Renting property can be a stressful endeavour for both landlords and tenants; finding the right location, size, price and people to live there.
To help make the process go smoother one man in Thunder Bay has created a site just for rental properties to help people find the right place to suit their needs and landlords to find ideal tenants.
Richard Togman founded Rent Panda, a rental property site, last May and says demand has been steadily increasing, with more people using the site to post properties for rent, as well as potential tenants browsing the site, with some getting thousands of hits a day.
The idea for Rent Panda came to him when he moved to the city to be with his now wife. With so many outlets to advertise rental properties, he said it was difficult to find a reliable site to find an apartment.
“At the time she was living in a small, one bedroom apartment, which is great for one person,” he explained. “When I came here we started our hunt for a new apartment. It was an incredibly frustrating and time-consuming process. There was no good way to find a place, no dedicated rental agencies and no one seeking to improve the marketplace or neighbourhoods.”
That inspired him to create a system where both property owners and tenants could have a one-stop location to both search, and place ads.
Rent Panda began with the the Thunder Bay CEDC (Community Economic Development Commission). The CEDC then encouraged him to work with the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre and was very helpful in connecting him to them.
Togman explained he acts as a broker for both landlord and tenant by going to the property himself to take photos and look at the location and amenities himself. That way he can confirm through his own experience what kind of rental unit it is.
As well, Rent Panda is completely online, allowing him to go straight to the client rather than have people come looking for him. It also keeps costs down, he says, as he doesn't have expenses like utilities.
“There are so many businesses now going non-brick-and-mortar these days, like Airbnb and Amazon, it's the new way to do business,” he said. “People call me, I go to them. It's a much more personal service.”
The Rent Panda site is also designed to make it easy for people seeking to post ads by having templates for people to choose from. People can search based on parameters ranging from location, price, amenities and number of bedrooms.
“You could go to places like Kijiji, but people are pretty much on their own in creating a post,” he said. Many people don't know how to design an ad, they just want to rent the property. This allows them to choose the look and gives the site a recognized look.”
From there ads are posted and algorithms track how many people visit and click on ads. Potential tenants can start an account for free and can use the site's messaging system to contact the landlord.
It's proven to be a popular site, he says.
“Some ads get thousands of hits and the feedback has been very positive,” he says. “Turnaround can be a matter of weeks, but it's about finding the right match for a property.”
Rent Panda's mandate isn't just to get rental units occupied, Togman explained. It's about building communities. Each one has it's unique neighbourhoods, with it's own diverse populations and amenities. Rent Panda helps to show people moving from one community to another what is available in those neighbourhoods to help people determine if they will be a perfect fit for their lifestyle.
“This isn't about shutting people out of the rental market, it's matching them with a perfect home,” he said. “One place may cater more to college kids, another to senior, another to single professionals, young families, etc. If we can help people find a place they are comfortable, they are more likely to stay, build the community, become good neighbours and support the local economies.”
the success has been so strong Togman says he is thinking about expanding Rent Panda's services to include rating systems for landlords and tenants.
“Something like 'This landlord is great, they were attentive and fixed thing quickly,' and 'these tenants were great, paid their rent on time and were respectful,'” he said. “It will act as a reward system to benefit the good landlords and tenants.”
Eventually, he said he wants to take Rent Panda nationally, as he can see a niche for it.
“There is nothing else like it in the country. People can post ads online or in newspapers, but there's no rules or parameters. With this, it's just for long-term renters.”