Startups

HouzeMe wants to be OkCupid for student housing

There's a lot of startups out there focused on connecting renters and landlords, but HouzeMe's founders say the student housing market is underserved.

HouzeMe is tackling the student housing industry and Philadelphia is its first stop.

On the site and mobile apps, students can search for a rental, contact a landlord, sign a lease and pay their security deposit and rent all in one place.

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Philly’s seen its share of rental industry startups, like the now-defunct Inhabi, StartUp PHL-backed VeryApt and Wharton MBA startup The Rent Scene. But HouzeMe is different, according to its founders, because it’s focused on the student housing market, which is underserved.

“The student housing market is almost always incorrectly grouped in with the residential real estate market, but is a totally separate market with a very unique consumer base (both student and landlord),” wrote cofounder and recent St. Joseph’s grad Paul Manganella in an email.

The landlords that own the more than 10,000 Philadelphia-area beds on HouzeMe are actively targeting students, he said. (The student housing industry speaks in terms of beds, not units.) HouzeMe has vetted these landlords, instead of pulling listings from Craigslist or other services — that’s what sets HouzeMe apart from its competitors, cofounder Chris DeLuca said.

“We pride ourselves in doing the dirty work that no one has taken the time to do yet,” DeLuca wrote in an email.

Manganella turned to Jordan Wright, CEO of HouzeMe competitor Comfy, to explain further. From a Sept. 2014 article in Forbes:

The big problem we saw in the university off campus housing market was that students were being treated like second-class citizens. The student rental industry – landlords, websites, and apps – should be bending over backwards to give them a good experience, not the other way around. They’re the customers. They’re going to spend $8,000-$15,000 on the place they rent over the next 12 months. That’s a lot of money, yet their second-class status is evident in the search tools available to them. On many traditional housing search tools, for example, a student might send 15 to 20 messages and receive only two or three responses.

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On HouzeMe, where landlords can list apartments and students can search for them, the company aims to “ensure both students and off-campus landlords are treated with the first class experience they deserve,” Manganella said.

HouzeMe is free for landlords and students seeking rentals. It charges a $1.25 fee if students choose to pay their rent over the platform. No students are currently paying their rent on the platform, Manganella said.

The HouzeMe team is working on expanding their student user and landlord user base. They plan on hiring campus reps to expand their university footprint.

The company was founded by Manganella, 23; DeLuca, 23 and Sheehan Gallagher, 34.  Manganella, who lives in Cape Cod, and DeLuca, who lives in North New Jersey, both graduated from St. Joseph’s last spring. The team frequently travels to Philadelphia and they’ve raised $300,000 from friends and family, Manganella said.

Chris Cera, CEO of Arcweb, is one of the company’s advisors, along with former Nutrisystem CEO Mike Hagan and DirecTV Director of Product Innovation Doug Bellenger. Arcweb built the HouzeMe platform and apps.

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