What if getting an apartment — or being a landlord for that matter — was not set up as an adversarial relationship from the get-go?
What if the process of finding student housing, or getting your first place as a young adult in the workforce, was simple, straightforward, and you were treated with dignity and respect?
What if, as a landlord, you could expect over 90% occupancy in your units?
That’s the code Tripalink has cracked in the student and cohousing market. The platform is succeeding at providing a data-driven, more human approach to affordable housing options in a growing number of communities across the country.
When Tripalink founder Donghao Li came to the U.S. in 2013 from China to study for his Master’s degree at USC, finding a place to live was a nightmare.
“I searched online for a month and a half,” he remembers. “I finally found one bedroom in a house for way too much money and signed the lease.”
When he arrived to the address, he realized the house was not at all the house in the pictures he had been sent.
“Apartment hunting was the opposite of a simple and enjoyable experience,” he says.
Li knew there had to be a better way, and was determined to solve for both affordability and positive experience.
[su_quote]After receiving his Master’s Degree in Financial Engineering from USC in 2015, Li launched Tripalink with his business partner, Patrick Liang. In the beginning, they marketed almost exclusively to international students. But they soon saw there was plenty of room to expand the target audience for this service. [/su_quote]
“We realized that it was not just international students who needed a more efficient and community-friendly way of finding off campus housing,” Li says.
Now in its 7th year, Tripalink has evolved to offer a streamlined and friendly rental experience for students, young adults, and a growing number of families. They are helping people find affordable housing in cities that currently include locations in Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, Irvine, San Francisco, Austin, Tucson, Pittsburgh, Berkeley, and Tacoma.
On the property owner side, Tripalink provides marketing and leasing services, property management, apartment design, and deep data analysis that translates currently into a 90% plus occupancy rate across the properties Tripalink manages.
“In 2017, we received our first round of funding to build on what we had started,” Li says. So, starting around the USC campus, they began partnering with local developers to offer both traditional and co-housing options for students and working professionals.
[su_quote]Tripalink properties, whether individual rentals or co-living spaces, are furnished and all utilities are included in the price. In co-living spaces, there are community events planned regularly, and the properties all have state-of-the art security systems in place.[/su_quote]
For landlords who provide the property, Tripalink provides all the rest, from rental application, to furnishing and interior design, to rent collection to fixing the leaky faucet.
As Tripalink was building its portfolio of student housing properties, COVID hit.
“The pandemic dramatically changed the entire industry,” Li says. “We shifted in our strategy, for sure, but the primary question we were asking ourselves remained, ‘how do we provide a better quality of product and service to our customers?’”
Since COVID, the renter ratio between students and working professionals has tilted much more toward working professionals. “Right now, it is around 60 to 65% working professionals, with the other 35 — 40% made up of students.”
If you have ever been in the rental market, you will recognize a focus on better customer service — especially in the application process — as a unique approach. The standard approach, one that Li experienced himself back in 2013, is one where landlords believe they are doing students, working professionals, and others a big favor by accepting them as tenants.
Tripalink disrupts this dynamic with a data-driven approach that helps find the markets in need of cohousing or more affordable traditional rentals, an app that creates a much more user-friendly application experience.
“Instead of having to move from portal to portal to move your application along, we wanted to make it a simple and seamless process in one app,” Li says.
The experience for many renters becomes one of a community they are reluctant to leave. As renters become more financially independent, they can move from a co-living space to a traditional apartment building. This is not at all uncommon, Li points out.
Today, Tripalink partners with medium-size to large developers who have a portfolio of properties to manage as well as small-scale mom-and-pop property owners, opening up the market more broadly, but with the same focus on customer experience that has served Tripalink so well.
“It is a lot for individual owners to manage the lease process and then manage the property,” Li concludes. “It can be very tedious, but we are able to do it all efficiently with technology.”
This year, Tripalink is expanding not only within its existing cities but also across the nation . If the rental market in your area is all dog-eat-dog, with customer service a distant dream, that is changing as Tripalink moves into the neighborhood.
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