Staying in line with the raft of legislation and increased regulatory control governing the lettings sector often means that landlords use private lettings agents to manage the entire process. Fees for such services can range from 7-12% depending on the property´s location and the level of management required. An app that sets out to lower or even eliminates such overheads whilst ensuring that both smaller and larger landlords can offer a professional service without the associated headaches is always likely to appeal. Below is an interview with Adam Blaxter Paliwala (@the_rentr_app) from Rentr:
Why was Rentr created and why do you feel a service like this was missing from the marketplace?
We started the Rentr project in 2013 to address what we saw as a clear gap in the market: the space where mobile technology, ‘direct landlords’, and property management software services overlap. Our research showed that while the Agency space was fairly well supplied with a range of software services which made Agents’ lives easier, and their businesses more profitable, for over half of landlords, those who do not use an agent, there really was not any comprehensive lettings, property management, and accounting software service available. At that time the importance of mobile computing was obvious to us, both as a vector for landlords and tenants to access services and as a platform for them to manage their relationship to each other quickly and conveniently on the move.
The Rentr app was built to start to define a full-service solution to what we called the ‘Direct Landlord Mobile Technology Requirement’: to let and manage properties on and from your mobile device, in direct contact and communication with your tenants, securely, professionally, and in compliance with legal regulations.
From everything from Right to Rent to simply supplying of a copy of the DCLG´s “How to Rent” Guide how does the app ensure that all the regulatory / legal requirements are adhered to?
We have over two decades of experience in building software for the lettings sector. With the Rentr mobile app, landlords and tenants connect directly – exchanging information securely via our private cloud-based servers. We have already updated Rentr to enable Landlords to stay compliant with the property safety checks which became a requirement in October 2015, and we will continue to update the app as and when new regulations come into force. We actually work with another product we developed CheckDocs to supply right to rent checks – it is a neat mobile app that walks the landlord through the required checks and stores copies of documentation as per regulations, but more than that we have built the Rentr app to encourage and support landlords’ compliance with all regulation.
We do more than just cover legislation, we have built Rentr to encourage best-practices. Some examples: our in-built Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreements are comprehensively drafted and really easy to draw up and sign from a completed Application in the Rentr app; when a Tenant responds to a property advert, Rentr sets up a Viewing date and time for them to agree with the Landlord – all negotiated within the app and booked into mobile device calendars once agreed before allowing them to start an Application; Landlords are always provided with the option to use the app to get a professional reference for all applicants, and can secure their rent with Rentr Guarantee Insurance for any tenancies where all tenants have passed referencing.
Rentr keeps track of all the communications between landlords and tenants too, to help with any disputes in future. Our aim is for our landlords and their tenants to have all the tools they need to let and manage properties safely and securely from within one simple app. This is a complicated and increasingly regulated process, but we feel nobody else is better placed to develop this mobile App, and we set out to research and develop a solution to the challenge of connecting landlords, tenants, and professional grade advice and services for the entire lettings life cycle through a single simple mobile app, driven entirely by algorithms developed and encoded in the secure back end private cloud infrastructure.
What are the main marketing channels used to advertise a property up for rent and how does the app ensure that there is maximum exposure?
The current release of the Rentr App (2.1) allows landlords to advertise quickly and easily on Gumtree. We chose this because it is a well-visited online private advertising platform, and we have seen 4-6 viewings requests per property coming through within the first 24 hours Rentr users have had their properties on Gumtree. These are Viewings that are already requested in the app and can be confirmed and converted into Tenancy Application quickly and easily. Our next release, Rentr 2.2 (July 28th 2016), includes listing on the Rentr website and in the Tenant app: landlords who mark their property as Available or ‘available in future’, or use the Advertising settings to control their Rentr listing, will be able to receive Viewings requests, and then Applications, for properties directly from the app, or via our website. We have nearly 2,000 potential applicants already registered with Rentr.
As software developers, we know that including additional advertising channels is very simple, and we are always interested to hear from our users as to what sites they most want to use: we can add these in very easily, and our Advertising module is built with simple control switches to give Landlords the maximum choice. One big question we have asked ourselves, and often been asked, is whether Rentr will enable private ‘direct’ agent-less landlords to list on Rightmove or Zoopla – the ‘big two’ property portals. From the earliest days of the project, our answer was a (sometimes reluctant) ‘no’. Those portals advertise themselves and exist to serve and service their big clients: the estate and lettings agencies, and Rentr is not aimed at that market. However, as the last two years have shown ‘online’ agency is gaining ground, and while we strongly believe that self-service ‘DIY lettings’ will become more and more the norm, it is always an option for Rentr to work with a partner and enable landlords to get a ‘let only’ advertising service on Rightmove and Zoopla, if that is what our users truly want.
Should the landlord be some distance away from the property and does not want to spend a significant amount of time organising viewings, what would be your suggestion to effectively manage this process?
The Rentr app actually manages the Viewings process completely within the app. Tenants can respond to a listing on a third party portal, on the Rentr website, or in the app itself and request a Viewing, which appears on the Landlord’s app menu. Rentr makes it easy to pick a date and time, or to message a tenant directly – organising everything conveniently within the app and then booking confirmed viewings into the device’s mobile diary. It really is quick and easy to organise with Tenants, and much more convenient, than phone calls or text messages: you phone buzzes, you check the details, edit, or confirm. Some Rentr landlords organise ‘open house’ days like this: booking everyone in on a single day from within the app.
How does the referencing / credit checking procedure operate via the app?
We have done a great integration with Homelet‘s referencing service, so that Landlords and Tenants using the Rentr app to manage their Applications can easily start and monitor the referencing process. Everyone involved in the Application reviews and taps to agree the basic Tenancy Terms (start date, duration, rent etc.), and individual tenants submit their rent shares and some personal information via the app to get the referencing started. Landlords just tap a button to start referencing for a tenant, who is then guided through the process by Homelet’s online service. Landlords and tenants can check the referencing status in the Rentr app, and the final report is shared with both the Tenant and the Landlord in the app itself, making it easy for the final decision on renting the property to be made.
Could you tell us a bit more about the how the process of placing deposits with the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) works, particularly ensuring that inventories are processed accurately and securely?
Rentr work with MyDeposits who have a new API-driven service for registering deposits with the TDS. At present we track and share the registration certificate number with landlords and tenants, and Rentr reminds everyone of their rights and obligations in that regard. This summer we will be completing an integration that allows landlords to click through and register deposits quickly and easily from the Rentr App itself. For inventories, yes – we have another product for property site visit reporting and inventory generation and management. Our landlords can expect to see a deep integration bringing all of that functionality directly into the Rentr app with a release later this year. Even more importantly, Rentr 2.3 (August 2016) will include secure maintenance issue reporting, so that Tenants and Landlords can rely on the Rentr app to always have a record of any issues with the property, when they were reported, and what has been done to deal with them. This is important information for all parties if a future dispute over the deposit takes place.
How is all the documentation kept confidential and secure?
The Rentr app itself is actually very light on the device itself – all the data and documentation is encrypted and securely transmitted to our Tier 2 data centre facilities in the south of England. Rentr Landlords and Tenants share information and documents over the app, so we have taken great care to ensure they only see information that they have been approved to see. Personal names, for example, are only shared between parties who have agreed to interact over Rentr. One of the strengths of Rentr is that we partner with best-in-class third-party professional service providers to get some things done, so key documentation is always available to landlords and tenants securely and independently of our service. Referencing reports, right to rent checks, and tenancy agreements, for example, are all also stored and managed by a service provider, as well as being easy to view in the Rentr app itself. Rentr provides a single place for all your records, but you have backups with the service provider if you should need it, and you can always download and keep your own copy, if you choose.
There may be tenants who are not so “tech savvy” and prefer the traditional way of doing things, how is Rentr catering to this segment of the market?
As a mobile app, Rentr is for the two thirds of UK adults* who use smartphones, in particular for the 90% of 16-24 year olds (a key tenant demographic). Our website will support users who go online without using a phone, but to be completely honest: Rentr really is for the mobile generation, young and old.