Fast Company interviewed one of the founders of RentHop that contained an interesting take on understanding your market:
I just got a New York apartment with a broker and had to fork over an infuriating 15% of the annual rent.
In 2009 we thought maybe brokers are commodities–that they’re not adding value, and maybe the site could help replace them. One of the bigger pieces of advice Paul Graham gave us at Y Combinator was this. He said, “If you really think that’s the case, if you really think you can go automate these guys away, you need to go and be brokers for a while. Simulate the life of a broker, and if you think you can automate that away, great.” He told us to fly back to New York and be brokers for a couple of weeks. So that’s what I did. I flew back and took a bunch of tenants around, and that’s when I realized, “Wow, this is tough work.” It’s a lot harder than people think…But I realized the most important part of brokering is that there’s a huge human trust component in the whole thing. A really good broker makes the whole process a whole lot less painful for the renter. The big takeaway was that brokers are not commodities at all. I didn’t think they were adding value, but now I’m convinced that a great broker does add value.
Then there’s this nugget:
It took us a while to discover the current business model we have now–that this is really a big data problem. We have four years of data and profile building with landlords and brokers. Now we know which ones are the good ones, and which are the bad ones. That became our eventual pivot. A good broker is valuable, and a good landlord is also valuable. Anyone responsive and good we want the site’s visitors interacting with, and anyone nonresponsive and bad we don’t want the site’s visitors interacting with.
Being responsive and good sounds like pretty solid advice.