OneApp to serve them all
One of the companies in the Prosper Portland's startup incubator is emerging from a quiet period with new friends and flexing its financial muscle.
OneAppOregon is the new name for NoAppFee, which was started in Portland in 2015 by Tyrone Poole and Corey Cook (aka the Bow Tie Guy). It was born of the frustration of looking for an apartment and having to fill out multiple applications and pay multiple application and background check fees.
OneAppOregon pre-screens renters to see if they qualify for a property before they (and landlords) invest much time and money.
Since that initial $15,000 investment by Prosper Portland (then known as the Portland Development Commission) Poole has struck out on his own, found a CEO and scored investments from big names such as developer Homer Williams and former PDC boss Don Mazziotti.
The Portland Housing Bureau has also just licensed OneAppOregon for use in its affordable housing stock, to speed up applications and cut costs. Poole says such homes will become visible in the system in the first part of 2018. (The bureau put out an RFP (request for proposals) two years ago which NoAppFee won.)
New name, new CEO
At a soft launch party on Dec. 12 at the Vintage Hotel in downtown Portland, Homer Williams and Mayor Wheeler's Chief of Staff Maurice Henderson were in attendance, with vendors, investors and their families. The new site, oneapporegon.com, went live that morning with 1,400 apartment listings.
So where have they been? And what's new?
"We knew we had a solution, but we didn't know how to get it to fit in. Some of those models disrupted the process of property management companies so severely they couldn't be accepted," Poole told the Business Tribune.
The CEO, Tyler Peterson, came on board this year. "Tyrone and I complement each other, he's got the vision, he lived the problem," he told the Business Tribune. "I'm the operator, I execute and will grow the business."
"We tested a whole bunch of theories in a real-life market," Peterson told the Business Tribune. "We saw what didn't work, such as our pricing models, our pay-per-lease models, various strategies. We even had data providers and web developers that didn't work."
One big change was opening the service to as many property management companies as possible, not waiting for them to sign up. They will get leads by email, but if they join up they will have more access.
Now however they are confident that the service can prove itself in the next 90 days, and then in the latter quarters of 2018 they will launch OneAppTennessee and OneAppGeorgia.
Applying for an apartment usually costs from $25 to $60, including the criminal background check. NoAppFee had a $35 charge but this has been dropped. Now renters get one free application per year, which is good for 90 days. The renter fills out their personal details, adds work, previous landlord and bank references and it is matched against what they can afford.
Aggregating the agencies
Users can then narrow it down by neighborhood or price. The software tells them if they are eligible before they have applied to the actual landlord, which removes some of the work of applying and being rejected. The personal data can be used for many applications as necessary without incurring costs.
Applications go to screening companies such as Western Reporting, Safe Rent, TransUnion and Equifax, which check their background, credit and rental histories.
Applicants are classed as passed or conditionally passed, awaiting a deposit or a cosigner. They can also be flagged and shown how they can improved their failed application. The software touts services how credit repair. He also educates users, such as reporting rent paid to a credit rating agency can improve your credit score.
Part of the challenge was finding all the criteria the property management companies use to screen a renter and building it into the application. Another part was developing software that could aggregate listings that are already out there.
Poole says the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, has shown an interest in the platform.
"His people have talked to us. Atlanta has the second highest homeless problem, and home-ready families have to be part of that. They can help us with government contracts."
One guest at the party was J. Sharp Gillespy V, director of business development at Liberty Rent Guarantee of Atlanta. Sharp, as he is known, runs a company that will cosign for individuals who do not have good enough credit or a deposit to get in an apartment. Poole says it's a company that could do well working with OneApp in multiple states.
Growing means not so much spending money on headcount (there are six full time staff presently) but on using technology to spread the brand. Much of the work is outsourced to vendors and partners, such as software developers or accountants. They also go to housing committee meeting every two weeks, and maintain ties to local housing nonprofits.
"A lot of it can be sold through technology, we don't need that traditional salesforce. We can get by having renters send their info, and it says (at the bottom) 'I signed up using OneApp, you should too,'" said Peterson.
These are the good leads
Poole adds that although they have huge amounts of apartment listings, sites such as Craigslist and Apartments.com often generate leads that aren't very good. "We send free leads to the property management companies, and we send high quality, fully vetted leads, not just a first name and a phone number," he says.
The income stream of $35 per applicant will be subsidized, Peterson says, in future, by adding resources for renters, such as cosigning and credit repair services.
Is this a use-once proposition for most people? A limited market?
"Nobody wants to move twice, but the reality is people are moving once a year. And if you do move again all that information is retained. You don't have to go back and get your previous employment history and landlord references."
City people on their side
Both men believe the apartment application process has lagged in digital age. "It's a broken process, it hasn't caught up with consumer trends. You want a cab, you get your phone out and call Uber or Lyft. You do your taxes, you use TurboTax and it remembers the previous year. Technology is powerful when it disrupts the status quo."
Poole adds, "We're solving problems for renters, like not knowing why you're denied. We're flipping that process, putting the applicant first. The idea is to turn the process into a one application. We're trying to reduce vacancy loss for property managers and get people housed."
Neither Poole or Peterson will be specific, but they say the company has raised in the ballpark of $1.5 million in investment so far.
Like most things to do with housing in Portland, the shadow of homelessness looms over everything. Add to that rising rents that mean working families can only afford the surrounding cities.
Investor Homer Williams, who spends much of his time on the homeless charity Harbor Of Hope, is an investor. He would not tell the Tribune how much money, but he did have two reasons why he got on board with OneAppOregon.
"What it costs people in time and money to find out if they can live in a particular building or place, I call it a humiliating experience for many. They pay these fees then they are told no. Now they can find out what they need to do to qualify. That's a game changer."
The second reason had to do with inefficiencies in the rental market that technology can solve.
"Airbnb (hosts) take strangers into their home. Why? Because they need the money. We have tens of thousands of people barely in their home. We can create a way for people to connect, like Airbnb. With 5,000 units, we can put 5,000 people in homes, they could pay rent. That's like building five thousand affordable housing units, which we can't do because there's not enough money."
That was why Williams invested. "Those two things alone justify the existence of the company."
Poole says it's been a tough two-plus years. "It's the most challenging thing I've ever embarked on. I thought it would be so easy all those years ago. One-to-one is difficult. One-to-a-million, well...We're the first to try and automate a process that in real life is time and staff heavy."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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