Find a place to match your needs - online

When Bahrain-born Singaporean Mateen Kirmani moved here 13 years ago, he sifted through hundreds of listings and viewed almost 20 properties in a month to find an ideal rental apartment.

Hiring a property agent did not help. The entrepreneur, now 31, recalled: "It was challenging. Even after I told the agent what I needed, I went for viewings that didn't have what I needed."

The frustrating experience spurred him to set up a website with his friends, Mr Muhammad Hasnain Hyder, 25, and Mr Usman Chaudhry, 26, both Pakistani entrepreneurs.

PlaceMatch aims to match tenants with their ideal rental properties and roommates, bypassing agents.

The first version of the site was put up last September to test the market. The site, which is free for users, attracted 30,000 users within six months, said Mr Kirmani.

On average, there are about 1,100 places listed and 300 potential tenants using the site at any one time.

Today, the team will launch a revamped website after taking in feedback from users and surveying more than 500 people.

The survey found that tenants want proximity to where they commute to every day, said Mr Kirmani.

So now, when users sign up, they will be asked to key in a place they travel to every day, such as their schools or workplaces.

"Typically (on other websites), you have to list down the towns you want to live in. But people moving here for the first time do not even know these places," he said.

Users can then choose four criteria which matter the most to them, such as the floor area of the place or whether it has a gym or swimming pool. They can also indicate other preferences, such as their budget and their preferred number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Relevant listings will show up. These include photographs of the properties' interior and directions to that one place the user commutes to daily.

Users can then choose to message the landlord, schedule a meeting or make an offer.

One of them, Ms Laura Noel, 30, head of marketing at an information technology company, said she found the site "easy to navigate".

"Other sites have too many ads and are disorganised," she said.

Mr Ong Kah Seng, director at property consultancy R'ST Research, said the site will make it faster for tech-savvy tenants to find their ideal properties.

But he cited two drawbacks: Without a professional agent, there is no middleman to help with negotiations. Users do not get to tap the other resources, such as databases, which experienced agents may have.

"Inexperienced tenants need someone to fall back on. If there are any differences between the landlord and tenant, a neutral, trained party will be able to help them," Mr Ong said.

Mr Kirmani and Mr Hyder pooled together $20,000 for the start-up. They are also getting funding support from six angel investors.

One of them is Mr Aly Anser, 37, a senior brand development manager who has put in a "high five-figure sum".

Mr Anser, who has gone through the hassle of renting a place, said: "Our options are either agent- led or home owner-led, and the person looking to rent is at a disadvantage because everyone speaks highly of themselves."

PlaceMatch gives users equal footing and if the website takes off here, it can be replicated in other countries as well, he added.

mellinjm@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 7, 2014.
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