Web tool helps college students navigate through stress of apartment hunting

Rent College Pads, LLC
Innovation: College housing locator website

After Dominic Anzalone struggled to find housing for himself and five roommates at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he developed a web-based solution that has rescued thousands of college students lost in the housing search.

“There is a big issue with college housing, and I want to be the one to solve it,” said Anzalone, founder of Rent College Pads LLC.

The Milwaukee-based startup eases the apartment hunting process for college students by aggregating available on- and off-campus apartments. The web-based tool acts as a student housing hub where landlords can post information about their units so students, who are often first-time renters, can dodge the frustration of Anzalone’s own apartment hunting experience.

“It was the worst experience I ever had finding housing,” the Racine native said, recalling that his pursuit of a college apartment was challenged by limited resources on student housing options.

Anzalone (right) with his startup team.

The company’s site, Rentcollegepads.com, allows users to access up-to-date information on apartments close to campus, if not right on campus, and check out related properties and available subleases. Apartments are displayed in both a list view and a map view so students can easily compare units according to their appearance, amenities, rental price, location and walking time to campus.

Through the website, students can also share their favorite housing sites with potential roommates and tap into a comment section where roommates can facilitate housing discussions right on the site. They can then connect directly with landlords through the site.

To further ease the apartment hunting process, Rent College Pads has placed yard signs on the properties that have joined the site. Each yard sign features a four-digit pin number. When students type that pin number on the website, they’re immediately transported to the property and are able to see its availability.

Beyond serving college students and roommates who are wading through the apartment hunting process, Rent College Pads also offers an outlet for individuals seeking roommates. The startup uses students’ Facebook profiles in the roommate matchmaking process so they don’t have to go to the trouble of setting up a separate profile.

For the benefit of property managers, Rent College Pads allows landlords to add properties to the site or remove properties whenever they want. They are also able to edit their properties whenever necessary as well as track the number of student views of their rental units. The startup charges each landlord a listing fee, depending on the size and number of properties they detail on the site.

But the site’s services remain free for universities and college students.

Anzalone said his team emphasizes strong relationships with its university partners.

“The better we can work with universities, the better we can work with students,” he said.

Rent College Pads launched its first operation at Marquette University in 2013, about two years after Anzalone started his company, which he has funded himself. During its first year at Marquette, it aided more than 4,500 students in their quest to secure housing.

The venture has since launched sites at UW-Milwaukee/Milwaukee Area Technical College/Milwaukee School of Engineering, UW-Oshkosh, UW-La Crosse, UW-Madison, UW-Stout, Indiana University Bloomington, Northwestern University, and Northern Illinois University.

Rent College Pads, which is currently manned by 10 full-time employees and two part-time staffers at 96Square, has plans to expand to 10 additional universities this year, primarily in the Midwest. As the company continues to scale up, Anzalone aims to have sites for 65 universities across the country by the end of 2015.

Regardless of how fast the company grows, however, he intends to remain planted in Milwaukee as a part of its “vibrant community” of startups.

“That’s why I love Milwaukee to this day,” Anzalone said. “We have a great group of young entrepreneurs who are very, very motivated.”

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