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How the f*** is it free?: A financial breakdown of apartment locating services

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Eliza Parker
May 19, 2020

The number one thing we get asked is if our service costs anything. While human nature can make us skeptical of things that sound too good to be true, the answer is actually no! To us, free means free—no strings attached, no catches, no asterisks or fine print. In fact, industry-wide, apartment locating services are a free expert middle-man between you and your perfect place.

Considering rent is probably your biggest monthly expense, getting the most bang for your buck is pretty important. You wouldn’t buy a car without guidance from a pro, why should your apartment search be any different? 

Want the deets in one skim? 

We’ve bolded them for you.

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According to our agents, the apartment search can take them anywhere from 4-10 hours per client, extending over several days, weeks, and even months. You’re probably wondering how the f*ck we can afford to do that (and stay in business) at no cost to our clients.

The cost comes from a property’s marketing budget

The (not-so-secret) secret to apartment locating is a little thing called the “Property Marketing Budget.” This is the amount of money an apartment complex has to spend on marketing, advertising, and whatever else they need to do to get leases. They have two options: 1) use that money for advertising through social media, signs, commercials, etc., or 2) they can leverage local locators by offering a commission. Many apartment complexes choose the latter option, a decision that relieves some lift from their shoulders and puts it on those of a specialized middle-man (us).

Using the marketing budget to bring in a third party is a tactical decision on properties’ end to secure a lease. Locators have such a large network of clients and essentially act as professional matchmakers. The locator knows his or her client’s circumstances and needs and can be a liaison—setting up appointments to tour, communicating questions, navigating rental jargon, and educating them on the leasing process and market.

By working with a locator, clients are well-informed about all aspects of renting prior to entering their lease, making the transition smooth for both the client and property. At the end of the day, properties that use their marketing budget to pay locators work smarter, not harder. And that is where we make our money.

A Win/Win/Win

If you’re here, you’ve probably seen our social media pages. We were able to grow a significant following (thanks, y’all!) that drives clients to reach out to us. Primarily, we want people to see a fire deal on our social media pages, reach out to use our service, and have a killer experience from DM to move-in. 

But there’s more to our social media than just serving the best deals in town. Think about it this way—a property can get totally free marketing on our social media platforms when we post their units. Our platforms incentivize apartment complexes to send us their best-priced units and the latest specials. Sometimes they’re so incentivized, that they’ll even negotiate certain units with a higher special or lower monthly rent for our clients only

So, we take photos of and post the best of the best units on social media, one of you guys (or our existing clients) is a perfect match for it, and we bring you two together. If you sign a lease there, the property pays our locator all (or a portion of) your first month’s rent out of their marketing budget as a thank-you.

HTF blog@2xYou get an apartment, the property gets a lease, and our people get paid. We call that a win, win, win. *chefs kiss*

The need for a middle man

Plain and simple—all renters should have a middle man (*insert car-buying analogy from the beginning here*).

Our agents are seasoned veterans of the renting market. They know average rates of neighborhoods, where to find the best specials, and when to tell you to pull a trigger on a “unicorn” deal. What’s equally important is that they have been to properties and know the nitty-gritty ins-and-outs. If you’re sensitive to noise levels, we know what apartments and areas of town to avoid. Commute via public transit? We’ll run a search based on proximity to specific bus stops. For those where cooking is life, we will find you all the apartments in-budget with a gas stove. New to the city and don’t even know where to begin? We have “born-and-raised” agents who can help you navigate your transition from a true insider’s perspective. 

We want to help you find what ticks your boxes, but also show you boxes you didn’t think existed: How intense do you like your water pressure? Do you prefer a LEED-certified unit? Is layout or square footage more important? Are there any construction zones nearby that may affect commuting now or in the future?

Our agents treat each client like their new BFF, and in turn, are able to put themselves in your shoes as a renter with individualized needs, wants, and experiences. Be prepared to get asked a barrage of questions: some obvious, others that may seem nosey (credit score, rental history, monthly expenses) but serve to help us find you the perfect place. The more transparent you are, the easier it is for us to find an apartment that will tick all of your boxes. 

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Why TF should you use Smart City?

Not to toot our own horn, but we’ve refined our processes like a well-oiled machine.

Smart City agents have access to databases that pull the availability of properties and can refine by price, location, build-date, certain amenities, and other factors. They can compare nearby apartments to fully evaluate a client’s options, and find a leasing office’s direct phone line (spoiler alert: often when calling the phone number from a property’s website, you get routed to the off-site centralized leasing office that is only able to answer limited questions). 

We also built our own client relationship management (CRM) technology, which is pretty unique for the industry. By having all of our business information in one place, we can formulate our own market insights based on each city’s client-base. This way, we can better provide value to our clients and understand the unique needs of each city and its dwellers. It is a major investment that takes a strong infrastructure to establish and is how we keep our processes streamlined and seemingly effortless.

After a client leases with Smart City, our Concierge service steps in. They will help complete your moving checklist—coordinating movers, cable, internet, furniture if needed. This saves you even more time and money. Don’t feel like comparing electricity rates among providers? No worries, we’ll do that type of stuff. We will also follow-up a few months into your lease to check-in and make sure you are still satisfied because we’re not just successful when our clients lease, we’re successful when they love where they live. That’s Smart City: a one-stop-shop locating service!

Free really means free.

Now that you know how locators work and WTF we’re free, we’ll leave you with this: you could make your own requirements list, do the endless hours of apartment searching, call properties, schedule tours, and go through the lease process independent of a locator. Or you can let us (apartment experts) get to know you, and we’ll take it from there to find you a new place—100% free. With all the time saved, you could run a marathon, drive to the beach, go on a shopping spree, watch/read the entire Twilight Saga, write a short story, or literally anything else. The choice is yours. 

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