Deidre Woollard: Hello, I'm Deidre Woollard, an editor at Millionacres. Thank you so much for tuning into Millionacres Podcast. Today my guest is Jonas Bordo of Dwellsy. I first encountered him when he sent me a note about his advocacy to do away with the security deposit for renters. I was intrigued there. We're going to talk about that and much more on the podcast today. Jonas as the founder of Dwellsy, which is a growing rental platform for listing and finding rentals. Well welcome.
Jonas Bordo: Thanks so much for having me Deidre, it's a pleasure.
Deidre Woollard: But let's talk about the security deposit thing because you believe it's outmoded, you believe they are better options. Tell me your side of the story.
Jonas Bordo: Honestly, this is one of the most frustrating things for both sides of the market, for both landlords and renters. Obviously for the renters, it's a huge amount of money to have to come up with, and it's your funds at risk when you don't really have a lot of control in that situation. So it's often a source of friction and frustration for the renter. For the landlord at this point, there's so much regulatory risk around it, and it has to be handled in such careful ways in most markets that it's actually more trouble than it's worth. Plus, it just introduces this real chance of what I just say, bad behavior, if you will. Is the carpet really done, or was it the renter who did that or was it just three or four years old and it's time for new carpet? Well, if you've got a $2,000 security deposit sitting there, it's awfully tempting to tap that. If you're the landlord, if you're the renter, it's very easy to look at that and say, "Hey, the carpet was already done when I moved in." It's that sort of thing that's on the margin that's really subjective where I think there's just so much friction around it. For so many reasons, just affordability issues, logistics challenges, friction. It's time to move on. Now there's finally great tools available as an alternative to that.
Deidre Woollard: Some of those tools are things like rental insurance, right?
Jonas Bordo: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah, there's rental insurance policies. There's different types of approaches from a technical standpoint, but fundamentally what they do is they get a third-party to take some payments from the renters and basically say that third-party is now responsible for any damage that the renter might do to that property, and that third-party gets to stand in the middle. If the landlord has a problem, usually they can get access to more funds than they would have gotten from the security deposit if the renter genuinely does some significant damage and the renter is not standing there as the backstop just in case it's stuff on the margin or it's not really their doing. There's more balanced approach.
Deidre Woollard: Yeah, and it definitely takes the way that issue. If you're a renter, it's like when you rent a car, I think you feel like you want to take pictures of everything so that you don't have to have that fight later on and be like, "No, this was here when I got here."
Jonas Bordo: Yeah. That's absolutely true. That's such a frustrating process and nobody can really litigate that effectively in this group. Neither renter nor landlord is well-positioned to do that, so it's better just to have a third-party to do that.
Deidre Woollard: Absolutely. The other thing that it really brings up, I think it highlights the issue that we've seen all along, which is how much rules very by state. We see this across every aspect of rentals, home ownership, anything. The way that rules vary by state, I think, is so frustrating. We saw it with the eviction moratoriums and how they were all done but not even close to being through that. I feel like that is another factor when you look at zero deposits.
Jonas Bordo: Absolutely, is the patchwork quilt of having to deal with all the different situations. You've got renters who are moving from one place to another, they don't know the law. It's not fair to ask them to understand the law, what the landlord's responsibilities are. Nine times out of 10, landlords don't understand the law either. So you've got people on both sides guessing, getting it wrong, and just it's not to anybody's benefit in the situation. That patchwork quilt is such a problem in the whole rental market.
Deidre Woollard: Totally agree with that. Another place that comes into play is rental data. I have been talking about this for a long time. I get so frustrated with the fact that there's not an MLS, there's not a system. Data standards in rental is vary widely. How are you dealing with wrangling all that kind of data to help consumers find rentals?
Jonas Bordo: Effectively, that's what we're building. There's more than 10 million individual landlords in the United States, a huge fragmentation across the entire industry. Your average landlord owns one or two rental units in the United States, they don't have any structured data. There is no structured way that they're thinking about their data and there's never been an MLS that's really stepped into that void and filled that gap. If you look at the legacy platforms that have provided services to consumers who are looking for rentals or services to landlords who are looking for renters, they've been focused on, with the exception of Craigslist being a paid service where you have to buy a classified ad. What we've seen is just most landlords are not willing to buy a classified ad. Those big platforms might have five, six, seven percent of the inventory if they are wildly successful. The biggest names in the industry historically have had that. Dwellsy tried to remove all the barriers to listing with us with the intent of really building that single destination. We're north of 20 percent of data across the country and growing rapidly.
Deidre Woollard: Interesting because I was talking to a coworker the other day, we were talking about this problem and he was saying that he was on one service and his wife was on another service. They we're looking the exact same place. They were getting completely different listings, and it's such a large problem to solve. What do you think about the single-family rental market? Right now, we're in the midst of this single-family rental massive shift. Some of the bigger players are starting to make their own platforms. Traditionally, that's a one or two unit investor, like you mentioned before. How do you capture all of that when that's such a big part of the market?
Jonas Bordo: It is. Most people are not necessarily aware of this, but roughly a third of the US rental inventory is single-family homes for rent. That's been the case for a long time. You're talking about 15, 16 million properties across the country. Another third is small format multi-family. Your two-unit building or four-unit building, that thing. That's most of the inventory in the United States and most of that is owned by individual investors, so aggregating that is hugely problematic. A couple of things have happened. One, there's a lot of good property management software solutions for small landlords now. If you just have one or two or three properties, there are tools that you can use. If you have 20-50 properties, there are tools you can use that are great in that range. That really has created some professionalization around many of those individual landlords and the very small property management companies that use our software tools as well. But still roughly half of the US inventory is not using any software like that. There's no structured data, so we're rolling that up and really getting access to that for the benefit of renters and to help landlords fill their properties and get other services they need. That's going to be a huge challenge ahead for us.
Deidre Woollard: Interesting. Because I still see people using Craigslist. I still see "for rent" sign written in marker out in front of a house. How do you reach out to those smaller individual landlords? Is there an advocacy campaign associated with that?
Jonas Bordo: Yes. It's funny, our most successful advocacy campaigns so far have been our consumer advertising to reach renters. Seems to catch a lot of individual landlords, as well. As they are thinking about listing their places, most people are too scared about Craigslist to use it. When I was looking for an apartment years ago and I use Craigslist, it seemed like there is some sketchy stuff on there, but now we're at the point where 70, 80 percent of the listings are fraudulent, so you can expect to see fraud non-stop on there. There's also been fraud targeting landlords on Craigslist, which is really scary for that group as well. I see fewer and fewer, I was expecting actually when I launched Dwellsy to hear a lot about Craigslist from others and I don't. What I hear about is yard signs, I hear about local newspapers taking classified ads from people. Again, we're too like back to 1978. [laughs] We're working to bring those folks to Dwellsy and create a path to listing in a way that gets everybody their places rented in a very cost-effective way.
Deidre Woollard: What you are seeing on rental rates right now, we saw during the pandemic, rental rates in some areas, San Francisco, New York went down, they seem to becoming back up. What have you seen?
Jonas Bordo: Oh my goodness, Deidre. It's the craziest rental market I've ever seen this past 18 months in so many different ways. The one thing about it is that almost defies logic in definition is you have to look at the whole country, almost neighborhood by neighborhood. The way I've started to think about it is you've got the large coastal markets, the San Francisco's and the New York's that are so expensive, and everybody just ran away from those central city locations. We saw rental prices plummet as a result of that. Where did they go? They didn't generally go out to the country or to completely random locations, they tended to go to the next tier of cities. They tended to try to take spaces where they had more outdoor space, where their dollar went further. You saw somebody from San Francisco, moving to the suburbs of Seattle, for example, and creating new pressure in that submarkets in Seattle, or submarkets in Boise, for example. Then you get this other overlay of during COVID people wanted to be further away from transit centers, further away from population centers, and have a little more outdoor space. Now what we're seeing is people flooding back into those markets, particularly in the affluent cohort. You look at workforce housing in Kansas City, it's hardly changed at all. It's been pretty steady through COVID, and it's pretty steady today. You look at high-end premium housing in most cities, and it had a huge crash and now it's coming back, especially that transit optimize staff that so many landlords have been building over the last few years. Single-family homes continue to be massively in demand, and people are coming at it from a bunch of directions. Individual owners and occupiers of those properties have driven the price up and the supply down. Plus you've got corporate entrants into that market. The institutional owners, Blackstones of the world, coming in to take position of the market, which has got a lot of press, but in terms of how much they actually control, it's just a tiny slice of that market. I don't know how big a factor that really is, except in places like Phoenix, where they've taken 15 or 20 percent of the market in some months apparently.
Deidre Woollard: That's definitely true. I think you're right. I think that those big platforms get a lot of hype partly because they are amassing billions of dollars, and that's always [laughs] going to attract a headliner too. But it really is still mostly a individual landlord business and single-family rentals for the most part. You're in San Francisco, right?
Jonas Bordo: Correct.
Deidre Woollard: What have you seen? I love that city, but I know it's been going through its pains. What do you feel right now about your home market?
Jonas Bordo: It's tough. In the city itself, we saw a lot of people leave, and a lot of people shift out of the market, not for the long term. I think there were some very well-publicized departures of folks, and people have gone to Miami, or gone to Austin, with some publicity attached to it, which was entertaining and frustrating for those of us who are still here. But if you look at the overall demographics, they haven't really shifted that much. What we did see is people leaving the center of the city, and now people returning. We did see some things, when you have a dense urban environment, there's certain things we count on. It's nice to have people around you when you're walking down the street in a big city. When there's no people around you, it starts to feel a little more dangerous, and in some cases it is. We definitely saw an uptick in that. In the suburbs of San Francisco, where I live down in the Peninsula, pricing has just been insane. Houses turned immediately, I can't remember the last time I saw a sign on a house that said "For Sale", they all start off saying "Coming Soon" and then they go straight to "Sold".
Deidre Woollard: Right. [laughs] That's absolutely true. Same thing in my neighborhood here in Alexandria, Virginia. I see "Coming Soon", I see "Pending", and then it's gone. [laughs] It's like, "Was it ever on the market? Maybe not."
Jonas Bordo: [laughs] Exactly. I do see some rentals. There are definitely some rentals in the neighborhood, and those have a tendency to linger a little bit longer. But the for-sale stuff, man, goes fast.
Deidre Woollard: Except for the condos. I'm noticing the condo market is just a little sluggish, especially bigger, older buildings in particular, I'm seeing some softness, not just here in my market but elsewhere it seems like older buildings, large buildings where there's just like a lobby, big, tall buildings, that seems to be the only segment of the market that's maybe a little bit less desirable right now for a variety of reasons.
Jonas Bordo: What's the commonality there? It's shared common areas. It's being in an elevator with strangers. I think that's a reminder that the pandemic's not over yet. People are still making decisions based on pandemic risk, especially in this moment when we have Delta coming and getting everybody a little more scared than we've been for a few months.
Deidre Woollard: You mentioned Boise. I feel like I need to have a drinking game anybody mentions Boise, [laughs] because we all keep talk about Boise, because it's where so many people from California are going. But are there other markets that you've seen based on your data on the site that you've seen search traffic go up?
Jonas Bordo: It's so funny, the nature of our traffic today is all over the country, and it's hard to pinpoint any one area. Definitely see places where outdoor space is common, and where the weather is good, ticking up, lots of San Diego lately. That's been very popular. A lot of places in the mountain country have been very popular. A lot of California destinations have been very popular in general with our site. Disproportionate amount of searching in Hawaii. I have a few guesses as to why that is. But a good place to be for a bunch of different reasons. Those are some of the places that have been disproportionately popular recently. But really, it's funny, from week to week we'll have someplace, we had a big week in Pittsburgh, the other week, I was like, "What's going on in Pittsburgh? I don't know."
Deidre Woollard: Are you rolling out Dwellsy's on a area by area basis, or is it all across the country right now?
Jonas Bordo: It's a great question. When we wrestle with from the beginning, my original hypothesis was that we would roll it out area by area. But when we launched, we had as much inventory as the original classifieds folks. Now we're at about 2-3 times those legacy folks in terms of the inventory on our platform, so we're credible in every market, and pretty much in most markets we've got more inventory than anyone else. That just continues to provide firm foundation as we expand.
Deidre Woollard: Is that one of the things that you're tracking, and can you track how much inventory that your competitors have?
Jonas Bordo: Yeah, it's not perfect. One of the things that's traditionally been a challenge, we're a little nuts at Dwellsy about making sure that we're only showing actual available inventory. One of the challenges with this space is a lot of the units shown on older platforms are not available. That makes it a little bit complicated to track what's actually out there. You mentioned Craigslist earlier. If you look on there, the rational posting strategy for a fraudster or a legitimate landlord on Craig's List is to post three times a day, seven days a week. Each available unit might show up 21 times in the course of a week. You can't just count the number of listings and assume that that's the amount of listings on there. Likewise on the older sites, could be as much as 60-70 percent unavailable. We try to track to that. Usually the sites will tell you in a given region how much they have available. You have to do a little personal math to try to figure out what's actually available. We've gotten pretty good at that here.
Deidre Woollard: [laughs] Interesting, I think you mentioned a really good point there about listings that aren't available. I've seen that before with rentals. It's funny, I think we used to see that a lot more on Zillow, back in the day when they were getting data from a variety of different partners, that problem seemed to go away for them. Rentals, like we said before, it's just such a problem with data that I think you're right, that's a real problem on a lot of different size.
Jonas Bordo: I agree. I have to give Zillow a lot of credit. They've gotten much tighter around just showing available stuff. They still have some old listings on there, but they're pretty tight on that. They're actually usually who are looking at to see how we compare from an inventory standpoint.
Deidre Woollard: Takes so many engineers to wrangle all of this data.
Jonas Bordo: [laughs] It does.
Deidre Woollard: I wanted to talk a little bit about the eviction moratoriums. It's something that's on my mind lately. We just recently published some data on Millionacres about, talking about that patchwork effect, how it's affecting markets disproportionately. Does that have any impact on your side? Are you hearing anything from the landlords you work with?
Jonas Bordo: Yeah. I hear a lot about that from both landlords and renters. It's a very frequent point of conversation, and frankly, an incredible source of frustration. I think there is an opportunity at the beginning of the pandemic to do a good job about covering both sides of the market and really thinking through the impact. It wouldn't have been that complicated, but the [laughs] worst way to do it was to have a patchwork national moratorium that was poorly described and only covered renters, didn't cover landlords. That's what we went with. Talk to a huge number of renters who don't know what the rates are, don't know how to pursue them, cannot penetrate the bureaucracy in order to get access to funds to which they're entitled. The big landlords are fine. It's frustrating for them when somebody is not paying the rent, but they've got enough balance between people who are in order to cover the people who aren't. The ones that's really hurting is the individual landlords, the person with one or two units who is counting on that for their income. They have a renter who, in most cases is in good faith, unable to pay, can't figure out how to access help, and that landlord is now, in some cases at risk of losing their property because of that. It's really matters to find the worst way to handle it that we could possibly imagine unfortunately,.
Deidre Woollard: Yeah, I would agree with that. I feel like we were almost getting to the end of it. Now with the Delta variant it's very hard to say what's going to happen next. But I think fundamentally, you made that point about we didn't support the individual landlords in the way we should have. I think so many of them didn't understand what their tenants would have access to and then try to get help. We have one landlord on our team who was trying to get access to things for her tenant and had a really tough time, so very frustrating situation all the way around.
Jonas Bordo: Yeah. The proof level for renters to be able to prove that they can't afford it has gotten so high in so many markets. Then on the landlord side, here in California, the initial decision was that there were only going to reimburse landlords for 80 percent which sounds good in the press, and oh yeah, we're going to stick it to the landlords by 20 percent but they'll be fine because they'll get something. The rational choice for that landlord is just not to participate in that process then. You ended up with nobody being able to get access to anything. We just saw things like that all across the country which is just so hard for everybody. Could have been so much easier.
Deidre Woollard: Yeah, totally agree. Let's take a quick break here.
Deidre Woollard: I'm back with Jonas Bordo of Dwellsy. We're talking about rental properties. I got to ask how does Dwellsy make their money. You said you're against pay to play rental platforms. So where does the income come from?
Jonas Bordo: The fundamental principle that we're building is we need to be able to have all of the inventory. That's the necessary precursor to really serve the renter and really serve the landlord well. If we're going to get that, you're not going to get there by taking the traditional path and charging an access fee standing at that intersection and taking a toll from one side or the other side. You really need to remove those barriers. Dwellsy has no charge for listing. There's no charge for leases or leads or any of the things that they've traditionally charge landlords for no charge for the renters either. Where are we going to make money? We offer a variety of products for renters and for landlords that are premium services, if you will. Instant tax alerts for renters, fair housing compliance for landlords, or some of our earlier products is a lot more coming down the pipe as we build out this platform.
Deidre Woollard: When I was looking on your site, I saw a pop-up for Dwellsy Gold. Is that one of the things that you're trying out?
Jonas Bordo: Yeah, absolutely. That will be a product that's coming soon. Really if you're a renter and you're looking for an edge in the market, it can be really hard to find the right place. There's a variety of different ways that we can give renter an edge, and we're pulling in all the stops there to develop a product that's really going to give that renter that edge in the market that will give them the advantage and help them find the great place as quickly and efficiently as they can while making the process a little more enjoyable.
Deidre Woollard: Well, that's interesting too, because thinking about single-family rentals, one of the things that's different between if you make an appointment with an apartment place, they're going to have multiple apartments, but single-family rentals, each their own little thing, where it is, lot size, all of that stuff, it's so idiosyncratic that I think that there is that scramble. If that's the house you want, you got to get there first because these individual landlords don't really have the patience to go through 20, 30, 40 applications. There is a very early stop point, I think with individual landlords that you don't get with multi-family.
Jonas Bordo: No, that's incredibly true. You're traditional multi-family exactly as you described. You walk in there for your appointment. They might have 10 units available because they always have 10 units available, and that's the nature of it. Those units are fairly inter-changeable, but that's not where most people live. Most people live in unique places. Single-family rentals or small format places or a condo that they're renting from somebody, and for that thing, when it comes up it goes fast. Sometimes that landlord might have five or 10 inquiries within an hour of listing it. Our instant tax alert product has been really popular with renters for that reason, is because it allows them to be first to inquire on a property which is a pretty big advantage to get. That's first of the advantages that we're offering to renters in our platform and there will be more to come beyond that, but you're exactly right. For that kind of thing, to find the place that's in the right school district that we'll take your dog, that has the right number of bedrooms, and the work-from-home space that you need. When you find that you've got to jump on it.
Deidre Woollard: Yeah. I know in Seattle they have that first come, first served law for renters. I'm thinking maybe that's going to spread out a little bit. Are you keeping track of all of those different laws that are popping up all over the country?
Jonas Bordo: There is many sets of rental laws, as there are municipalities and sometimes more. There's tens of thousands of different sets of laws around renting across the country. It's incredibly hard to keep track of them all. No individual landlord can do it, and really no human can do it frankly. We actually have an AI system that we're teaching to start first with Federal Fair Housing and then broaden out to tackle some of the more significant local programs to really try to understand what do landlords need to do, and that will be one of the services we offer down the line, is a toolkit to help landlords actually be legal instead of just hope for the best. Hopefully, we'll get involved in some advocacy to bring some reality down the line and some standardization so that renters can know what to expect and we can have some transparency for them as well as for landlords.
Deidre Woollard: Well that brings up another question that I wanted to ask you, which is fair housing laws. I talked to landlords and they're worried about what to put in ads. They know that there is certain things they're not supposed to put in there, but it's getting more and more challenging. What advice are you giving to people, do look at ads to screen them or how does that work?
Jonas Bordo: Yeah, they should be worried. There's a lot of risk there. Again, incredibly difficult to be compliant, almost impossible. Some of the core principles are you shouldn't be marketing to the individual and you shouldn't be in any way, thinking of one of the most basic marketing lessons that every marketer is taught in school is market to the individual that you want to sell to. You can't do that in this space. The other thing you can't do is show any preference for any group, even in a secondary way. Your property is next door to a Catholic Church, you can't mention that. You've just shown a preference for somebody who is Catholic over somebody who is not. The floor is sound proof, so it's great for toddlers, won't make as much noise. Well, you've shown a preference for somebody with kids. You can't say those kinds of things. Again, we're working on this AI algorithm that we will rollout as a tool to help landlords stay legal. But there's again, a huge amount of legal complexity just around that, just helping people be legal is legally complex. We're not lawyers here and we have no plans to become lawyers, but what we just want to do is have a really clean, really fair listing platform that gives every renter a fair shot at every rental and allows the best person to find each place that suits them. That's a challenging goal, given the complexity of our legal infrastructure.
Deidre Woollard: True and especially since so many of these mom-and-pop landlords, if this is their one or two houses, maybe they are doing this once every few years. Probably, they don't have the time or inclination to keep up on all of this stuff. This isn't their core job, they've probably got other jobs and other responsibilities. So I think that's part of the problem there too, is that people when they're scared, I've noticed, will tend to err on the side of just putting the most short one sentence. It's a two-bedroom house, it has a fireplace. Because they are afraid that if they get descriptive, they might describe their way into trouble.
Jonas Bordo: Yeah. I think there is something to that, we're not selling shoes here. People are looking for a place that suits them. They know what they are looking for, each place is unique. Even in 300-unit community where each floor plate is identical, there's difference between being on the 3rd floor and the 4th floor, and that's going to matter to somebody. In many ways, I think what we're doing here is retreating to structured data and being able to say, "Yes, we take dogs. Yes, this is the square footage of the place. Yes, these are the amenities that are offered," really meets the need and getting away from the Craigslist's style long-form pros description, which really isn't necessary. Again, we're not selling shoes, we're not selling perfume, we're not selling things like that, that are like mostly marketing in terms of the value. The value here is a roof over your head and a home for you and your family and your loved ones. It's a very different character in terms of what it is. I don't think it needs a lot of that embellishment.
Deidre Woollard: You mentioned dogs, I wanted to ask you your opinion on pet rent, pet deposits. We talked about security deposits before, what do you think about pet deposits?
Jonas Bordo: I'm an economist by training, Deidre. I think wherever you can allocate the cost to the people who are creating that cost, often things work out better. That's a wonky way to describe it. But ultimately, there are costs to pet at a property. Those costs come in greater wear and tear for the individual unit, for the common areas. There are cleanup costs, negative externalities that folks are going to experience from barking or whatever, and there are costs associated with those things. Pet rent has always seemed like a very reasonable way of allocating those costs to the people who bring the pets to the properties. Frankly, I think renters should be able to have pets. I think we should be welcoming pets at every rental property in the country. I think that's great for everybody involved. But we should recognize there's cost involved. If we want to allocate those costs to the people who are involved, it's the same as charging a toll on a highway. That way the people driving on the highway pay that toll instead everybody else. It seems reasonable to me and I think fair.
Deidre Woollard: You mentioned you're an economist by training, what led you to create Dwellsy?
Jonas Bordo: Here's the wonky answer to that, it's a broken market. Fundamentally, rental housing in America is a completely broken market today. What we're trying to do at Dwellsy is fix this broken market and make it work really well for renters and make it work really well for landlords. There is no reason this market is $550 billion in transactions a year done with yard signs mostly. That's insane in this day and age. What I saw when I was running a large portfolio of rental properties was that both from the renter perspective as well as from the landlord perspective, this market was failing everybody and it seemed an opportunity to make that market work. To comment about my economics training goes back to my roots, making a market work efficiently is very attractive to me.
Deidre Woollard: Makes sense, and yeah it is majorly broken. Let's talk about another broken part of it, which is imagery. Images for rentals, especially for single-family rentals, they can be bad, there's there's a whole cottage industry of Instagram and blog accounts dedicated to bad listing photos and especially bad rental photos. How do we start fixing that problem?
Jonas Bordo: Yeah. It's a great question for a bunch of different reasons. When we started this at Dwellsy, one of our original hypotheses was we really needed to fix that. What we're seeing is there's a ton of traffic flow to properties that might just have price and a location and a grainy photo and maybe two or three other details about it. I think that in contrast to the for-sale world where you're really selling a lifestyle, I think we need to find a different path to good photography and good description, which is it actually saves the landlord a lot of money in time. Because if you have good photography, that's a lot fewer phone calls you need to take. That's a lot fewer tours you need to give. Because people can see in the photos, "Oh this place doesn't look like my home," or "it does look like by home," and they can really get a sense of it. I think that's where the real value creation is here. Because unlike staging a home and putting a ton of money where people have argued you can get 5, 10, 15 percent or more in additional value out of good staging and good photography, the margin with rentals just isn't there. Paying for expensive photography for a one-off rental rarely makes sense, just on the rent alone, but I think it does save the landlord a lot of time. Those landlords who are trying to figure out how to show the place to 40 different folks, many of whom are not going to be interested once they open the front door, good photography can save them from a lot of that. That's what we've been trying to advocate for. We've built a platform called Lightbox, which is a tool for landlords to be able to find great photographers who are interested in doing building photography near them. For as little as $75, you can get a professional to shoot your home for rental. Is that an asset that you have, if you're looking for a new mortgage or you're looking to share it with the new renter, there's a ton of reasons to have good photography place, and a great professional will be happy to do that work.
Deidre Woollard: That's fantastic because I feel like that's another problem. I've known some of the people at different companies like PlanOmatic, for example, that does photography around the country. There's never been a really great system for cheap photography for real estate. I had a friend in LA who is trying to build that. Curious about your take on how many photos you should have. I used to work at Realtor.com so it was something that we debated and looked at data for endlessly. What's your take?
Jonas Bordo: It depends on the type of property for a single-family rental or your typical small multi-family where you don't really have any amenities at the property, and I think you're talking a handful of outdoor photos and some pretty detailed into our shots. If you've got 20 pictures, you are probably in the right neighborhood for that. If you're at a big community with lots of amenities, you're going to want to show all the amenity photos or whatnot. Whether those are actually valuable is a whole other thing. People get pretty frustrated by seeing only amenity and model photos. Everybody wants to see the photo of the unit that they're actually going to see that they would actually live in. They want to see the views from those windows. Most large multi-family folks are just not set up to provide that kind of detail unfortunately today, but hopefully, we'll get better on that front as well. But it's one of the areas where we're working the numbers on our end to try to figure out what the optimal number of photos is. As I mentioned, I have been shocked by how many inquiries come in for the places with only one or two grainy photos. I think we're going to look at the metrics a little bit differently because in our world, because we're not getting paid by the lead, we care deeply about having a good experience for the renter, the good experience to the landlord. That means that the leads from the landlord perspective or the inquiries from the renter perspective need to be high-quality. If you're getting a ton of leads because you haven't provided any detail, those are going to be really low quality leads. That's not a great outcome for that landlord to have a sea of people who aren't that interested, that they have to wade through in order to find the good renters. Better to have a high-quality lead.
Deidre Woollard: That is a fantastic point because that's absolutely true. It's great to get a lot of attention, but if it's not the quality attention, it's wasting everybody's time. What about search filters? Obviously, that's something that is very important. It's challenging, especially because now most people tend to be searching on mobile devices versus searching on desktop, that whole dynamic has changed things. How are you at Dwellsy thinking about search filters and adding and subtracting them?
Jonas Bordo: We've been really iterative on search filters with more inventory than any other site. Triage in some markets and helping renters get down to a manageable number of listings is a material challenge. There are some markets were I look at them, there's just not that many rentals. It's really not that big an issue. But for other markets like Chicago, we have tens of thousands of available listings in Chicago. You can look in one given neighborhood, we might have a couple hundred of options in that neighborhood. The filters get really important there. The basics that are just critically important to people are location obviously. You need to be able to filter on that. You need to be able to filter on pet, which is a huge challenge. The structured data on pets is terrible. The places that will take small dogs, well, what's a small dog? Is that a 20-pound dog, a 15-pound dog, a 35-pound dog? The breed restrictions, there's no data supporting breed restrictions at all, but there's so many communities that have breed restrictions because people have a fear of a particular breed or another breed, and they just don't want to have that in the community because of irrational fears. That's another thing that's a challenge. After that, it really gets very individual down to the individual renter or what they're looking for. We've tried to support that with, is Internet speed really important to you? Well we'll have Gig Internet as an option, that kind of thing. We'll try to have more and more of those over time. But coming back to the landlords, most landlords are not that good at telling folks about their places and getting that data. That's the other side of it, as there's no point in having a lot of filters if you say, well, I only want places with Gig Internet and only 10 percent of the places that have Gig Internet are telling you that they have Gig Internet. Then you're going to rule out a lot of good options for you. That's the other challenge that we've wrestled with.
Deidre Woollard: Interesting. How do you solve that problem? Is it surveys and questionnaires? What is the way to get landlords to really think about the amenities that they have that they're not even putting on there?
Jonas Bordo: What we're building is a set of AI tools that will basically start asking the involved parties, the renter who's interested in the place who submitted an inquiry, maybe they found out about the Internet and we can ask them, does this place have Gig Internet. These things are worth money. If you offer Gig Internet, if you have a dishwasher, if you have some of the things people are looking for that they might not be able to tell from your description, you can get more rent. We'll provide a bunch of tools in time that help landlords fill in the gaps. Then once we know, the next time that place gets rented, we can ask again, we recommended that you install a dishwasher last time, did you? That sort of thing.
Deidre Woollard: It makes me think about things like central air that maybe people neglect to put on there but in our increasingly warm environment, it's very important factor. Last question for you. I feel like I have a sense of where you want to go with Dwellsy. Obviously, it sounds like you want to get more and more listings. But what is the future plan for you, like five years out?
Jonas Bordo: It's our goal to really serve every renter and every landlord and be the destination where everybody is finding their next home and everybody is able to find their interest that they need in order to fill their property and keep them fully occupied and to really have a high liquid, high velocity marketplace that works well for all involved and really makes renting a better experience in this country. That's the goal. If we can accomplish that, then we've done what we set out to do.