TECHNATION200: Rentify is an online lettings and management company for private landlords. Founder George Spencer explains to Toni Sekinah how his business plans to disrupt the archaic property sector by focussing as much on the tech as it does the property.
Across England and Wales 4.2m households are renting from private landlords. Britain has the most expensive private rents in Europe and, in a bid to stamp out hidden fees charged by lettings agents, the government set out a draft tenants’ charter outlining the rights of renters.
Put simply, UK private renting is a sector ripe for disruption and Rentify promises to do just that, where others have failed.
Rentify’s online lettings platform aims to making the process of renting out a property much cheaper and more transparent. Developer George Spencer founded the company in 2012 after a “nightmare” experience of renting through traditional agents.
Spencer is not a property developer but a PHP developer and has used technology in a way that he says has generated enormous efficiency savings. This means that Rentify is able to let and manage properties for landlords at very competitive prices – and crucially not charge any fees to the tenants.
Rentify makes it easier for landlords to place an advert on the biggest lettings websites, do a credit check on tenants, get safety certificates and download an assured shorthold tenancy agreement and other lettings-related tasks.
Spencer explains how Rentify’s technology, which is built on Rails and uses open source technology, makes the process much easier for landlords, using the simple example of placing an advert.
“We start the service online so you can be at home at 10 o’ clock at night in your underpants on your computer if you want,” he says. “You press a button on our website and before 9am the next day someone will turn up at your property with their Rentify uniform and an ID badge.”
That person will take the keys, arrange for professional photos to be taken of the property, upload an advert to the two online giants of Rightmove and Zoopla and arrange unlimited viewings. Rentify will take a fee of 5.5% from the landlord if the property is let.
Spencer says Rentify technology also makes it much easier for tenants to book appointments with negotiators to view properties, maximising the number they can do.
“Whereas a typical negotiator at Foxtons will do 10 to 15 deals a month, our negotiators are doing significantly more,” says Spencer.
Spencer says Rentify is much more convenient that traditional high street lettings agents that are restricted to dealing with landlords during office hours. And he says other online agents do not offer anything like as much support as Rentify.
“Say you go to an online letting agent and pay £200,” he says. “They will put your advert on Rightmove and Zoopla, then you get the tenants and you deal with it. It’s not a great system if you don’t have any expertise as a landlord.”
Rentify will manage property for 4% but also helps landlords do it themselves if they wish. The startup offers tools that enable rent processing, rent guarantees as well as housing legislation section 8 and section 21 forms to end a tenancy. There is also a call centre (based in Darlington) open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support the landlords whenever they need it.
Spencer compares Rentify’s prices with the infamous green and yellow high street agent. “We’re charging 8% to let and manage a property versus 20.4% for Foxtons – but Foxtons also charges £420 to tenants and we don’t charge tenant fees, which is a fantastic boon.”
Rentify also generates revenue by monetising data. “We have the UK’s most popular tenancy agreement,” says Spencer. “Thousands of people click on it every month, fill it in and use it. The great things that we get fantastic data.”
He says that Rentify knows the agreed rental prices of properties let by their 200,000 landlords, whereas Rightmove and Zoopla only know the advertised rental prices.
For Spencer and Rentify this data is immensely valuable. “We have all these wonderful data points. We can do things like try and beat the landlords’ mortgage quotes. Or we can target advertising or offers to them and say ‘OK, this person is going to need this kind of insurance product’.”
Funding has flowed reasonably well for Rentify – perhaps in recognition of the disruptive potential of the startup. In 2011 Spencer raised £50,000 then £80,000 in seed funding. This was followed by £250,000 in 2012, £2m in 2013 and £5m in 2014 from investors including Balderton Capital, Ashcombe Advisers and D5 Capital.
The big hitters are certainly interested.
Spencer had a backer on board before he had even decided to start the company. After graduation he was working on strategy for different clients at marketing and communications agency Engine, where he did “very thinky stuff” like help with the strategy when T-Mobile and Orange merged into EE.
While there he had to move house. “I was shown duff properties, charged hundreds of pounds of admin fees and it was just a complete nightmare,” he recalls.
Very soon after he was introduced to an investor by chance who told him: “You should fix this and I’ll write you a cheque to do it.”
His aim was to “create an Amazon for estate agents, providing better service at lower prices with much more international clout”.
The aim now he says is to aggressively position Rentify against people who embody the stereotype of the estate agent. “With the specifically gelled hair, the huge but cheap watch, the naff suit with the pink tie.”
Spencer says 10,000 new landlords are recruited every month “which is pretty unheard of.”
Today 1,450 properties are advertised by Rentify each month with £20bn of property value on its platform. But Spencer is not one to dwell on former glories. “We tend not to focus on stuff that’s going right here. We tend to focus on how to plough ahead.”
With the UK property technology market crowded and already littered with ambitious failures in the face of the powerful high street incumbents, it’s clearly not going to be straightforward. But Rentify does look to be making lots of the right moves now.
George Spencer – CV
PHP developer, Applegate.
BA English, University of Exeter.