Apartment hunting can be a brutally painful process. After weeks of unkept promises, unresponsive landlords, and filing far too many fee-based applications; you may want to just throw in the towel and go live in your parents’ basement. But the process of finding a good apartment might soon be a lot less harrowing if the folks at HomeMe succeed in Texas and disrupt the status quo.
The newly launched iOS app, HomeMe very much resembles other apartment-hunting apps like Naked Apartments, Trulia, HotPads, and PadMapper; but it has a few killer features that aim to make it easier to find the apartment you’re looking for.
Although the current spread of apartment-searching apps have been helpful in bringing the apartment search to mobile devices, they still only offer a way to contact brokers and see mostly low-quality images of apartment units at useless angles. In contrast, HomeMe intends to only match you with apartments you have been pre-approved to rent and also lets you apply through the app.
No more apartment fees, no more continuous credit checks — HomeMe puts the entire process of finding a new place to live onto your smartphone. The app is currently only is available in Houston, but Dallas and Austin are soon to follow. CEO and President Mark Douglas told Digital Trends that a nationwide rollout is planned for 2016.
Taking the stress out of the search
Right now, the process goes like this (at least in New York City): Hop onto an apartment-hunting site like PadMapper, narrow down a few listings you like (fee or no fee) based on your preferences, and email or call the brokers to set up a time to see the apartment. If you like the place, the broker or landlord will send over an application, which you have to pay to submit — usually around $100 — and you’ll have to provide various documents ranging from your letter of employment to pay stubs.
You also usually have to put down a deposit to get the apartment off the market, though if you get approved, that amount goes toward your first payment. After you have hopefully gotten approved, which largely depends on your credit, you then have to sign the lease and voila, you have a new apartment. But the process doesn’t always go that simply, and usually, it’s a hair-pulling ordeal.
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Morale hit rock bottom for me after visiting an apartment, submitting the required documents, paying the application fee and a deposit to take the listing off the market — only to find out that it was seized last minute by a friend of the landlord. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t happen, and HomeMe aims to help prevent similar snafus with a simplified application process.
Once you download the app and create a login, it will ask a few questions, including what your income is, where you want to live, and so on. It does this not only to find out what kinds of apartments it should match you with, but also because it’s setting up to start a credit check. The information you input is sent to the folks at HomeMe, who already have received criteria from the apartment management companies with which the app is partnered.
HomeMe is ultimately “responsible,” as Douglas says, for doing the credit check, which is available for you to use and apply with for 60 days. Once you get “pre-approved,” the app will start showing you apartments that match your credit rating, income level, preferences for area, and more.
“Every apartment you see in the app, you’re pre-approved to rent.” Douglas said. “So if you book an appointment to see it, you go and like it, you can reserve the apartment in the app, and you’re guaranteed to get it.”
There’s no need to bite your nails, hoping that you have been approved for a unit with HomeMe. Once you hit reserve, it’s yours, and reserving an apartment starts the leasing process.
“We have relationships with 40 percent of all the apartment management companies in Houston already, and it’s expanding very rapidly,” Douglas said. “We’re integrated directly into the system that those companies use to match apartments, which is why we can start the lease process electronically right from your phone.”
You can even put down a holding deposit within the app, and the next step is income verification and submitting your documents. There’s an option that lets you do this by taking a picture of documents, like your pay stubs or your driver’s license. Douglas says the process is secure, and you can pay through the app by entering your credit card information, or through Apple Pay.
With the backing of Menlo Ventures, the same venture capital firm that backed Uber, HomeMe is looking to expand rapidly throughout the country this year. When it comes to New York City, Douglas says he wants to work with apartment management agencies to get rid of broker fees. In addition, a commonly requested feature from the people he has talked to so far has been the ability to pay rent via the app. HomeMe is hoping to add that feature in a later update.
We’ll have to wait to see how well the app does, and we’ll definitely be giving it a try when it comes to our city. The app is free, and is available on iTunes. An Android version will arrive on the Google Play Store sometime in March.
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