This Toronto startup’s online rental marketplace is a game-changer for renters AND landlords

If you’re a renter in Toronto (or any urban centre for that matter), then you’re well aware of how arduous the process of finding a place can be. Searching Craigslist, Kijiji and Viewit multiple times a day, emailing and calling dozens of landlords, going on tours (often disappointing or dishearteningly competitive), filling out long applications and hoping that maybe, this time, you’ll be the lucky tenant. Repeat, repeat and repeat until you find “the one” — or anyone.

There’s a Toronto startup that wants to change all that. Casalova is an online rental marketplace that aims to simplify and streamline the rental experience for both tenants and landlords.

The idea for an end-to-end rental marketplace was inspired by 24-year-old co-founder Ray Taaeb’s personal experiences with renting in Toronto.

“The process was really long and outdated and manual,” Taaeb says. “I was just like, ‘There is absolutely no way this is the [best] process … Myself and my co-founder, Curtis Layne, started drawing up a new solution. If you were to use today’s technology and resources, how could you make this process as simple as click, click, click, book?”

The DMZ-based company launched in May 2015. Today, Casalova has 25,000 monthly active users and continues to grow.

The site’s listings cover properties all across Canada — with plans in place to expand coverage to the United States — and may be aggregated from partner websites or added by owners, landlords and building managers.

Hopeful renters can visit Casalova’s website and find exactly what it is they are searching for, specifying their desired location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and price range. There’s also a neighbourhood matching algorithm that narrows down searches based on a user’s interests, personality and needs. Casalova also offers a seven-day satisfaction guarantee in the case that things go awry, which provides rent refunds and hotel accommodations when the unit is not up to par.

But the platform isn’t just for renters; it offers significant benefits to landlords who sign up to list their properties on Casalova.

“The way we’re really changing the game is by, for one, allowing landlords to feel comfortable booking a tenant online,” Taaeb says. “You don’t know who that tenant might be. Is it really a good decision? In Ontario and in Canada, the laws are very much in favour of tenants.”

Casalova offers two packages to landlords. There’s a free self-service option, which allows landlords to create and manage as many listings as they like. But the real value is in the full-service package, which provides professional photography, tenant risk screenings, syndication to other sites like Craigslist and Kijiji and, best of all, a $50,000 rent income guarantee, which covers landlords in the case that a tenant defaults.

Casalova charges one month’s rent to landlords when the site books a tenant for them, and a listing cost of between $10 to $20 per building, per month, for property managers to list. Taaeb says Casalova is directly priced against real estate agents, who don’t offer the same protections and guarantees.

The company is continuing to grow and adapt its pricing and offerings, considering incorporating additional technology such as virtual reality-enabled property tours.

“What we’re trying to do right now is see if this would be enough for [a renter] to get a feeling of what the place is like,” Taaeb says. “A lot of times pictures don’t do it justice, but when you put on this headset and you’re inside the unit, you can look around and move around.” He admits “it’s a bit ahead of its time — probably a year away from main adoption.”

This kind of ambition and innovation earned Taaeb and his team the chance to pitch on Dragon’s Den, filming sometime this month. A successful pitch could help the company earn a new wave of adopters.

“I don’t think our platform would have worked five years ago,” Taaeb says. But with platforms like Airbnb making people feel more comfortable booking a residence online, “now’s the time where we feel like, ‘OK, we have the technology here and we have the manpower to do it.’ Kijiji has been around for over a decade. It’s had its time, it’s been great, but now this is an evolution of that marketplace. Consumers are ready for a new solution.”
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