Roomi: How To Trust But Verify Roommates

Millennials are on the move, professionally.  And in an age where apartment rents are rising faster than incomes, shared housing proves salvation – unless they choose the wrong roommate.  As Ajay Yadav, CEO of Roomi tells PYMNTS’ Karen Webster via Topic TBD, the firm has created a platform to tap into the co-living trend that Yadav says has become a way of life for a more transient consumer.

Finding the right roommate can be a battle. Choose poorly, and living together can be a war.

Or, as J.D. Salinger wrote, “It’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs,” which implies that a mismatch of everything from money to values to stylistic tastes to distaste for doing the dishes can make for a fraught co-existence.

And then there’s the monthly joust over who is or isn’t paying their share of the rent and utilities on time.

Technology has proven useful in eliminating the friction inherent in so many processes and online marketplaces, so why not the process of finding a roommate where co-existence is virtually guaranteed to be harmonious?

Enter Roomi, a startup peer-to-peer marketplace that provides a way to match those seeking shared housing with those offering the same. As announced in November, the company raised $11 million in Series A funding, culled from the London-based Atami Capital, with the participation of several other firms.

Roomi counts one million users among its registered base and 250,000 rooms on its platform. Total funding to date is about $17 million. The roster of cities tops 21, and the most active locales, as CEO Ajay Yadav told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster in the latest Topic TBD, include New York and San Francisco. The latest capital raised will bring London onto the roster.

The key features of the platform, via both app and website, are that apartment listings are searchable and that tenants have been background-checked by the company.

Yadav told Webster that the inefficient methods of matching spaces and tenants – where notes on bulletin boards and classified ads on craigslist and other sites search blindly for applicants, or would-be tenants search blindly for rooms – “have been around for decades.”

In essence, he said (and in his own experience), we’ve all been stuck “sending e-mails to people I do not know anything about … the personality or roommate information was missing,” and finding a true fit in terms of personality or values stood as hit-or-miss efforts.

Roomi, he said, is geared toward the young professional who has experience in the shared economy, using sites and apps like Uber and Airbnb, trafficking in data and trust that encompass information taken from sources as far-flung as Facebook and employment verification efforts.

“We think we can bring the trust back to the marketplace by verifying identities, by creating profiles, by doing background checks on people and also by asking for a lot of information, said Yadav. "By using LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and lifestyle preference questions,” a full picture emerges of who might be settling in – and who you really might not want to darken your door.

Conversely, the person offering the shared space provides information about the room, along with pictures and the stated preferences of the ideal type of roommate.

Roomi acts as the middleman, so to speak, as listings and “house rules” can be created in minutes. As Yadav said, listing approval by the company includes efforts to find out if people actually live there, with requests for copies of the lease or deed. These, along with fee-based background checks designed to weed out bad actors, all work as ways to “ask everyone to play by the rules so we can all trust each other,” he said.

Roomi profiles get as granular as whether applicants or those looking for tenants are self-described “foodies," whether they like walks on the beach on Sundays, and if yoga is a way of life or biking everywhere is a true joy (and, in some cases, whether, ahem, recreational drug use is a-ok).

The idea is to enjoy a given city more, said Yadav, with the sweetener of living with people who enjoy like-minded activities – and where co-habitation may have layers of shared experiences beyond simply breathing the same oxygen.

The app fosters the creation of personality profiles (some of which seem a little too reminiscent of dating profiles), and lets would-be roommates text each other to see if chemistry is there.

All of this takes place against a background where demographic and economic shifts have been driving younger generations to shared living experiences. Millennials and others (the company’s average user is in his or her mid-20s) among professional cohorts are, as Yadav put it, “looking for better opportunities all the time.”

Most people do not stay at companies for more than three years – as he said, “If I get a job in Chicago and in four or six months I am unhappy, I am going to leave.” So it is as they move from city to city, from job to job. And even within the same company, there can be a bit of hopscotch. Think of Google, where people may go from an office in New York to London or Bangalore.

In that true transient experience, he said, “you can’t rent an Airbnb, you cannot go to a hotel. The company is not going to support you for a very long time.”

Future plans include the aforementioned expansion to London, additional listings in extant cities and for a ratings system to be deployed, Yadav told Webster, along with escrow services for rent deposits.

“You do want to get to know people if you are going to be living in those random cities, and we believe that everyone should be able to move anywhere and feel at home."




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