Why you should care
These apps are testing the parallels between finding a date and a roommate.
Swipe. Swipe. Swipe.
Gabrielle, 19, into cheese. Mohammed, 26, always on time. Eddy, 32, has a profile picture that’s a caricature of himself and insists he is both “healthy” and likes nightclubs.
Whoomies, the app they’re on, isn’t really like Tinder, but it’s among a slew of apps that have sprung up in the past five years worldwide that use the swipe feature as a gateway drug for those accustomed to the functionality of the world’s best-worst dating app. The only difference is you won’t find a hookup. Instead, they’re promising to use artificial intelligence to find you a roommate or a place to live.
It makes sense. People who claim romantic chemistry can be arranged by algorithm are probably awful at dating — you can spark with someone who has totally different interests than you — but finding a roommate requires a little less magic, a little more practicality. Still, there’s a human aspect to it — one these apps are eager to capture as they show early signs of success.
We wanted to create a platform where you can find apartments, but also where we can understand who you are.
Alexandre Assal, co-founder, Whoomies
There’s Barcelona-based Badi, which last year obtained $10 million in funding. RentHoop, which launched in 2016, links up with Facebook profiles of subscribers to help you find your roommate. New York-based Roomi, which launched in 2015, won $11 million in funding in 2017. RentRoomi in India has expanded to eight cities since it was founded in 2016. And Whoomies, a France-based platform that launched in 2017, has since spread to London and has tens of thousands of subscribers.
“We wanted to create a platform where you can find apartments, but also where we can understand who you are,” says Whoomies co-founder Alexandre Assal.
These startups are hoping to grab a slice of a fast-growing global co-living market. In the U.S., the supply of co-living housing options is expected to grow by 84 percent compared to 2018. In India, the co-living market is estimated at $12 billion. And it’s no coincidence that they’re trying to borrow in part from Tinder, still one of the most popular apps among millennials, the age group — out of college, city-bound but not yet considering moving in with a partner — that most of these apps are targeting.
Yet they’re also looking to go one better. “In our feed, we have more than one person at a time you can swipe through. We want you to be able to encounter the ecosystem a little bit faster,” says Eric Saleh, co-founder at Circle for Roommates. “Dating is not necessarily time-sensitive.” With roommates, you might need to jump on a match quick.
Profiles on apps like Circle, Whoomies, RentHoop and Badi ask you about yourself as Tinder does, trying to match you up with someone who has compatible characteristics (and the same move-in date). Some of the apps, like Circle, encourage users to pay a small fee to get verified (the site runs a background check) in order to maximize their number of matches. It’s something Saleh says is especially important to young women looking at the prospect of living with a relative stranger. It gives such apps a leg up on say, Craigslist, which is still where many young people in some cities look for rooms to move into, but which doesn’t do any similar verification.
The apps work both for people looking for a co-living option and someone to pair up with, as well as for those with a room in their current apartment to find an occupant for.
There are definite difficulties in incorporating a Tinder-style approach into finding an apartment. First of all, while some turn to Tinder hoping for long-term commitment, many are just swiping for casual fun — and will be back there next week, tomorrow or later that night. Those looking for a place to live are planning to make a more structured commitment, and once they’ve found a match, they are unlikely to return for a significant period of time. By then, they may be relocating to a city beyond the reach of some of these apps.
Finding a co-living fit is also more complicated than the simple act of swiping. If you’re looking at a roommate, sure you care about their personality — but you might care more about the specific apartment they’re proposing to share. While RentHoop began as a swiping, Tinder-style app, it’s now evolved to be more of a carousel instead of a swipe-left-to-consign-them-to-oblivion model. “Instead of swiping on someone to indicate that you’re interested in them, you message them directly,” says Paul Burke, RentHoop’s founder and CEO. He says the edits were largely based on his own experience using the app to find a roommate in Los Angeles and the information he found he needed and cared about.
Still, the approach is working for many of these firms. Circle will soon expand from New York and LA to work in D.C. as well. Whoomies has made the international jump to London after expanding all over France. They’re also hoping to expand services: Whoomies in particular hopes to help young people overcome France’s notoriously twisty tenant laws.
Because a Parisian lease gives tenants an enormous amount of power, landlords often demand a guarantor who agrees to pay their rent if the tenant refuses to or can’t. For many, that’s their parents — but without family support, tenants can find it difficult to find such a guarantor. Whoomies, its founder envisions, could be that guarantor — not just helping people find a personality match to live with for a year and beyond, but actually helping people get leases even in cities where the housing market becomes ever tighter.