Uber-style home leasing service rattles renting in Vancouver

Oct 20 2017, 5:45 pm

A new Uber-style service in which local residents can earn money helping landlords rent out properties in Vancouver is making waves in the city’s rental community.

The new service has been set up by Biddwell, which controversially began allowing potential tenants in Vancouver to bid for leases on its rental app last year.

Now, the company is recruiting local “Community Experts” as part of its On-Demand Leasing service, to show rentals on behalf of landlords looking for tenants.

Rather than more expensive licensed realtors, the Community Experts are local residents who are looking to earn some extra dollars with a side hustle.

According to Biddwell, Community Experts undergo a credit, background, criminal, and social media screening, before being signed up and are fully insured by the company.

Then, once they’re on the books, they have access to requests for services from landlords wishing to use a Community Expert, instead of a licensed realtor.

‘You just need someone to open the door’

Jordan Lewis, CEO of Biddwell, told Daily Hive it’s 70% cheaper than using a licensed realtor and the idea is to save landlords money, and in turn, tenants.

“Leasing’s expensive… The biggest issue we found was that leasing fees are really high,” said Lewis, who suggested they can cost as much as a month’s rent.

“Honestly in a city like Vancouver, a lot of these rental properties rent themselves. So you really just need someone to open the door.”

Once a landlord requests a Community Expert, the first to answer gets the job. They then arrange all individual showings of the property to be leased, and get paid per showing.

According to Biddwell, their entire role is centred around opening the door for potential tenants and speaking about the neighbourhood and building.

All negotiation, agreements, and deposits are handled directly between the owner and prospective tenant directly in the Biddwell app.

“We found that by lowering the cost of leasing in itself, it gave a lot more opportunity for landlords and tenants to negotiate,” said Lewis.

Now, he says, landlords are focusing on quality of tenant, rather than quantity of rent, and claims offers from tenants that are under asking are being accepted.

“We’re also seeing landlords giving free internet and cable, gym memberships, parking and storage being thrown in, as opposed to it being an additional fee,” said Lewis.

“The fact that we’ve seen landlords go out and spend money to acquire that perfect tenant is evidence that the savings are starting to translate to benefits for tenants.”

‘This is not good for tenants’

But Liam McClure, a tenant advocate with the Vancouver Tenants’ Union, doesn’t agree.

“It’s concerning that apparently anyone can apply with Biddwell and perform the duties of a realtor – a regulated profession in BC – with only a perfunctory background check,” he said.

McClure added that he doesn’t believe the landlords are passing on the savings made by using Community Experts to tenants.

“We believe that Biddwell’s business model is fundamentally centred on price-gouging tenants in an unhealthy rental market,” said McClure.

“This system is not good for tenants and not good for Vancouver.”

“The Community Experts feature does not meaningfully mitigate the extremely negative effect services like Biddwell are having on the rental market in Vancouver.”

Daily Hive reached out to LandlordBC, but they declined to comment.

The Real Estate Council of British Columbia referred us to the Office of the Superintendent of Real Estate of BC.

The office, which provides oversight and support to the real estate industry, told us that unless they hold a licence, Community Experts are limited in the services they can provide.

BC’s Real Estate Services Act outlines a number of services that can only performed by professionals holding a proper licence for that activity,” said communications manager Mykle Ludvigsen.

“This is done to protect both consumers and landlords and our office investigates every complaint we receive about unlicensed activity and will take action against those engaging in unlicensed activity.”

‘We know it’ll ruffle some feathers’

Ultimately, Lewis said, Community Experts may not be licensed realtors, but they do live in the neighbourhood, or even in the same building.

“Somebody’s ability to speak to the value of a property doesn’t end with whether or not they’re a real estate professional. It’s whether or not they live in the community,” he said.

The Community Experts include students, trainee realtors, actors, and a stay-at-home mom, says Lewis, who believes they are screened better than realtors.

Lewis adds that tenant feedback on the Community Experts has been positive, and stands by his claim that the system is saving tenants money.

“Tenant quality is such a big thing for landlords and we can’t preach that enough – it is the deciding factor.”

In the end, he knows his company’s approach doesn’t sit well with everyone.

“We know it’ll ruffle some feathers. People in Vancouver have been used to making a lot of money doing very little work to be honest,” he said.

“So yeah, it’s definitely going to have an impact and we believe it will be positive for tenants and landlords.”

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