Here's my attempt at an "objective" peer review of Domu, a major player in the Chicago apartments space.
This article will be my honest attempt at taking a dispassionate look at all the great things Domu does in the Chicago apartments space and detail which renters will get the most benefit from using their service. I'll do my best to offer solid insight about the advantages and disadvantages of using their service — because every single website or service in real estate has advantages and disadvantages (including Jumpshell!).
My goals with this article?
- Refer the renters who will benefit most from using Domu to their website. Spoiler alert: it's anyone who does not want help from an agent in their apartment search. If you already know you want to avoid rental agents like the plague, then by all means head on down to Domu.com!
- Enumerate options for renters who do want assistance from a real estate agent. Spoiler alert: especially since renters don't pay the broker fee in Chicago, I'll make a strong case for using an agent, but it's certainly not right for everyone. If you're interested in using an agent, I'll also give some insight into whether Jumpshell will be a good fit for your search or if another approach would be best.
- Shed some light on the pros and cons of going "direct to landlord" vs. using a real estate agent.
Before I dive in, let me be as upfront as possible about this article and my biases.
Full disclosure, Jumpshell is a competitor of Domu — at least inasmuch as we both are interested in helping renters looking for apartments in Chicago. Although, in a lot of ways we serve very different audiences:
- Jumpshell helps people looking for apartments who'd like assistance from an agent.
- Domu helps people looking to handle their search on their own.
With that said, absolutely take this article with a grain of salt. I'm writing this post with the intention of being as objective as I can, but no one can completely remove bias from their writing.
With that in mind, I thought it made sense for me to lay out my biases here.
I am biased, because:
- I don't believe any company, website or service in real estate is right for everyone — that includes Jumpshell.
- I believe that Domu has done extraordinary work with maintaining a database of listings that's accurate and up-to-date — this is an extremely difficult undertaking in real estate and a testament to the trust their landlord partners put in them.
- I believe that real estate brokerages provide a valuable service to renters, but only when their agents act professionally, are responsive and attentive to their clients' needs and provide great customer service.
- I believe that a good agent — especially in markets like Chicago where renters don't pay the broker's fee — will always be a better solution than going it alone. A good agent (in theory) is a professional local expert who's knowledgeable in real estate transactions; a perfect partner for an apartment search.
Again, I'm trying to be 100% transparent upfront, since I'm essentially "reviewing" a competitor, so I hope you'll trust that I'm doing my best to steer the right people to the right services. I'm sure Domu doesn't want to lure customers to its site who'd truly benefit from having an agent assist with their search, much in the same way the Jumpshell doesn't want to attract customers whose best course of action is to find an apartment without an agent.
So without further ado, here are the advantages and disadvantages of Domu for finding Chicago apartments.
Domu: the pros + cons.
For starters, take a peek at Domu's user interface below. This image will help give you some context for when I list out the advantages and disadvantages of the website/service below.
- Style: Clean and simple (not dissimilar to Airbnb). Like most listing sites, Domu uses the "pins on a map" approach for helping you identify potential apartment matches.
- Functionality: Straightforward and intuitive. At the end of the day, Domu let's you browse listings based on preference filters, get some information about an apartment and contact the landlord. Doing each of those three steps isn't confusing at all.
- Price: Free. Domu is 100% free for renters to use. It makes a lot of sense, seeing as their direct competitors (other listing sites like Craigslist, Zillow, etc.) are also free to use, but it would be a crime to omit that their service comes at no cost to renters. For renters looking to maximize their savings, it doesn't get much better than that.
- Information: Like many listing sites, Domu still faces the challenge of good data (anything from availability to photos). Landlords create their own listings, so there's no standard for information quality. You'll find that some listings have detailed descriptions, complete information and great photos — but you'll also find that some listings leave a lot out. Again, this problem isn't unique to Domu. Every other listing site (Craigslist, Zillow, HotPads, etc.) has the same problem.
- Product Limitations: Once you email a landlord, your relationship with Domu is essentially over. You can continue browsing, filtering and contacting other landlords, but coordinating with landlords, scheduling showings and doing paperwork still sits firmly in the renter's camp. Domu doesn't mislead anyone in any way — as Domu says on their website, beyond helping you find some options, they "perform no brokerage services".
- Price: What? I thought you said the price was an advantage? Technically, offering a free service for renters is an advantage over any service that might charge renters a fee. However, every other listing site and every real estate brokerage also offers their services to renters for free.
At the end of the day, Domu is hands-down the best resource for renters looking handle their apartment search on their own.
Domu's platform helps renters get to the "online-to-offline" transition as quickly as possible. But once you're offline, you're on your own.
Compared to a real estate brokerage, which takes the burden of browsing listings, scheduling showings and handling paperwork off of the renter's shoulders, Domu offers a less complete experience. But again, that's just my perspective — definitely feel free to ask friends in Chicago what they think!
So, am I saying that everyone should use a real estate agent instead of Domu? Heck, no.
There are lots of people for whom Domu is the best option for their search.
Straight up, a lot people have had poor experiences with Chicago rental agents and apartment locators. The problem comes down to the abundance of unprofessional agents in Chicago. Allow me to qualify that statement.
Here's proof that most real estate agents are not great at their jobs.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) released a report called the DANGER Report — essentially a deep look at everything threatening the current real estate industry as it stands and operates today. In the report, the #1 threat to their business and the industry was the following:
Untrained, unethical and/or incompetent agents. Ouch.
Whatever the underlying problems are — lack of training, uncertain incentives for good service, etc. — most real estate agents straight up stink at providing clients with a positive experience.
So, am I saying that finding a good agent is a crapshoot? It can be.
This is why Zillow, HotPads, Craigslist and all the other listing sites in the world haven't really improved the apartment search experience for anyone. Behind those fancy sites and "easy-to-browse" listings, there's probably an incompetent agent receiving the email. More often than not, renters will reach out about a listing and encounter one of the following, disappointing outcomes:
- No reply...ever.
- "I'm so sorry, that apartment was just rented." (bait-and-switch)
- "It's not available until June." (you're looking for April)
- "I'll call you later today." (no call)
And the list goes on.
But if you do get a great agent, the experience is pretty wonderful — especially because there's no fee.
Sometimes, you'll actually connect with a great agent who'll respond quickly, remains attentive to your needs, sets up showings for you and deftly organizes your application so you get an apartment.
Here comes the plug for Jumpshell — hopefully with all the context I've given above, this will seem less like a plug and more like an honest assessment of where Jumpshell provides value.
Jumpshell can help by guaranteeing you'll connect with a great agent.
In the spirit of fairness and equity, I'll do my best to outline the advantages and disadvantages of using Jumpshell, just like I did for Domu above. Here we go:
- Skip the listings. For the life of me, I can't remember where I read this statistic, but someone reported that renters spend an average of 20-30 hours browsing listings online during their apartment search. If you put a dollar value on an hour of your time at $20 (for example), that's like spending $500 just to browse listings. With Jumpshell, you spend 1-3 minutes filling out an online questionnaire about your search and then you're done.
- Exceptional agents. Every brokerage claims to have exceptional agents, but very few brokerages track whether or not their agents are providing good or bad experiences to clients. At Jumpshell, we regularly check in with clients during their search to get an ongoing rating on their agent's performance. If they're not satisfied with the experience, we share the feedback with our agents and they correct course. Here's what one of our "check in" emails looks like:
- We can't help everyone. At Jumpshell, we only let our agents connect with renters if they can give them the right attention and the right apartment options. Our goal is to make sure every client's time is respected and they enjoy a successful search experience (i.e. they find a place). As such, we can't guarantee that we'll connect everyone with a Jumpshell agent. But again, the most you're out is 1-3 minutes of time filling out a questionnaire.
In summary, Domu is awesome for renters who don't want to work with rental agents.
If you've had one too many nasty experiences with rental agents or you're just a DIY person in general, Domu offers a very straightforward way to browse listings and contact landlords. From there, Domu hands the reigns over to you to schedule showings and communicate with landlords to see which apartments might be best for you. If you're ready to handle your apartment search solo, jump on over to Domu.com!
If you're open to using a rental agent or know you'll want some professional help with your seach, there are no drawbacks to using a good rental agent ("good" being the key word here). One way to find a trustworth agent is to browse for Chicago rental brokerages on Yelp and scour the reviews for shoutouts to specific agents.
You can also try signing up with Jumpshell :)