulia VP Heather Fernandez is helping me find an apartment in Portland’s toney Pearl District. It’s all condos and lofts, and nothing much decent under $1,500 a month. I can zoom in on street views, check out floor plans, screen out places that won’t take my cat.

FERNANDEZ: And with one click, you go ahead contact that property manager.

Trulia sells ads on the site, rather than charging renters or property owners. That — and the richness of the data — is key to driving traffic, says Hessam Nadji at real-estate investment firm Marcus & Millichap.

HESSAM NADJI: The science of marketing apartments has really evolved. They’ve put the renter in the driver’s seat of being able to look at a variety of options very quickly. You know, secure their preferences from the standpoint of location, and amenities.

San Francisco-based Trulia has made a name for itself in the home-search market. But it’s entering a crowded field for rentals, including Zillow and Apartments.com, along with startups like MyNewPlace.com.

Nadji thinks there’s plenty of business to go around.

NADJI: Today’s renter community is a lot more professional adults and renters by choice. So the makeup of the rental market today is far more sophisticated than it ever has been.

And, Trulia invites users to rate buildings and neighborhoods to help others pick their new places.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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