Mark Hawkins is president and owner of Rentfaster.ca.
What is RentFaster? When did it start and how does it work?
Hawkins: Technically, Rentfaster.ca is an Internet listing service (ILS), but really it’s a website that’s designed to help landlords and renters connect. Rentfaster.ca started in 2003 and has evolved over the years to really help both landlords as well as renters with the rental process.
Finding a rental home or renting a home is not an easy process, so we at Rentfaster.ca do our best to help. We really strive to ensure both landlords and renters have a great experience.
Why is this a good service for renters?
Hawkins: For a lot of our renters, it’s their first time renting a property. Where do you start? Who do you call?
Rentfaster helps answer these questions with a numerous website features and resources, as well as something as simple as having a phone number. Lots of people want to pick up the phone and chat with a real person – we offer that service. I can’t think of another rental website that does that.
We also have a ton of website features that allow renters to get average rents, compare properties, fill out one application – that’s a big one. I can’t tell you how many people used to call frustrated with filling out five applications for the five properties they contacted. We created one standard application that they can send to each landlord they contact.
The bottom line is we constantly receive feedback and work to implement that feedback into Rentfaster.ca and our day-to-day business.
Why is it a good service for landlords?
Hawkins: Rentfaster.ca deals with all types of landlords, but a lot of our landlords have rental properties to generate some income on the side. Their focus is elsewhere, so they’re looking for a very convenient and easy-to-use website to find a tenant. A lot of them, as well, need advice on the process, the market conditions, the rent they should charge and so on, all of which we offer.
As with renters, we also provide landlords with lots of tools that assist in the process of renting their property. We provide rental forms, For Rent signs, photography services and most recently the ability to perform a credit check on a prospective tenant. With everything we do, we aim to provide the best customer experience we can. Just because we’re an Internet-based business doesn’t mean there isn’t a big focus on customer service/experience.
Very recently, a landlord phoned in. It was Friday at 5:30 p.m. before the long weekend. She asked me a ton of questions. She made a comment about how knowledgeable I was about the renting properties. She asked to talk to my manager to say give me some kudos and I responded that may be tough as I own the company. She thought that was amazing, but to me that is just really what Rentfaster.ca is all about – providing that great customer experience. Whether it’s me or one of my staff, we always do our best for landlords and renters. We are far from perfect but learn every day.
Can you give me a sense of how much business you do on an annual basis?
Hawkins: With our launch across Canada, we have hit some pretty exciting milestone numbers along the way. We have over 17,000 listings featuring apartments, condos and houses across Canada. This past year, we surpassed 4.4 million unique users in the year. That’s a pretty big and impressive number if you ask me.
We do have some seasonality to our business – spring and summer are the busiest months, but we attract around 550,000 unique users each month, again a number that I’m pretty excited about.
The last number that I will share is that the users of the site view approximate 10,700,000 listings each month. I think it’s fair to say Rentfaster.ca has come a long way since 2003. Rentfaster.ca has evolved from a small local website to a national brand that has become one of the prominent websites servicing the rental market.
I’m very proud in what we have accomplished and excited for what tomorrow will bring.
What are your plans for the future of the company?
Hawkins: We will continue what we have been doing for the last 15 years – 15 years in business as a privately-held Calgary-based tech company. Rentfaster.ca is technically older than Facebook. We will evolve and grow as we always have but keep the core principle of providing a great customer experience for both landlords and renters.
We will push deeper into more markets across Canada. We have made great strides into Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but there’s still lots we can do. We’re also working to provide better rental market data that can be used by our landlords and renters, but also by larger landlords, rental associations, real estate boards, government agencies and so on.
We’ve always given back to the communities and we will look to further that in the years to come. We played a very active role helping many people who were displaced during the Fort McMurray fires find a home. We provide a large amount of in-kind services to local affordable housing initiatives and most recently a large in-kind donation to help develop a registry of smoke-free buildings for Cancer Alberta.
On a more personal note, I like to give back to local entrepreneurs and various mentor programs through the business school. I was born in Calgary, went to University in Calgary and have lived here for the majority of my life. It’s a great place to call home, but we will keep pushing Rentfaster.ca beyond the Calgary’s city limits.
– Mario Toneguzzi