When it comes to apartments, New York City is a seller’s market and it always has been. With no local multiple listings service, finding an apartment to rent without a good broker is nearly impossible, especially in Manhattan. Horror stories abound about desperate house hunters getting ripped off with exorbitant broker fees and misled by deceptive advertising. Even popular online services like Craigslist are filled with bait and switch listings. Listing giant Streeteasy, owned by Zillow, is probably the most popular service but users sometimes complain about the accuracy and timelines of its data.
Brokr.com is a rising apartment listing platform that claims to be the next step in the New York City rental evolution, at least if you’re limiting your search to the Financial District, which is the only market the platform currently serves. The startup, which was launched in 2014, has just been accepted into AREA’s (A Real Estate Accelerator) 2017 accelerator class. AREA is backed by several members of the Rose family, one of the best known names in New York real estate and angel investing. Developer Daniel Rose is the chairman and David Rose — who founded Gust and New York Angels is a managing partner. The real estate focused accelerator made its public debut earlier this year.
For the 2017 class, AREA will be changing things up a bit. There will be an increased emphasis on identifying which companies offer the best investment opportunity. “Accelerators tend to be very high-touch,” said AREA program director John Henry. “This time around, we are looking for startups and founders that need a little less hand holding.” The startups will be able to work out of AREA’s office space across the street from the New York City Stock Exchange and they will be provided with a myriad of resources and professional services. Then, after mentoring and evaluating 10-12 startups for a few months, AREA will select which ones they’d like to invest in.
It really bothered me that something so essential — like where people live their lives — was so difficult to find information.
Founded by CEO Daniel Ortiz, Brokr.com is the first company to be selected for the 2017 cohort. Ortiz, who immigrated to New York from Puerto Rico when he was sixteen-years-old, started in the real estate business as a residential broker. He witnessed first-hand how complicated and inefficient the city’s apartment rental process was. “It really bothered me that something so essential — like where people live their lives — was so difficult to find information about. People come from all over the world to New York but why can’t they rent in a way that’s just as easy as booking a flight?”
Ortiz, whose twin brother Luis Ortiz gained fame as a star of the reality TV show Million Dollar Listing, said his goal is to create a platform that aggregates the data of different landlords and presents it in a very transparent and accurate way. But that’s easier said than done because of how politicized the market is in New York City, lamented Ortiz. “There are a lot of dynasties. Not just in terms of families but in terms of people who control how things are run and these people who are making the money are very powerful.”
To launch his platform, Ortiz decided to focus on his own neighborhood, the Financial District, because most of it’s 14,000 or so apartments are controlled by a handful of owners. The area is quickly emerging as a trendy place to live and several new projects are adding to the inventory, like 180 Water Street with its 600 units hitting the market in January.
To help ensure that Brokr.com’s site always contains the latest information, Ortiz built an app for iOS to help load listing data into his system. When brokers and landlords use the app to update a listing, web hooks automatically update the listing on Brokr.com as well as the landlord’s website. Ortiz hopes this feature will soon see widespread adoption, saving the listing agent and Brokr.com’s researchers from the inefficiency of redundant data entry.
Competitor Streeteasy also saturates the Financial District but Ortiz said his platform has been able to maintain a higher level of accuracy. “Right now, we are in every building down here. We call brokers to see what units are available and all of that data is very fresh, very updated. If I were to pick up on another neighborhood, then we would just spread ourselves too thin, and we would stop having that level of accuracy.”
Ortiz plans to use the resources of AREA to help him begin scaling the platform into new markets. Previous accelerator companies have been able to leverage their participation to grow their startups and secure funding. One of those companies, Zoner, has been successful in gaining four investments since beginning the program. Founded by architect and developer March Chadwick, Zoner is digital zoning ordinance optimization software that delivers real estate zoning data through a SaaS platform. “The most valuable aspect of AREA has been the wide recognition the program acceptance has brought to our business,” explained Chadwick. “Careful attention has been made by AREA to form a small group of non-competing teams interested in real estate. It’s focus on the industry is paired with a sensibility designed to accelerate and improve and this is a tremendous value.”
According to Henry, they will once again be casting a very wide net in their search for startups to admit to the 2017 accelerator. “In regards to how we define real estate tech, we are pretty flexible and this year we will take the same approach,” said Henry. “We have found that the networks for commercial, residential, construction and leasing all overlap in a really nice way. We want to take the same approach but double down and up the amount of companies we are accepting into the incubator.”
Applications are being accepted now and Henry expects to announce the rest of the class by the end of January, 2017.
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