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Website Lets Departing Renters Help New Tenants Bypass Broker's Fees

By Amy Zimmer | July 10, 2017 4:01pm
 Joinery founders Julia Ramsey and Vianney Brandicourt hope their platform Joinery changes the way renters find apartments in the city.
Joinery founders Julia Ramsey and Vianney Brandicourt hope their platform Joinery changes the way renters find apartments in the city.
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MANHATTAN — When Juliette Miller decided to leave her Gramercy apartment and move back to Long Island to save some money, she posted her unit on Joinery, a platform that lets incoming renters find apartments through outgoing tenants.

Within a few days, she had 10 “super interested applicants, who were all incredibly qualified,” said the 26-year old account manager for a social impact media company.

The site’s rules state that outgoing tenants need their landlord’s permission before posting and that landlords decide on a prospective tenant’s minimum credit score and salary requirement, while the Financial District-based Joinery offers background and credit checks.

The outgoing tenant, who culls the list, can earn some money in the process, while the incoming tenants saves some money on a broker's fee.  Joinery caps the fee, which is decided by the outgoing tenant, at half a month’s rent. That's is a lot less than the standard 15 percent broker’s fee of the annual rent — which amounts to more than a month’s rent.

Joinery is one of a growing number of peer-to-peer tech companies eyeing how to eliminate the role of brokers in New York City's real estate market and tapping the millennial audience that has embraced peer-to-peer apps such as Uber and Airbnb.

But the platform’s original focus is shifting a bit since launching more than a year ago. Initially Joinery imagined a groundswell of renters from across the city joining the platform. Now, the company's business model is focusing more on enlisting major landlords and management companies, who then encourage their tenants to post their soon-to-be-vacant units.

“We started as a [business-to-consumer] company, and then we realized it was a useful service to landlords," Ramsey said. "The cool thing about it though is that tenants are still making money in the macro context where everyone is squeezed.”

Now, nearly 40 percent of the platform’s estimated 200 monthly listings comes through partnerships with landlords, said Joinery co-founder Julia Ramsey. The platform helps landlords keep vacancies down without having to rely on brokers, she noted.

Of the postings that come directly from tenants, about a third of those are units from renters who want to break their lease and are on the hook by their landlord to find a new tenant.

By having the support of landlords from the get-go, Joinery can avoid some potential loopholes that outgoing tenants might try taking advantage of.

For instance, though the site is not aimed to help people sublet their apartments, Ramsey noted that some users might try and use the platform that way.

The platform vets users, sometimes finding that brokers try to “go stealth” on the site to post listings. Joinery also tosses out listing that have “bad” descriptions or photos, preferring at this point to cull the posts as it builds its brand and aims to scale up.

Joinery takes less than 1 percent for its fee.

“I’m not Mother Teresa,” Ramsey said, “but the idea of creating something more fair was appealing to me.”

Millennials, in particular, are not fond of using brokers, Ramsey believes, recounting that when she found an apartment in 2014 through a friend of a friend, besides avoiding the "egregious" 15 percent fee, it was a "chill" experience.

"On a fundamental level, it felt like a human exchange. I didn’t feel like I was getting screwed," Ramsey said. "Twenty years ago, brokers had physical keys. The role of the broker has been diminished [now that renters] know how to find apartments online. The broker’s fee is almost like an access fee instead of a service fee.”

Plus, young renters prefer a personal touch rather than a commercial transaction, she believes, noting that many outgoing tenants provide quirky inside scoops to their replacement tenants on things like how their unit’s heat works. Many also pass along their furniture.

Though Joinery is now working more with landlords, the site also attracts young tech professionals like Miller, especially since Ramsey and her co-founder, Vianney Brandicourt, are both former Google employees who tapped their tech-heavy social networks for listings when they launched.  

Miller found the site through a Facebook post and thought it could help “democratize the apartment hunting process.” She was sour that finding an apartment in New York was so much harder than when she lived in Los Angeles for two years and moved three times, easily finding “amazing” spaces without a broker.

“When I moved back here, it was soul draining to experience just how much more difficult it is here, how hard it can be to find a place on your own without a broker,” Miller said. “It really seems like New York just tries to reject you at every turn.”

Miller is now angling to move back to the city again, and is hunting through Joinery.

“I just believe it has the ability to mend the systemic shiftiness that is NYC apartment hunting, by putting the power back in tenants' hands,” she said.