John Helm, CEO of San Francisco-based multifamily ILS, which launched its RentEngine asset listing and syndication management service March 3.  
Credit: John Helm, CEO of San Francisco-based multifamily ILS, which launched its RentEngine asset listing and syndication management service March 3.  

This week, San Francisco-based multifamily ILS launched RentEngine, an integrated listing tool and syndication service offering systematic listing, posting, tracking, and reporting capabilities. RentEngine also includes new functionality for Craigslist users, enabling the creation of a professionally designed listing and more importantly, the ability to track prospective residents who visit and respond to the listing on Craigslist. In conjunction with the launch, CEO John Helm sat down with Multifamily Executive for an exclusive download on the RentEngine component and its prospects as a change-maker for marketing apartments on Craigslist and beyond.

MFE: Is Craigslist like the holy grail for apartment marketers? Detractors say it has little significance outside of San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C. How important is Craigslist, and why are apartment marketers drawn to it?
Craigslist is just one more lead source for an owner. All the various sources, whether they are ILSs or print guides or Craigslist or syndicating content out to other sites like Google and Cazoodle—they all tend to work in some markets better than others, and for some property types better than others. A lot of it comes down to an owner and manager testing and tracking to determine what sources work best in their markets. Historically, yes, Craigslist has worked very well in the major East Coast and West Coast high-barrier markets, but it is slowly filling in to other parts of the country.

MFE: What can property managers do to better understand how Craigslist works?
The industry needs to act more like direct marketers. People should test it and see what kind of results they get in their market. With RentEngine, we are providing all of that tracking for Craigslist—every asset ad has an embedded phone number; we track the emails; we track database calls for pulling up content and pictures; we track how many times the ad has been viewed; and we make all of that information available to our customers in real-time via a Web-based interface. That type of data enables you to determine that yes, you need to refresh your ad in San Francisco every 48 hours, but for your asset in Wichita, maybe a new ad once a week is fine.

MFE: Isn’t Craigslist notoriously difficult to deal with?
There are extensive terms of use, and that can tend to get people in trouble on Craigslist: They break the rules and get blacklisted or their listings don’t get displayed. Craigslist has all kinds of techniques that they use to police 'bad' behavior. So we’ve designed RentEngine to be very 'white hat' in Internet marketing terms, and make sure all postings fall within the Craigslist terms of use.

MFE: Still, Craigslist can be time-consuming, especially in terms of backend hours needed to design and manage ad listings. That can really ratchet up the cost-per-lease. How do components like RentEngine simplify the process?
You’re absolutely right—we have REIT clients that were investing over $300 a month just in labor per property to post to Craigslist. We run a very large, very commercial Web site. We’re experts in tracking and optimizing data to generate leads. We’re taking that expertise and lending it to content syndication to Craigslist. It’s easy for us to do: We are already running an ILS with updates for property information sitting in our database. We offer a ton of different templates to use, and you can crank out a templated Craigslist ad in two minutes. Customizing your ad—which we recommend—might take another 5 minutes or so. So we’re taking what might be a labor cost of $15 dollars down to $1 or $2, and then on the backend, you have tracking, reporting, and response tools, which included preformatted templates for responding to leads instead of individually replying to Craigslist emails all day long. It is a huge time-saving tool.

MFE: RentEngine isn’t necessarily Craigslist specific. What are your thoughts on the broader syndication of content as part of a global internet apartment marketing strategy?
Helm: RentEngine is syndicating content out to 100 partner Web sites to reach 41 million prospective residents. Those partner Web sites generate some lead volume—not a ton, but on average maybe an additional four leads per month, but that is gravy, icing on the cake. There have been some significant studies that say the more lead volume you can generate to a property, the more you can push rents. Yeah, it’s classic supply and demand, but it is proving out. There is an advantage to having 30 as opposed to 10 leads if you are looking for a resident who is willing to pay more. People always ask who we compete with, and my answer is that you should be using all of the services you can. If you drive leads, you can drive occupancy and drive rents.