In a Perfect World

 

Had we infinite time and resources, how would we continue to work on Project Student Housing? Given that this app idea was born of large ambitions, it feels useful to reflect on the vision beyond what we achieved only in this semester:

The long-term goal of PSH is to replace the role of the realtor and empower students to fully arbitrate off-campus housing.

This comes from three realizations during the construction of this app:

  1. Students that currently lease are the best-suited to introduce the property to other tenants, yet they rarely interact with them.
  2. Students looking for off-campus housing already rely on word of mouth to find potential listings.
  3. Realtor fees pose a cost on both tenants and landlords.

This creates an inefficient housing ecosystem. The students looking for housing can either stick to the small pool of options presented by upperclassmen they personally know, or they can use a realtor at greater personal cost to discover more options.

In a perfect world, the tenants would use their current, personal experience with their lease and landlord to market the property to all the students who might be interested. This would a) create transparency between the actions of the landlords and the potential tenants, and b) make realtors unnecessary as all off-campus listings are made public.

There are two questions of incentive that must be addressed. First, landlords don’t have an immediate reason to engage in a platform that has potential to negatively review them. But not only is there precedent for reviews to assure accountability in other high-profile apps (à la Airbnb/Uber), money talks. Landlords also lose money to realtors, and getting a high volume of potential tenants interested in a property is worth ceding some transparency.

The other problem is that current tenants do not receive any benefit for marketing and touring their property for anyone they do not know personally. But if the landlords paid their current tenants a fraction of the realtor fee for securing their replacements, there would be ample reason to provide occasional house tours and maintain a listing on the application.

If the sharing economy relies on removing the friction between consumers and producers, Project Student Housing stands to disrupt the industry of short-term lease agreements.

The platform distinguishes itself from the Airbnb model on the assumption that students trust students first, and that long-term tenants have greater credibility and insight into the property than the landlords themselves. In this model, landlords save money while being held more accountable, future tenants have a greater wealth of housing options, and the current ones pocket the difference.

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