To make sure this app would actually solve a frustration and be useful, I interviewed a few of my friends to find out what their biggest frustrations are when it comes to house hunting.
I managed to interview 3 face-to-face, and 5 answered me by email. The face-to-face were more complete, as once people start talking, there’s always more answers popping into their heads. Also, they don’t have to type!
I asked them quite a lot of questions, but I will only list the important ones here:
- What’s your biggest frustration when looking for a new place or flatmate?
- Which websites (or app) do you normally use, and why? Is there a feature you particularly like or hate? Is there a feature you wish existed?
- Do you ever research a person before meeting them or reaching a decision? If so, how and why?
- What would make you more comfortable in reaching a decision?
- What would make the whole house hunting/flatmate hunting process easier?
- How would you feel about rating/reviewing a flatmate? What about a landlord? Why?
- In all the places you’ve lived, have you had much interaction with the landlord? Were you paying them rent directly, or was a flatmate collecting money and paying them? If so, how did you feel about it?
- If you had a serious issue with your landlord or flatmate, what would you do?
I started by interviewing my flatmate, a 33-year-old Argentinian woman living in Ireland for the past 3 years. Since she moved in with me this summer, and that we had to look for a new flatmate together a month ago, it was still all fresh.
She normally uses Daft and Facebook groups. Daft is handy because she has all of her filters saved, but Facebook offers the possibility of looking at people’s profiles before deciding to get in touch with them, which she finds very important. As she said, people are very nice during the interview, but then they sometimes turn out to be very different. Being able to check them out beforehand can be reassuring.
She also finds Facebook makes handling messages easier.
When asked if she’d feel comfortable rating or reviewing a roommate, she said she would feel weird about it. If she said something negative, that person may not be able to find a house easily, which she would feel guilty about. But, if she was trying to get rid of a flatmate, wouldn’t writing a bad review make the process go more slowly? She thinks that she would probably end up lying to be nice. However, when it comes to rating a landlord, she would have no problem being honest.
In one of her previous houses, all tenants were giving rent to one person whose name was on the contract, and who was in charge of paying the landlord. When that person left, the others realised that she had been lying about the price of the rent and had been living for free the whole time. Analia also had people trying to scam her twice, with the good old “I’m out of town but if you send me money, I’ll give you keys”.
She also had issues with a landlord not wanting to give her deposit back. She told me that there was an office you could go to to complain but couldn’t remember the name. After googling it, I found out it was RTB. Which is what inspired my question “what would you do if you had a problem with your landlord?”, as I wanted to see if people knew what to do in case of a serious problem.
Solutions to Analia’s frustrations: profiles with photos, messaging centre and a way to pay rent through the app for more transparency regarding the total amount.
Next up is my colleague Megan, who answered by email pretty thoroughly.
Her main frustrations are “the cold call emails that you have to write selling yourself and then trying to keep track of which ones you have emailed and even when you get a response which place it is from as a lot of the time the ad has been deleted or they don’t reference the place either. When looking for a flatmate it is just the inundation of emails.”
She uses Daft, and particularly enjoys receiving alerts when new ads that match your wants are created. However, she wishes there were more filters available (“more things to be ticked”), such as being able to pick an age range, ad more details about the people already living in the place.
She says it would make her feel more comfortable reaching a decision if she could have “a quick creep on their social medias“.
When asked about reviews, she said “I think rating landlords would be very handy, flatmates could be a bit weird as you tend to still know a flatmate even if they’ve left”. She goes on to say that making it somewhat anonymous might be better.
Similarly to Analia, a friend of hers was living in a house where the person collecting the rent was scamming all the others and living for free.
When asked what she would do if she had a problem with a landlord, she said “I’m not sure what to do with a landlord, there’s no real procedure for any complaints to them cause there is then the fear of them raising the rent etc.”
The solutions to Megan’s frustrations are the same as Analia’s. Adding more filters would also be a good idea, and having a way of filtering the applications to reduce their amount.
Sean also replied by email. His main frustrations are “the crappy photos, or no photos at all”. His favourite feature of Daft is the ability to search places on the map, as doesn’t know Dublin so well.
He wishes there were more filters, such as LGBT friendly.
He always tries to have a look at potential flatmates through Facebook or Instagram “to see what kind of person they could possibly be”.
He feels “rating would be good, an incentive for people to be good housemates and clean up their mess!”. Similarly, he thinks it’s important to know whether people have had good or bad experiences with their landlord.
He was once in charge of collecting rent for the rest of the household and his flatmate were not paying him on time, which he was very annoyed about.
Sean’s frustrations would be solved with the same solutions as Megan’s. Profiles with photos, more filters, ratings and paying rent through the app.
NATHALYA, EARLY 30s
I also got to interview Nathalya face-to-face. She finds it very frustrating that realistically, there is only one website to search places. She uses Daft and Facebook, and her favourite feature is the area filter.
She told me she wishes people would have profiles with a description of themselves. When I asked her if she’d like to see more photos, she said she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. Unlike the rest of my friends, she doesn’t really “stalk” people beforehand, as there’s usually not enough info to go on. She also feels “it might be too much like Tinder, I would go only for the hot ones”. On that subject, she would like there to be a matching system.
She thinks reviewing people is good, but pretty tricky. She feels she would be honest, but wonders if people would keep their profiles. She says while she loves writing and reading reviews, she wouldn’t trust anonymous reviews.
When asked what she would do if she had a problem, she said “I know there’s some place where you can complain but I don’t know the name, I would probably need to google it”
Cassie was also a face-to-face. Like most of my friends, she would “definitely have a creep beforehand, make sure they’re normal”. She is frustrated by the lack of places, their prices and the amount of untrustworthy ads. She has seen quite a lot of scams.
When asking about reviews, she said she finds it “very hard to be harsh about someone but it’s better to know”. She would do it if she thought it would help others, adding that you gotta “help others to help yourself” (and I promised I would quote her on that, so there you go). She would definitely review a landlord, as “you gotta pre-warn people what they’re getting themselves into”, whether they’re always popping in, or never there to fix things.
She thought that if there was a list of previous/current flatmates on each profiles, you’d be able to contact them. While she wouldn’t write any bad reviews online, she feels she would be honest if someone was to contact her, as it wouldn’t be out in the open.
When I asked her what she would do in case of a problem, she said “What can you do? Go to the guards? I don’t know… I guess I would google or ask my mum.”
Alessia answered my questions by email.
She is mainly frustrated by the lack of response from the landlords, and would like to at least know if and when her emails have been opened.
She thinks previous opinions would be helpful, like on Airbnb, but is worried about bullying.
She hates having to pay rent without a tracking system and would never trust another flatmate with her money.
A teacher of hers told her that if she had issues, she could go on Threshold.
Solution to her first problem: the messaging centre could have green ticks like Whatsapp, showing when the message has been read.
STEPHEN, 23 & FELIPE, 30s
Both would like to see more photos/social media profiles to have a look beforehand.
Both agree they wouldn’t feel comfortable reviewing a flatmate, but would have no problem reviewing a landlord. To quote Stephen “I think landlords should be rated and reviewed more so than other tenants. Landlords have so much more control over living situations and conditions in any given city, and therefore have more responsibility to be transparent.”
Felipe said he pays rent to the landlord directly and always asks for a receipt.
When asked what they would do in case of a problem, Stephen said “I don’t know what step would be best to take, and would probably have to do some research online for a solution I could work towards.”
After completing those interviews and presenting the results in class, I realised I hadn’t interviewed a single straight male. Would that make a difference? Ya never know! So I asked another 2 of my colleagues (both in their late 30s), and one of them said “It has to be in the extreme for me to partake in reviewing, otherwise I can’t be bothered“, while the other one said “it’s good to gather as much info as possible because people fucking lie“.
And this last point is the whole point of my app idea. People fucking lie.
In an article I found on the Independent titled “Nine things you need to do to successfully find a room to rent in Dublin”, you can read “Don’t be afraid to portray that you’re interested in something when you’re really not. For example turning up with a tennis racket and gear without ever having actually played the sport might work in your favour. By the time they work out you’re a slob addicted to Keeping Up with the Kardashians it will be way too late.”
What a great advice… But how about we try to be honest and save us all some time and headache?
After those interviews, do I want to keep those same features I stole from my competitors?
- A questionnaire that narrows down who’s likely to be a good match
- A Map View way of searching
- Profiles with photos and descriptions
- Landlord references
- Message Centre
- Way of reviewing landlord/tenant
Yes, as landlords probably wouldn’t have problems reviewing their tenants (and vice versa), as they’re usually not emotionally involved, which is what would stop us from reviewing our flatmates.
I would also add a way to pay rent through the app, so that we can keep track of payments and avoid people scamming their flatmates.
I was wondering if a link to people’s social media would be a good idea. On the one hand, it would certainly simplify the stalking, but on the other hand people may want to keep their privacy.
I would also like to add a link to Threshold or RTB (Residential Tenancy Board) as nobody knows what to do in case of a problem, this info could come in handy (especially since in all likelihood, this info will be needed when the problem has already occurred).
Some kind of algorithm matching up applicants based on their filters/descriptions of themselves wouldn’t be such a bad idea too, as the number of applications received can be daunting, and is the main reason why inboxed are inundated and emails are left unanswered.