One time I built a Yelp for housing. It failed. Here is what I learned.

I once built a Yelp for apartments/rentals. It did not work out. This is that story.

The Idea

My idea was to bring more "inside information"/ qualitative data out that would help landlords be better, and renters make better decisions.

It did not work out.

I learned a lot about the mentality of big landlords, small landlords, and renters in general.

You can't move a boulder with a toothpick

Big landlords have processes, insurance, and legal teams that optimize their business but not necessarily your living situation. They only respond when tenant organizations or larger threats are at their door. Even then things are settled quietly.

Tenants who sue are often offered settlements, but only on the condition of their silence and confidentiality. I know this first hand because of a settlement I was part of once. We were offered cash to leave move or 6 months free rent.

Fear of retribution

People are unwilling to complain about the places they live for fear of retribution from the landlord.

Angry people are more motivated and happy people

Just like Yelp, people only seem motivated to create an account and complain.

Some users signed up, and all but a few had a bone to pick. Conclusion–only angry people are motivated enough to sign up to your site, pick the address, and write a complaint.

Happy people don't want to rock the boat. But they don't seem to go out of their way to write a positive review, either.

Smaller landlords suspicious

Many small landlords were suspicious and some were somewhat hostile to the idea of the whole project. In the end they were most accurate in identifying that only angry people will complain.

It is near-impossible to verify claims made on the site. Anyone can signup and slander the property.

Transfer of ownership

Does the new property owner inherit the complaints on my site as well?

Privacy nightmare

Landlords and individuals all had concerns about privacy. The resolution was down to the house, and that made everyone uncomfortable.

  • Tenants did not want to complain publicly about where they slept.
  • Landlords did not want tenants airing dirty laundry (so to speak). Even when the problems were fixed.
  • The fear of doxxing was real, even in 2010

Landlords Don't Give a F*uck

In every city it seems there is a housing crunch. It seems that no matter how bad a property looks, how poor it is managed, or how awful the landlord is there will be some sucker behind you ready to rent.

It simply did not matter. Demand for housing is so big that it does not matter. This was what convinced me to kill my darling.

The Big Takeaway

For me the biggest takeaway was that you go out and talk to lots of people before coding. I burned a lot of time building AND then more time talking. It was not until I got to the talking that I got kicked in the head with reality.

Hey, Sam Texas here. If you like what I wrote and want to see more then please consider:

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