Fixing stress-filled housing searches for Gen-Z
Housr is starting with simpler student rentals
I’ve been a judge at a few student hackathons in my time.
One idea that often comes up at them is ‘easier ways of finding student housing’. But the teams disband as the event ends and nothing changes.
Today’s startup might just be the solution to shake up a market that terrifies 19-year-olds nationwide and beyond. And that’s just the start of the what Housr has planned. Scroll down to read all about them.
Meanwhile, UK tech has been in shock since Tech Nation announced on Tuesday that it is to close down at the end of March.
Tech Nation was ultimately too reliant on government money to continue without it, but I hope the team is snapped up by other employers soon - there are a bunch of smart, talented, and well-connected folk who work there.
Housr has a Gen-Z solution to the nightmare of frantic property searches
I remember the rabbit-in-the-headlights horror of coming to the end of my first year of university and realising it was up to me to find somewhere to live in my second year.
It seems nothing much has changed in the years since. Students still go straight from being handheld freshers in university halls to being thrown to the wolves of the private student rental market.
Housr is a new startup that might have the solution: wrapping the whole market up in an easy-to-use product that simplifies the whole messy process. When at university themselves, co-founders Harry Panter and Ben Clayton were overwhelmed by the disjointed world of student accommodation rentals and devised the idea for Housr.
All in one place
The Housr mobile app puts every aspect of the student property rental market into one place. It helps students find housemates, and browse properties with a Tinder-style ‘swipe right or left’ interface.
A chat interface within the app then lets users arrange a viewing and letting contract. Once they’ve moved in to a property, they can manage bills and maintenance through ongoing contact with the agent or landlord within the app.
This way of doing things could turn out to be better for agents too. Panter explains that since property agent admin fees were banned in England under the Tenant Fees Act in 2019, there’s time-consuming work they can’t charge for anymore.
“There's a layer of admin on their backend which is non-billable, which makes things really inefficient. So we created a web portal that allows agents and landlords to manage their properties and tenants in a much more automated manner.”
And Panter is good at the whole ‘big vision’ thing:
“In three clicks, you can order an Uber. Why can't you go into a new city and in three clicks, find flatmates and find where to live? We think that we will be able to facilitate that market change in the future.
“I think a lot of people look at Housr as a very simple thing. And I agree, it's a simple idea. But done in the way that we're doing it can genuinely change the industry”
How to build a Housr
After a test run last spring, Housr launched in Manchester in September 2022. Panter says that in the months since, the app has had 3,000 student downloads and has more than 3,600 properties listed on the platform.
Housr currently has three revenue streams. It charges landlords a 10% success fee on the first month’s rent (listings are free); it earns referral fees from selling utility contracts through the app, and it earns revenue from in-app advertising.
A fourth possible future revenue stream could come from “ethically monetising our data streams and using other companies who would be interested in this data to then create a two-sided student data marketplace,” Panter says.
Panter says events have been an important marketing channel to date, partnering with student societies and bars to raise awareness of the product. That’s a tried and true approach for businesses targeting students, and he admits that building the student side of the marketplace is the easier bit.
To grow the property agent side, House is using traditional sales tactics, but also partnering with businesses that have already partnered with agencies, thus bolstering the housing stock on their platform.
Meanwhile, a CRM plugin is in the works that will make it easy for agents to get set up and running with Housr within the software they already use.
The Housr team consists of co-founders Panter (CEO) and Clayton (CTO), along with partnerships, operations, development, and marketing staff. That makes up a full-time headcount of seven, which they plan to expand on in the near future.
Having launched Housr in Manchester, the next step is to expand into other cities. Panter says first on the list are those relatively geographically close, to make the sales process logistically simple without having to employ staff in the field just yet.
In five years’ time, Panter envisages Housr having become an widespread, integral part of student life across the UK and making inroads in the US market. He also sees potential in expanding to serve young professionals.
“Imagine you used Housr for three years in Manchester when you were at university. You’ve now moved to London with a graduate job. The problem you had in first year university, you've now got again as a young professional in a new city. You don't know anyone and you don't know where to live. So it wouldn't be great if you could use Housr as your safety net again?”
For now, the biggest challenge Housr faces is efficient scaling beyond its home city.
“Each different city has its own culture of housing and how housing works,” Panter says. “The cities we’re first expanding to are very much like Manchester in their makeup, but they have got to be treated very, very carefully in their own right.
“The main problem will be how do we ensure we get enough property stock to reach critical mass as quickly as possible in these multiple cities.”
Investment, competition, and future outlook
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