RentHop, and websites like it, have the potential to do what I spoke about in one of my recent entries, to completely bypass the real estate middleman - at least for the act of initial scoping and rental-information discovery. As a former real estate broker in NYC, I believe that such Internet-based resources will need to meet three requirements to successfully compete with good New York City brokers:
- Timeliness. The rental market in New York moves very quickly - especially during the summer months. Good brokers have up-to-the-minute information and thus give the advantage to their clients in a fast-moving market.
- Completeness. Landlords are a clever bunch. They know how to control the flow of information about current listings, in order to maximize profit - i.e. they can time the release of certain facts so as to rent certain apartments before others. Good brokers know how to go beyond these barriers and can dig deeper to find the necessary data.
- Neutrality. Websites looking to replace brokers for rental search must remain neutral. If particular landlords are given an advantage then the resource will be no better than the advertisements in a local newspaper. Good brokers don't take sides, they don't favor particular landlords, and will do what's best for the client.
Although I believe that all three requirements can be met, brokers will always be required for fair negotiation and other "softer" rental steps. Although this middleman won't be killed yet, he does have something to worry about.