GREG BADER IS THE NEW CEO at rent.com.au. After just six months in the job, he is already shaking up the way that renters apply for property, as well as crafting an innovative pricing model where the agent pays zero unless the tenant also comes from rent.com.au. With the percentage of renters in today’s market continually growing, he says that the process of renting should be both ‘simpler and more fun for everyone concerned.’ Interview by Samantha McLean.
Firstly, Greg, tells us about your first few months at Rent. How has it been so far?
I came into rent.com.au nearly six months ago to look at their strategy. I really wanted to come up with something that was different to the other portals, for example to realestate.com.au and Domain. I felt we needed to stand for something; we are the new kid on the block and we are rent only.
What struck me in the first few months was the process of renting, particularly for younger people, is more complicated than it needed to be. I thought there were better ways to make the job of a property manager easier, because I know it is one tough job! But also for the flip side of that, for the person renting – to make it more logical and interesting, and easier for them as well.
I also believe an opportunity exists to make the whole process less intimidating for most people, and much more simple.
Rent has been very innovative in product development over the last 12 months. Let’s start with RenterResume.
RenterResume is something we have developed through consultation with renters and agents – a couple of focus groups that we spend a lot of time with – and they basically told us what they wanted.
We launched that product a few months ago, and it is going ballistic! We have over 50,000 resumes now, at about 500 new ones every day. People are using these to enquire and apply for rental properties. It’s a great tool from the renter’s point of view; they only have to put all of their information in once, and then it’s stored in a central database and can be used many times.
From the agent’s point of view, they receive a very rich source of renter information: who they are, their background, their previous history, employment history, pets – we have a pet resume as well. We also see this as a tool that benefits both parties.
You’ve also really shaken up the agent listings model with the new SmartPlan for agents. How does that work?
Property managers ask themselves (with good reason) ‘How many places do I need to list my property on?’. There are about 15 or so out there and we’d like to think we are in the top three for rental property. But still we are the new guy, so a fair question from a property manager is, ‘How am I going to find a good tenant with you?’ And we think that’s fair enough. So we are, in a way, guaranteeing it by only charging a fee if we find them a tenant.
Under SmartPlan a property manager can list any or all of their vacant rental properties, with the biggest ads on rent.com.au with no up front costs. There is a low advertising fee of $75, which is only paid for a listing when you find and approve a tenant through rent.com.au. If we don’t find you a tenant, the listing is completely free. There’s no risk to the agent or the owner, no lock-in contract.
We don’t expect a fee just for advertising, only when we’ve done some work. We think that sort of model is pretty logical and fair.
How are you attracting consumers or renters to rent.com.au right now?
There are three rules at rent.com.au which help us think about how we differentiate ourselves and which we think are fun and interesting for everyone: renters in suits, properties on pedestals and flicking the forms.
With ‘renters in suits’ it’s a philosophy where we want to present our renters to the agents better than our competitors do. And I think we have done that with RenterResume.
With ‘properties on pedestals’, we want our properties to be no less informational than our competitors’ and then we like to add extra. Walk score is an example – we put this into all of our properties now; it’s not available on any other site. At no other time in history, I think, have we had more young people or professional people moving between cities and towns. They are all going into environments where sometimes they don’t know a lot about the area, so the walk score is just a simple, easy way of illustrating things like whether you need a car or not. And it’s a great example of a little bit of extra information that benefits the renter but also benefits the agent, because we’ve got a better-informed tenant moving into the property.
For renters that have completed their RenterResume, we also have a commute calculator, where we can actually show commute time from work to home. We want to take that further and provide richer features around it – for example, searching for a rental property around a particular commute radius.
Lastly, flicking the forms is about automating where we can and keeping the process simple.
What about some of the other products (RentBond, RentCheck) – what has the uptake been like?
We are blown away by the performance, December was our highest ever month and January has just smashed December’s record. RentBond in particular is going great. Once again, thinking about it from a renter’s point of view, if you’ve got a couple of thousand dollars tied up in an a bond that’s a lot of money, so financing it over six months is a no-brainer. We do charge an interest rate, but we are not talking ludicrous amounts.
RentCheck links in with RentResume. A renter only needs to purchase the RentCheck once, and we store that for them to use on multiple applications, to highlight their standing and their credibility as a renter.
We’ve got other products coming that may be described as disruptive, but disruptive of the process rather than the individuals. Our products are there to make life easier for the individuals.
Where to next – what are your goals for 2017?
We are developing an ecosystem for renters, owners and agents. The real value though, I think, we’re yet to release. One of the passion points for me is that by virtue of creating the RenterResume, and starting to gather history on a person who has rented a house for 12 months or has had a positive reinforcement from the property manager, we are able to start highlighting Australia’s really valuable good tenants.
Where I would love to take this in six months, 12 months, is to make things even easier on everybody. For example, if we’ve got a really great agent and a really great tenant joined together in a property, why would we need an inspection on a quarterly basis which perhaps just wastes time and energy for everyone?
I’m hoping we can get to a point where, without any additional effort from anyone, we can start to personalise the renting process a bit more. So if you are a great renter and you’ve got 10,15, 20 years of good rental record behind you, why make it harder? Why not make it even easier by providing longer-term leases and things like that?
We want to be the default place where renters come – we see 2017 as our year to get bigger and better. I would definitely like to close this year out with a large percentage of this country’s rentals coming through us!