Posts Tagged 'landlord'

Apt to get lost in listings

After spending hours upon hours sifting through many and varied apartment rental listings, it became very apparent to me that having a better way to compare rental listings would be a great benefit to consumers. Similar to the Schumer box summary for credit card terms, a standardized table of terms, costs, and details of a property rental could go a long way towards cleaning up the always-painful process of apartment hunting.

Many apartment listings (like those on most apartment hunters’ go-to resource, Craigslist) do allow for basic filtering based on monthly rent, number of bedrooms, and so on. However, without reading each individual listing it’s often impossible to make truly accurate comparisons. For example, one apartment may bill water usage separately while another may include water and heat in the price of rent. If both apartments are listed at $1500 per month, it’s not clear that the first apartment could cost another $50 per month (or $600 per year!) for water usage.

Different markets bundle costs in different ways — for example, I don’t know a single Boston renter who pays a separate water bill, but in Portland it seems to be the norm — so it makes sense to spell out all of the standard living expenses associated with the property. It may not be possible to provide exact dollar amounts for each cost; one tenant may use more or less heat than the next, for instance. But simply noting that a separate expense exists is more information than many listings currently provide, and more ambitious landlords could provide utility usage details (three year averages of past usage, for example). Detailing the cost of parking separately from the base rental price would also be hugely beneficial, regardless of whether the prospective tenant owns a car.[1]

Including a floor plan could also save both landlords and renters a lot of wasted time. There are many apartments that may meet a renter’s criteria in terms of total floor area (e.g. 1000 square feet), but a particular room may not meet the renter’s needs (e.g. 10 feet wide to fit a particular piece of furniture with a comfortable margin). It doesn’t serve the landlord or the would-be renter to visit the property and take the time and effort to measure it themselves. It may take time to draw up floor plans for each unit that a landlord owns, but it’s a one-time expense and all prospective tenants will gain from it. (And come on, I bet everyone knows a few out-of-work graphic designers who would be more than willing to fire up Illustrator and draft floor plans at reasonable rates.)

On the technical end, it would behoove all involved to draft a standard way to represent this information digitally. Off the cuff I’d say that an XML schema could do the trick, with floor plans included in the file as SVG. Once a standard format is created, it would be easy to use any XML-capable application (desktop, mobile, or web) to compare, sort, and display listings.

Landlords could still be free to write up any rental listing they saw fit, but the standardized summary would need to be provided as an addendum (or at the very least, on demand). I suspect that if enough consumers favored listings which included the summary, most landlords would be inclined to just go ahead and always include it to save themselves the time of dealing with individual requests.[2]

I created a quick and simple first draft [3] of what such a summary could look like — see the PDF below, which has some example values filled in.

Property rental summary example (PDF, 62 KB)

  1. More on this in a forthcoming review of Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking.
  2. Supposedly this is how the free market works, but more often than not information disclosure has to be mandated.
  3. The floor plan in particular is rough. More detail would be necessary to be useful; specifically, measurements for each room are key.
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