How to Build a Rental Search App and Solve Real Tenants' Problems

America’s population grows by at least two or three million a year, creating great demand for low- and mid-priced apartments in the rental market. In response to this demand increase, Zumper and Zillow have appeared. But these apps aren’t the ones you can use only to find a rental. These apartment finder platforms solve your big rental problem first and help you overcome smaller rental challenges later. 

If you’re planning to build a rental search platform, consider the success of Zumper and Zillow. Zumper, a property rental marketplace, makes around $55 million a year, while Zillow’s annual revenue is up to a tremendous $1.3 billion. But it’s not only the money that matters. Millions of tenants keep using these apps even after finding homes and renting them, just like the agents and brokers who obtain new clients and go on using these platforms. In this article, we tell you what Zumper and Zillow do to provide a great rental search experience, match renters and landlords, ensure good property management, and convince users to stay with their services.

Helping users find their dream home

Similar to other rental search platforms, Zumper and Zillow bring users, landlords, real estate agents, and building managers together. This allows these platforms to provide a wide selection of apartments and a stable flow of new offers. But how exactly do these apps attract and retain tenants?

Enabling strong search filters

Users want to find and apply for rental services simply and quickly. This is why you’ll have to provide an enhanced search feature. For instance, Zumper’s custom search tool offers users a range of filters:

  • location

  • price range

  • type of apartment

  • number of rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms

  • listings with or without photos

  • amenities

  • length of lease

  • pet restrictions

Moreover, Zumper allows tenants to sort search results by relevance, price (ascending or descending), and listing date.

Filters in Zumper

[Filters in Zumper]

Zillow has a great feature for those who don’t want to spend time applying multiple filters and would simply like to find a place next to, say, a good school. In this case, users can circle an area on the map around a school and the platform will show all the places for rent within this area.

Additionally, Zillow has implemented a custom rental calculator where users can enter their monthly income and the area where they’d like to live. Based on this information, Zillow shows the monthly rent a tenant can afford along with a list of recommended rentals. 

Connecting users directly with agents

Users might want to find an agent who will do all the searching for them. This is why you could supply a custom search tool to let users discover agents on your platform. Zillow already provides this functionality, which it calls Agent Finder:

Finding agents

[Agent Finder on Zillow]

Assisting users in choosing the best option

Sometimes people aren’t ready to apply for a rental immediately. They might need time to think it over, and your platform can help them make a decision.

  • Favorites. Users can save favorite listings so they can go back and reconsider them.

  • Alerts and push notifications. Your service can inform users of new rental offers based on previous searches.

  • Pictures, videos, and 360-degree virtual tours. Spicing up a rental description with high-quality pictures and enabling virtual tours will give a better impression of an apartment.

Helping tenants and landlords (agents) meet each other

The success of a rental platform entirely depends on the successful cooperation and communication between tenants on the one hand and agents or landlords on the other. It’s a good idea to facilitate interactions between them.

Real-time chat

Instant communication between tenants and landlords or real estate agents will help users clarify details. Your platform can provide a real-time chat feature to allow users to exchange text messages and media files. Both Zumper and Zillow provide this functionality. To enable chat functionality, you may consider ready-made hosted messaging solutions like Layer or Pubnub. Or you can create a custom platform-specific real-time messenger on your own. 

Scheduled live tours

One more great feature to facilitate cooperation between tenants and agents is letting users schedule live tours. Zillow, for example, allows tenants to set up showings during available windows:

Tour request

[Scheduling a live tour on Zillow]

Implementing live tours on your platform means that building managers, real estate agents, and landlords need a tool to manage tours. For this, you can build a custom calendar and implement appointment scheduling to allow them to:

  • set available time slots and days for tours

  • accept or decline tour requests

  • reschedule and cancel tours

Enabling secure cooperation between users and businesses

Before creating Zumper, Anthemos Georgiades had to go through all the stages of renting an apartment himself. This is how he discovered that the challenges for both tenants and landlords can start right after a tenant applies for a rental. 

Checking tenants’ backgrounds

You’ll have to ensure that accepting an application from a registered user on your platform is secure for agents. Again, Zumper’s experience can serve you well. This rental search app allows tenants to prepare a credit report and apply for a rental directly on the platform, while agents, landlords, and building managers can easily see tenants’ backgrounds and screen them.

Screening tenants

[Screening tenants on Zumper]

Reviewing real estate agents

Tenants also have to be sure they rent from a reliable person. Reviews and ratings are perfect for this, so you should definitely consider implementing them on your platform. Zillow already has functionality for reviews, allowing users to leave comments and rate an agent’s expertise, responsiveness, and negotiation skills. 


[Writing an agent review on Zillow]

Integrating security deposits on the platform

To save landlords, real estate agents, and building managers from monetary losses due to apartment damage or broken leases, consider implementing security deposits. These one-time payments don’t have to be obligatory, so you can let agents specify if a listing requires a security deposit. On Zumper, for example, users can even filter by rentals that require or don’t require a security deposit.

If you decide to support security deposits, you’ll need to let users and agents link their credit cards or bank accounts. This data will also be used for other payments on your platform. We’ll get back to those in a couple of minutes. 

Retaining tenants

So here we are, at the end of the rental journey: the tenant has found an apartment and the agent has found a client. This is when tenants and agents may think they don’t need your rental platform anymore. But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Helping tenants move to a new apartment

Simplify the move and help tenants get settled into their new place. To do that, you can let users inventory their things before and after moving into a new house or flat. This way tenants and landlords can easily differentiate their belongings and won’t have to argue about them later.

For implementing inventory functionality, you can learn from apps like Sortly and MyStuff. These apps allow users to:

  • organize things in folders

  • group things by type, location, and room

  • add tags and printable QR labels for convenient search

  • describe things in detail, including with serial numbers and purchase dates

  • export inventory lists to cloud storage or CSV and PDF files.

Tenants can later use the inventory information from your platform as proof of ownership and even to avoid losing things they may loan to friends or acquaintances.

When tenants successfully qualify for a rental, they should also plan for moving expenses. These expenses in the US may vary from $1,170 to $5,630 depending on the distance. Quite a pretty penny, isn’t it? Zumper and Zillow don’t provide a solution to find a mover, but you could do that. To help tenants find a mover, think of teaming up with moving platforms such as Unpakt and Ghostruck or partnering with an agency that will offer moving services to users of your app. 

Supporting all types of rental payments

Renters have to pay the rent regularly, right? Let them pay directly on your platform by integrating a popular payment gateway like Braintree or Stripe. You can find out how to implement payments in your app in one of our previous blog posts. 

Tenants will have to connect a credit or debit card, or a bank account, to make payments on your platform. Payments can be for:

  • application fees paid by tenants

  • security and pet deposits paid by tenants to landlords

  • last month of rent paid by tenants to landlords

  • renter’s insurance purchased by tenants

  • payments to movers by tenants

  • regular rental payments paid by tenants to landlords

  • regular bill payments paid by tenants

  • payments by tenants for agents’ services

As you can see, these operations mean agents and landlords will need to withdraw money. Agents will have to collect one-time payments from tenants and landlords, while landlords will need to collect regular rental payments from tenants. Zillow already allows regular rental payments, but neither Zillow nor Zumper lets agents get money for agent services right on the platform. You could be the first to implement this type of payment on your platform.

If you’re planning to provide bill and rental payments on your platform, think of a tool that will remind users of the regular payments they have to make. Below is an example of a rental reminder by Zillow:

payment remider

[Reminding a tenant of a payment in Zillow]

Retaining real estate agents and landlords

Zumper and Zillow offer accounts for businesses, where landlords, real estate agents, and building managers can post new listings, communicate and manage applicants. However, to give more tools to real estate professionals, both platforms supply additional functionality.

Managing customers

Agents might get lost in information about renters. This is why you can offer a CRM (customer relationship management) system to help agents organize their data on potential and current customers. If you allow agents to import and export CSV files, they’ll be able to quickly add their clients to the CRM on your platform from Google Sheets or Excel. Additionally, a CRM system can help agents automate such tasks as entering details about customers and sending bills, notices, receipts, etc. to tenants. In the CRM system, businesses can also get notifications on rental payments and overdue bills.

Promoting listings

Help businesses achieve better results on your rental search platform. Zillow and Zumper supply the following promotional tools:

  • posting rental listings on partner sites

  • building websites with custom domain names for businesses

  • placing listing widgets on third-party websites

  • appearing on the first page of the website or at the top of search results

  • sending quality leads 

  • showing featured results of user searches to agents

Assessing performance

Every business needs to know how well their listings perform. This is why they require visualized reports on the following data:

  • total number of listings

  • total income

  • listing bounce rate

  • viewed listings by price and by channel

  • leads by channel

  • expenses by channel

With such data in hand, businesses will be able to reduce unnecessary costs and focus on the instruments that really work. While Zumper doesn’t yet provide a reporting feature, Zillow already offers lead reports for agents:

Performance reports

[Performance reports on Zillow]

Monetizing your rental search app

Rental platforms don’t normally charge renters for accessing them. They get money from selling additional features or subscriptions to businesses.

Zumper, for instance, uses a freemium business model, limiting the number of free listings to the total of 25 in its package for businesses. These have to purchase the Multifamily package to post over 25 listings. With this package, agents also get additional promotional tools along with access to an ILS (Internet Lead Service) that lets them find new clients. Moreover, Zumper charges users who choose to apply for a rental directly on the platform. You could also charge your tenants for additional features like a budget planner or an inventory tool.

Zillow gets its revenue only from agents, selling them three kinds of subscriptions for Zillow’s Premier Agent: silver, gold, and platinum. The silver level allows agents to post listings, build websites with a business domain name, and manage tenants via a CRM. Gold members can additionally see featured search results of users looking for an agent, and platinum members get advertised on listings within the zip code they choose. 

Finally, rental search giants often sell ad space to businesses such as mortgage lenders and companies that provide interior design and moving services. 

There are some prosperous players in the rental search market and e-hospitality today. The secret to their success is solving all of a tenant’s problems before, during, and after renting. Companies like Zillow and Zumper also focus on advanced features for agents, giving them all the necessary tools to lease apartments and get as many tenants as possible. If you’re also planning to help renters and agents eliminate their rental pains, there’s definitely room for one more great rental search app. And in case you need our help building it, we’d be happy to guide you from the very concept and choosing a technology stack to a successful product. 

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