When it comes to the headaches of renting an apartment, most New Yorkers can relate. However, for block.a Co-Founder Erez Cohen, the tedious experience also sparked an idea.
“It started with a classic NYC story. Erez went to see a unit, but the agent wasn’t there — and it was snowing,” explained Ben Haghani, Chief Revenue Officer at block.a. “Finally, the super let him in. He loved the apartment and wanted to apply — but the agent was still missing. No paperwork, no apartment.”
In an exclusive interview with The Real Deal, Haghani along with Michelle Bassaly, VP Real Estate Strategy at block.a, explained how their technology adds speed, convenience, and security to a rental market long overdue for a makeover.
By infusing automation into every step of the process, block.a transforms the experience that hasn’t seen much innovation in over 50 years, the results? the rental experience for busy landlords (and renters) is expedited and made more efficient in several crucial ways.
A Brokerage That Never Stops Innovating
block.a relentless focus on innovation is key to its success. For example, its cost-saving model drives unprecedented savings for landlords — from charging half of what other brokers do to renting units at record speed.
Technology is clearly core to the company’s vision. And as more renters download the app, block.a sees a new trend emerging.
“What’s remarkable is that we’re actually giving renters a choice to tour with or without one of our agents, and 99% of the time they are choosing to tour on their own time, and within 24 hours” said Bassaly. “They know our process is fast and convenient — and that’s why they prefer to see apartments with block.a
Haghani adds, “We see a future where you can go to the neighborhood you’re interested in, open the block.a app, tour 12 apartments in one day, and complete your application before dinner.”
block.a has facilitated over 30,000 self-tours to date.
What else does the future hold? The company recently expanded its machine learning (ML) team to tackle projects like transforming the traditional real estate comp. Instead of using only historical pricing, block.a will leverage predictive factors (like seasonality and demand) for the first-ever ‘true view’ of a property’s value.
“Our tech innovation is extremely exciting, but at the end of the day, we are real estate pros,” concludes Bassaly. “We are a seasoned leasing team — one that best meets the evolving needs of landlords, adding a layer of automation and innovation to every step.”
Saving Landlords Time, Stress, and Costs
The manual rental process is archaic and exhausting. Scheduling tours and waiting for agents can cause delays, which ultimately cuts into the owner’s potential profits.
It’s a struggle Haghani knows all too well. In addition to his extensive background in real estate investment and development, he’s also a landlord himself. Yet block.a, a modern brokerage in Tribeca, is completely changing the game.
GPG Properties, a block.a customer, is on track to cut their leasing costs by 50% within the next year by switching to block.a.
Meet Sharon: the bot that transforms the end-to-end rental process through an inventive app.
So, how does the automated experience work?
First, the renter inquires and gets an immediate response.
Renters are more digitally savvy than ever and love the speed and convenience that block.a provides. As soon as someone inquires about a unit (listed across all major sites), Sharon sees the inquiry and immediately responds with the next steps.
Then, they tour at their convenience.
When a potential tenant visits the unit, they must first undergo multiple security screens, and within 60 seconds their smartphone becomes a temporary key. They’re able to use the app to open the door (thanks to invisible equipment installed by block.a). And, if the building already has a smart lock, block.a will integrate with the technology for a seamless experience.
During the tour, Sharon prompts the renter just like a live agent would — except she never misses an appointment, question, or step along the way. Potential renters can reply to Sharon, with the option to reach a human at any time for an application or potential questions.
Ready to rent? That’s automated, too.
What if the person likes the unit? Sharon is ready to guide them through the rest of the process — including submitting information, signing paperwork, and even providing payment. The landlord gets updates at every step, and can complete tasks with the click of a button. If there’s ever a delay, Sharon follows up daily to keep everyone on track.
So, how fast is it?
The block.a team has clocked some impressive numbers. The fastest time from inquiry to tour was four minutes — and from inquiry to application, just 47 minutes.
“Even a two-hour turnaround is amazing. But four or 47 minutes? That’s startling, especially when you consider the average time for an agent to even respond is 16 hours,” added Haghani.
For occupied units, block.a supports in-person tours while incentivizing outgoing tenants. Sharon coordinates with both parties to ensure the unit is rented even before it becomes vacant. — and outgoing tenants love getting paid for the tours they host (made easier via tracking on the app).
Safety, Security and Transparency May Be block.a’s Greatest Achievement Yet
Whether you’re viewing or showing a rental, security is a significant concern. And it’s an area that’s hard to master without transparency, expertise, or consistent processes.
Bassaly —an experienced agent herself —highlighted block.a’s security features. She noted, “With block.a, landlords and tenants have an added layer of protection that keeps them (and their data) safe and secure. Our CTO and CEO are both cybersecurity experts, so it’s only natural that we build security into everything we do.”
For example, every visitor must provide the proper documentation to tour a unit. Behind the scenes, block.a authenticates the person’s identity with a rapid process that takes just minutes. Other features — like anomaly testing — scan for potential risks, like someone staying in the apartment for too long.
block.a’s goal is zero days on the market
In addition to added security, block.a’s transparency also gives landlords added perks like visibility and cost-savings into rental activity.
Perhaps most impactful is the feedback Sharon collects during a tour (e.g., the unit wasn’t clean or the refrigerator is too small), along with a dashboard that displays trends related to marketing, inquiries, visits, feedback, and more.
“If you look at the manual brokerage process, there’s very little transparency. It’s often based on phone calls and vague feedback,” notes Bassaly. “But block.a collects quantitative data, which helps landlords make adjustments on the fly. They can also rely on our leasing team to proactively review the data and reach out whenever we identify risks or opportunities for improvement.”
Ready to transform your rental business?
As a leading brokerage, Knock delivers an automated residential leasing solution that helps landlords rent apartments faster at a fraction of the cost. To see how easy it is to get started with Knock, book a demo here.