Students around Grounds aren’t just anxious about midterms this week. Although this semester is barely a month underway, the frantic struggle to finalize housing plans for next year is already in full swing.
“I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to sign a lease,” first-year College student Joie Asuquo said. “I don’t even know how to look for an apartment.”
First-year students often feel like they’re left to fend for themselves when it comes to securing housing for their second year at the University, whether it is on Grounds or off.
“There’s not enough information given to us; we’re just kind of in the dark about it all,” first-year College student Carolyn Diamond said.
University alumnus Sam Bernstein experienced and observed similar housing stress during his time here.
“My first year at U.Va., I showed up and within the first month found a group of people … to live with, [and] signed a lease for a property we had never seen,” Bernstein said. “There’s this sort of rush and race to go and find a place; many students opt for convenience or expediency.”
Unfortunately, not much about the experience searching for housing changed over the years for Bernstein.
“Second year [came] around and it was just a nightmare,” Bernstein said. “[That] would have been avoidable had there been any knowledge from people who had lived there… [but] it was the one thing in our lives where we didn’t have any user-generated content.”
Bernstein’s experience of the mystery and stress around the process motivated him to found LoftSmart.
LoftSmart aims to facilitate smooth housing searches, particularly for college students, through quick and easily accessible user-generated feedback. The site includes property reviews and rent data and, beginning this October, will additionally serve as a forum for virtual lease transactions.
Many students have trouble finding the best housing option for themselves amongst seemingly countless options, taking into consideration price, neighborhood or whether or not the apartment comes pre-furnished. Determining between those options can be difficult, second-year Curry student Hannah Thompson said.
“There’s just this plethora of apartments, [and] they’ll [all] put on this front that they have all these amenities or say they’re the closest to X, Y or Z, but you’re already struggling with so much and taking on so much that you really don’t have that much time to tour more than like two places,” Thompson said.
LoftSmart seeks to make thorough housing research more convenient for busy and overwhelmed students, Bernstein said.
“We’ve sort of said, ‘If the way people make decisions today [is] based on informal peer-to-peer recommendation … what we’ve done is taken that entire peer-to-peer network and put it online,” Bernstein said. “[Thus], you have access to information beyond your traditional network.”
The app specifically targets college markets and focuses on making the markets transparent to both property managers and tenants.
“If you’re a student and you go onto apartments.com, I don’t think you’ll see a particularly compelling set of listings. Student housing markets require … time and energy to understand,” Bernstein said. “We try to focus on a hyper-local market, [and] how [we can] curate the most relevant list of properties … for college students in this particular market.”