Followers of the Chicago apartment market may be aware that domu recently released its “top secret” apartment data to the public, affording landlords and tenants an opportunity to compare rents for comparably sized apartments across 15 local markets. In the wake of that release, some folks questioned our decision to make the data freely available rather than peddle it to information-hungry enterprises. It’s a fair question and an issue we’ve bandied about since our very inception.
We had scarcely waded more than a few hours deep into the planning of our start-up venture when it dawned on us that an apartment listing website would inherently accumulate a treasure trove of economic data. As veterans of the real-estate development business we were acutely aware of the steep cost of housing data. Developers, lenders, brokers, reporters, and others pay dearly for information about such things as pricing, vacancy, and transaction velocity -- typically shelling out thousands of dollars a year to keep a close eye on the marketplace. Monetizing our apartment data, we supposed, would be an excellent way to generate additional revenue.
As domu matured, however, our strategy for maximizing success began to change. Though it seems obvious in hindsight, it soon became apparent that what we really coveted the most was raw traffic. The intangible value of eyeballs on the site became far more valuable than the tangible economic benefits of advertising (which would clutter the site) or data sales to a limited audience of industry players.
Thus, we began slavishly monitoring what’s known in the Googlenacular as new visits, page views, bounce rates, times on site, referring links, and page rank. Increased traffic leads to faster rentals, decreased market times, and satisfied customers. Landlords and tenants comment, post, or tweet about their successes, begetting more listings and even more traffic. In addition, having chosen the name “domu” (and eschewing puns on the word “apartment” or its many colloquial and slang synonyms), brand recognition was also critical to our success. As a result, we increasingly developed a clarity of focus: To achieve steady gains in web traffic and to make domu synonymous with “apartments” by offering the Chicago rental community, free of charge, any information, guidance, or advice worthy of dispensing. In our view, developing and disseminating meaningful content would grow our reputation (and traffic) through increased links and exposure.
So we set about creating a host of valuable materials for the Chicago rental community. We produced comprehensive landlord and tenant handbooks, an informative guide to handling security deposits, a litany of forms required or recommended for leasing transactions, and our just-released Chicago Apartment Lease (a free alternative to the boilerplate legal documents sold online or in office supply stores). We also authored blog pieces about matters of interest to both landlords and tenants, and, finally, we released our once “top secret” apartment data. Do we have hard currency to show for these things? No. But our web traffic continues to explode, and our mission to be the definitive destination for landlords and tenants is succeeding.
Noah Schatz is the owner of domu, an apartment listing site and CEO of Schatz Development.