As anyone who has ever rented an apartment in this town can attest, finding a place is no small task. Ishay Grinberg is trying to make it easier. The founder and chief executive of apartment-listing website Rental Beast, Grinberg spent a decade designing what might be the most comprehensive rental site in Boston. Now, from a small second-floor office in Davis Square, Rental Beast is expanding into 11 more markets nationwide, going toe-to-toe with Zillow and Apartments.com. Globe reporter Tim Logan spoke with Grinberg about his company and renting in Boston.
1. Grinberg grew up in Israel and moved to New York in 2002 after spending four years in the Israeli military. His first place was the couch of some distant relatives who lived in New Jersey. He took New Jersey Transit to Manhattan while he broke into real estate.
“I spent a couple of weeks in college and decided it wasn’t for me,” he said, “and real estate is an industry that doesn’t require a PhD. I got my license and found a home in it. It was a relatively easy industry to get into. It was really hard to survive in.”
2. He launched Rental Beast after moving to the Boston area, where his wife’s family lives. The company was born — and spent several early years — in his in-laws’ basement in Sherborn. His sister-in-law’s boyfriend built the first website. His father-in-law built the database infrastructure.
“It took us a few years to figure out how to collect all this data and keep it very well-maintained. Today we have 54 employees in offices around the country. If you come back tomorrow, it will probably be more.”
3. Rental Beast tries to make life easier for renters by making it easier for landlords, so they list apartments on the site. And half of all rental property is owned by small landlords, who usually lack the technology and market data of the large apartment operators that dominate big-name rental sites. Beyond advertising, Rental Beast helps them price units, process applications, and — soon — collect rent electronically. That kind of service requires deep local knowledge.
“Real estate is very, very, very — three verys — local. If you’re a landlord in the North End of Boston, or if you’re a landlord in Worcester, your set of needs and issues are completely different. And the tools available to you are very different. Unless we have a hyperlocal, street-by-street understanding of where we are, we can’t do our job.”
4. It’s hard enough to acquire that knowledge in one market, like Boston. But in the last two years, Rental Beast has launched a big expansion, with offices in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington. More will follow from Los Angeles to Atlanta to Minneapolis. Building relationships with brokers in each of those takes “tons of technology and really hard work,” Grinberg said. But there’s a system, too.
“There are three kinds of landlords in the world. The first is large, national multifamily owners and operators. The second is midsize property managers who have a lot of properties in one market. The third is small private landlords. We’ve developed strategies and technology to get info from each of these segments.”
5. About 10 years ago, Grinberg became a landlord himself, buying a rental property in South Boston. Were he buying today, he’d look further afield, at neighborhoods just now being discovered.
“For sure, East Boston. I think if you buy in the right neighborhood in Chelsea and have patience, you’re going to do well. There are still pockets of Somerville that are not quite there. You’ve got to chase the Green Line extension. There are definitely two- or three-families next to where the Green Line is going to that you could buy and get a good return on.”