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February 5, 2015

Startup connects students to off-campus apartments

A new startup called College Annex is hoping to help UChicago students ease the process of moving into an off-campus apartment.

College Annex is a marketplace for student apartments that connects all components of the rental process, including resources for students, parents, landlords, and universities. Their mission is to make the search for an off-campus property easy for students and the rental process more efficient for property owners, according to the company’s Facebook page.

The company was founded on September 21, 2012 by Miami University alumni Phil Shea, David Spooner, Curtis Pittman, Anthony Zinicola, and Jeff Corbo. The startup’s program began at Miami University and added 14 other campus locations within two years. Last October, the company made one of its most recent expansions to UChicago.

“We started the company on personal experience,” said co-founder Curtis Pittman. “We noticed a need for apartment search tools and property management software for landlords. We looked into the industry and went on marketplaces to find a solution and there wasn’t one, so we decided to create one.”

College Annex allows the entire apartment rental process to be completed online, including signing a lease and paying monthly bills. The company makes profits through optional property management software, on which landlords are charged a 1% convenience fee based on their property’s monthly rent, but does not cost anything for students and parents to use.

“One of the biggest things that sets College Annex apart is that other [apartment] rental sites charge landlords to list on their site, so anything you see is an incomplete market,” said first-year and College Annex campus representative Bryan Waterhouse. “Without that barrier to entry, we list a more complete market of apartments and aim to gear them towards college students.”

In addition, College Annex hopes to help students choose safer off-campus locations to move to, by partnering with landlords who are currently renting to students. “There are plenty of tools that the University might offer [to aid in choosing safer locations] but we try to accomplish this by looking for landlords who already rent to students, ensuring safer apartment buildings and locations,” Pittman said. 

In the preliminary stages of marketing, the platform had been used by more than a thousand University of Chicago students, with the hopes to reach more as the company releases a more simplified version of its site in the coming months, according to College Annex co-founder Dave Spooner.

“In creating a single marketplace for student housing, the opportunities for growth and student services are really endless.  We envision partnerships with local business, better screening techniques to keep students safe and help landlords pick out the best candidates, allowing for utility payments and maintenance requests, splitting bills, etc.,” he said in an e-mail.

The company plans to expand to 33 campuses across the U.S. by the end of the current school year.

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