In the tech sector, the idea of disruption is a kind of golden calf. If your company can achieve disruption in an industry that hasn’t already been overrun with startups, you will have a significant advantage over the competition and may even come to be associated with forward-thinking methods.
But as the startup era enters its middle years, the gold rush has already taken place, for the most part. The likes of Uber, Amazon, and Instacart have revolutionized their specific industries, and as a result, the paradigm has shifted in their favor.
Despite our many advances over the last ten years or so, there are still many industries in desperate need of modernization.
Specifically, real estate is woefully archaic, still relying heavily on word-of-mouth and often allowing for mild to moderate deception of buyers and renters in the hopes of making a profit.
Unlike more specialized industries, real estate is an industry we all have to interact with at some point in our lives. Renters, in particular, have to interact with the machinations of real estate more often than most, scrambling for new housing when their current residence experiences rent hikes.
In need of repair
In preparation for this article, I spoke with some friends about experiences they’ve had when searching for a new apartment or home. Despite my expectations, their stories actually shocked me.
One friend told the tale of finding a beautiful apartment online, only to visit the building and find that the photos on the website were actually for a different unit. The apartment up for grabs was smaller, had an outdated bathroom, and featured a view of a nearby brick wall.
An old school chum explained her experience of signing a lease on a lovely one bedroom in a nice neighborhood, only to find two months later that the building had long been struggling to combat a major pest problem. She regularly encountered mice and cockroaches in her apartment, sometimes in her food. When she complained, a maintenance worker laid down a few glue traps and called it a day.
Leading real estate websites have certainly improved in recent years, but there’s minimal oversight.These sites are crowd-sourced, and that means inaccuracies and even outright falsehoods can slip through the cracks. Don’t believe me? Just spend a few minutes on Craigslist and observe the number of apartments listed for $1.
Despite technological advancements that have allowed for innovation in other industries, apartment- and house-hunting remains difficult for many people who don’t have the benefit of personal connections with agents who are in-the-know.
The road to redemption
So what’s the solution here? One larger element of the battle would be to make sure that there’s plenty of affordable housing to go around, protecting individuals of modest incomes from spending nearly all of their earnings on rent. But this will require legislative action as well as grassroots support.
In the meantime, a select few entrepreneurs have decided to focus on streamlining the process of finding appropriate housing and requiring management companies and real estate agents to be completely honest and transparent with their property postings.
In New York, the belly of the beast when it comes to difficult (and astronomically expensive) real estate markets, startup Replay Listings has pioneered a strict new model that emphasizes responsible listings and open lines of communication.
Basically, anyone who wants to post a property on the platform needs to be verified as a licensed real estate professional, and all media for that posting, whether it be photos or videos, needs to show the exact property-- no model apartments or similar units allowed.
The result is a platform, maybe even a community, where individuals can be confident that what they see online or in the app is what they’ll actually get.
“So far the response has been extremely positive for both agents and renters. Renters love it because it makes their search easier by allowing them to browse unedited videos of rental apartments. Agents love it because they’re able to instantly create and distribute content in a safe way. They often end up physically showing fewer apartments and closing more deals.”
These are the words of Rodolfo Delgado, co-founder of Replay Listings. A former real estate agent himself, the idea for Replay Listings came from first-hand interactions with individuals who’d been shell-shocked by their previous experiences in the world of apartment hunting in the Big Apple.
“I would meet clients at my office and show them pictures and floorplans of every available apartment that met their needs. More often than not, however, they expressed mistrust in the pictures and shared experiences they’d had in the past in which the pictures looked nothing like the actual apartment.”
As you might have guessed, this atmosphere of mistrust and skepticism doesn’t make for safe and satisfying interactions.
Replay Listings has chosen to combat this problem head-on, and judging by customer feedback, so far the company is winning the fight.
Tech shines a light
For Delgado, recent advances in technology offered a clear path to innovation and disruption.
Just ten years ago, built-in phone cameras were cheap and unreliable. Even worse, the phones they were attached to often lacked sufficient internal storage to save more than a minute or so of video.
Similarly, internet connections were still relatively slow and struggled to stream video content without pausing every three seconds to buffer. Even then, the video quality would often take a hit, making it look like security camera footage from the 1980s.
Here in 2019, it’s a very different story. It’s not only possible to stream high-quality video from an app, but in fact, most of us expect it to happen without a hitch.
Given the current state of tech, there’s really no excuse for anyone to be posting inaccurate information online, especially when it comes to real estate, as Delgado noted.
“Thanks to technology, consumers have access to more and more accurate information that allows them to make informed decisions. We need the real estate industry to become even more transparent and honest, as it directly affects the well-being of everyone that’s looking for a new home.”
Replay Listings has made a name for itself by featuring unedited videos of apartments and homes, most of them simple, unadorned walkthroughs.
This feature alone requires robust technology solutions. Delgado explained that Replay Listings utilizes data storage solutions offered by Amazon and Google.
Knowing little about data storage solutions myself, I reached out to data storage expert Rohit Gupta (who has multiple patents and more than ten years of experience in data storage to his credit) for an explanation of the advantages offered by public cloud storage options like these, and how they allow young companies like Replay Listings to host large amounts of media and data.
“Public cloud storage is a good IT infrastructure choice for small to medium-sized companies for whom IT infrastructure is not their core competency. These companies can take advantage of cost, ecosystem, and performance. The public cloud ecosystem also gives companies ease of use and availability of any software or services such as machine learning algorithms, analytics, databases, streaming, microservices, containers, security, and digital payments, etc.”
These public cloud storage ecosystems aren’t necessarily the be-all-end-all of data storage for businesses, but for Replay Listings and other companies like it, these services guarantee that users can access media reliably and safely.
For Delgado and his team, improving the platform and keeping promises to users remains the top priority, and it’s thanks to public tech solutions like these that Replay Listings can continue to focus on its central mission.
The wave of the future
Despite our rapid advancement in many different industries, tech leaders need to remember that stagnation is the enemy of progress. Disruption is great, but every disruptive tech company has its honeymoon period, and every honeymoon has to end sometime.
We’re seeing this more and more with the biggest names in tech, enormous corporations who swallow up smaller companies and then fail to push those brands toward further innovation.
Among smaller startups, it’s more common to find an attitude that doesn’t really allow for rest and relaxation. Even a great product can stand to be improved.
When I spoke with Delgado, he was eager to point out that Replay Listings has extensive plans for expansion and further updates to the platform.
In addition to planned trial runs in other major American cities including Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago, he mentioned that there’s also room to implement AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) into the platform.
“I’m excited to see how we can make a dent by contributing to the virtual reality and augmented reality industry as well. We’re experimenting with some features that are very promising in terms of allowing our users to experience the inside of an available apartment in new ways.”
If nothing else, this serves as a reminder that cross-pollination and cooperation between individuals, between companies, and between industries is not only positive but necessary for building trust with customers and increasing transparency on a massive scale.
Increased profits are a byproduct, albeit an important byproduct, of improving the world we live in.