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“Our core focus is making sure we have the best experience for both renters and landlords across Canada.” — Matt Danison
Higher interest rates are keeping home sellers from listing their properties, which ultimately leads to higher demand in the rental market. Immigration remains elevated, and the unemployment rate nationwide remains near historic lows, so rental market demand remains strong. Today’s guest is Matt Danison, CEO of the Rentals.ca Network, who is passionate about creating best-in-class renter and landlord experiences across Canada. Tune in to hear the process that Matt and his team went through to rebrand the Louer.ca segment of their network, the exciting plans they have for making it easier than ever to find what you’re looking for on a rental site, Matt’s top piece of advice on how to make your listing stand out, and more!
Key Points From This Episode:
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
MD: "It represents both residential and commercial. For the English side of things, it's for rent and for lease. In Quebec, Louer represents both commercial and residential, so it's a unique opportunity for us to showcase both residential and commercial listings on louer.ca"
[00:00:42] NS: Welcome back to Sync or Swim. I'm your host, Nicolina Savelli. We're back after a quick summer hiatus for season five. On this podcast, I chat with multifamily and prop tech experts to learn how you can reach more renters, sign more leases and maximize the value of your assets. Today, for the first episode of the season, I have Matt Danison, CEO of the rentals.ca network to chat about the latest update from louer.ca, and the vision behind this rental listing site rebrand. Welcome back to the show, Matt.
[00:01:14] MD: Thanks. Glad to be here.
[00:01:16] NS: Well, it's been over a year, I think, a year and a half, almost, since you've been on the show. I haven't actually had the chance to interview you. I'm excited to be able to do that today. There's been some updates and things that I'd love for you to share. Can you please share with listeners what the rentals.ca network is to refresh them and what your position as CEO entails?
[00:01:39] MD: Yeah. No, definitely. The rentals.ca network is a network full of six different rental marketplaces that expands full coverage across Canada. We seamlessly connect millions of renters with landlords. We're really passionate about helping renters navigate the choppy seas and find them their next home.
[00:01:57] NS: Right. Your position as CEO, what are you kind of, what’s your direction, what are you working on and what's important to you as the CEO of rentals.ca and the network of those six listing sites?
[00:02:09] MD: There's a few focal points that I'm really, really passionate about. Just one, first and foremost, creating the best-in-class renter and landlord experience. That entails a lot of things with product development, and just customer support, and making sure our listings are safe and secure. That's really our core focus is just making sure we have the best experience for both renters and landlords across Canada.
Then secondly, is just to build brand loyalty. I like to call it, how can we build the best fan club possible? I used to go to a lot of concerts growing up as a kid and I just really love live music. Getting that fan club of landlords that are going to advocate for your brand is huge and also, renters at the same time. When a renter is in walking down the street and they see a rentals.ca sign for apartments, we want that feeling to be warm and one of excitement in the best way possible and good feeling that they have towards our brands, and so they will go tell their friends about how to find a place to live when they're on their search journey.
[00:03:13] NS: Absolutely.
[00:03:13] MD: Thirdly, just really educating people about our brands that have never used one of our marketplaces before. That goes into growth, and how do we scale some of our marketing niches that we have in place currently?
[00:03:24] NS: Awesome. I know you guys work very hard on your brand and the content that you guys deliver, and a lot of people look towards your rentals report, which compares rental rates across Canada. I think people use that as a resource that really supports your brand and just all of the information and data that you guys collect, and really puts it together in a really great way that people can digest and helps the market understand what's going on in a simple way. That's awesome.
Now, obviously, we've seen a number of updates come from the listing sites, those six listing sites specifically. We relaunched RentBoard some time ago with a new look. Now, can you share what the motivation was behind the Louer rebrand and what you hope to achieve from it?
[00:04:11] MD: Yes. Louer.ca, we're super excited. We have a great opportunity. Just to backup for a second, the name Louer, it's unique in the fact that it represents both residential and commercial. For the English side of things, it's for rent and for lease, but in Quebec Louer represents both commercial and residential, so it's a unique opportunity for us to showcase both residential and commercial listings on louer.ca.
For the rebrand, rebrands are always really fun, because you get to start with a blank canvas. For Louer, we just started talking about Quebec and specifically, Montreal, and how much innovation is taking place, how much abundance of art is within Montreal and Quebec, and just a lot of creative people that we've met throughout Quebec and friends I’ve grown up with. Looking at the rebuild for Louer, we really wanted to mix it up and include some creative design elements that’s just really unique to Louer that represents that culture, rich culture in Quebec.
We went with the contemporary look and feel, again, to reflect the rich culture. We chose warm pastel colors to translate that warmth. We spent a lot of time, I'm not sure if you've seen the homepage illustration graphic, but that was about 50 iterations to get that where it is right now. It started off with a pencil drawing, and the overall vision for that was to think about home and coziness and have, again, that warm feeling, and with some creative aspects as well, too. We created the illustration after the pencil sketch was done.
Then we had unique ideas like, “Hey, let's put this illustration within a real picture. Let's hang their feet off the edge to have a cool element.” This is going into, I think, what Quebec is all about is this really creative innovation and trying things that are different. Throughout that process, we came up with that illustration. We're super excited about it. We just got that with a nice little new slogan on a billboard recently in Montreal, so we're super excited for people to walk by and see the billboard and hopefully have a good feeling about the new brand.
[00:06:26] NS: Yeah. No, it really does. You want renters to see themselves in the brand and that it really speaks to them and makes them feel good about their experience renting. Totally get it. Obviously, I'm in marketing and completely understand that 50 different iterations, it feels like something just transformed on page in 24 hours, but it always takes months and months and months of creative iterations to get where you really want to be. Yeah, I totally get that process and tweaking things to achieve the ultimate look that nobody knows about, and it looks great.
[00:07:03] MD: No, thanks so much. Another quick thing is we want to also just offer renters in Quebec the same site features they fell in love with rentals.ca. Due to the [inaudible 00:07:13], the previous Louer did not have a map experience, and that's key for renters. They really want to zoom into potential location, neighborhood that they want to live. That was a really nice update for the new Louer.ca. Obviously, having the brand be French first. At default when you visit Louer.ca, it is in French, was a big part of the relaunch.
[00:07:37] NS: What has been some of the feedback, since it's been a few months, I think, since it actually went live. Have you received any feedback so far from the rebrand and maybe from landlords and renters?
[00:07:49] MD: Yeah, definitely. A lot of it has been around that creative, cool feeling of, they visit the site and says, “Oh, wow. This is different.” It has some creative aspects to it. Throughout the homepage, you can really see that and just different colors that you haven't really seen on marketplaces before, that more warm feeling versus a commercial marketplace. We've gotten a lot of positive comments around there.
I was actually just recently in Montreal, visiting with one of my favorite landlords, Erin Dweck and David Dweck, and they mentioned the site is beautiful and that’s really great to hear. Ultimately, for the Dweck family, we want to drive more quality leads for their properties and save time in posting their properties and offer exceptional customer service. I think with the new rebrand and some of the plans we have for marketing the new rebrand, it's going to drive more quality leads to Dweck family properties across all major landlords and small landlords across Quebec. Then for the renter, we're going to provide more quality listings and a faster, safe search experience and more details on each listing as well, too.
[00:08:54] NS: Perfect. Yeah. Now, obviously, you've mentioned a number of key improvements, like the map. Is there anything else that you want to mention besides that? I have another question to follow that up with, but any other key improvements on the website that renters are using, or that didn't have before? You mentioned the rentals.ca experience, what specifically was missing that maybe you haven't mentioned yet, that you have included in this iteration of louer.ca?
[00:09:24] MD: Besides the unique design, and I would say, the map experience is number one, this was just missing before, so you get that nice updated map experience. You need specific floor plans, is another big one. Especially for the larger landlords that have specific floor plans, they want to showcase 3D Matterport tours for specific units. That's really helpful. It saves their leasing team time when someone's inquiring about a specific unit.
[00:09:49] NS: Totally.
[00:09:49] MD: That was a nice update, and just promoted listings in ways that landlords could have more exposure for the property. If they have the lease up, now we have ways to promote their listings in a way to drive more quality renters to their listings, and so that was a really big update. Then we did a nice, great refresh on the logo. Shout out to Kristen at Rentsync. She did an amazing job with the logo makeover, so it looks great. Also, we just did some big updates to the commercial section on the website as well, too.
[00:10:21] NS: Yeah. Can you expand on that section of the website? Why commercial listings are so important for louer.ca and why it was included?
[00:10:29] MD: Yeah, definitely. Commercial is pretty unique for us, commercial listings on louer.ca is unique, because it's the only brand within the rentals.ca network that is currently advertising commercial listings. It makes sense, because of the name and it previously did have commercial listings on the previous website. We did a lot of tweaks to create a better experience for those commercial listings. It's a really exciting opportunity for us to start to advertise and to help commercial landlords advertise their properties on louer.ca. The pandemic really pushed up the vacancy rates higher. I think it was fourth quarter of 2021, vacancies for offices reached 16.5%, according to Avison Young, which is a real estate firm in Montreal.
Overall, there's 55 million square feet of commercial real estate, the second largest of business office space in Canada. There was recently an article in Montreal Gazette that came out in April. It mentioned that this hybrid work environment could push up Montreal downtown office vacancy rate to up to 21%. That was a report from the Chamber of Commerce. The big opportunity were commercial landlords going now more than ever going to need help advertising their properties, and we really think louer.ca is going to be a huge component of capturing interested people that want to lease restaurants, offices, a dental practice. We're working hard on really driving eyeballs to that commercial section of the website.
[00:12:06] NS: Yeah, absolutely. It's interesting to see this transition, because at the beginning of the pandemic, it was like, “Wow, commercial is taking a huge hit. What are they going to do? How are they going to recover?” For our listing sites like louer.ca to take that problem and actually be able to find a solution, really, for those who are now having to rent and don't have any other way of getting promotion or attention on their listings. At the time, I'm sure there was no vacancies, or very little vacancy for commercial. Now it's just like, well, the education and need to promote is people are wondering what to do. This is a great way of being able to get those out there and marry residential with commercial. I like how you guys have segmented the two and made that a very easy experience for those who are looking for what. Yeah, so that user experience is very helpful.
[00:13:00] MD: Definitely. If it does come up, I mean, if it does go up to 21%, it’ll basically free up 11.4 million square feet of office space. It's going to be a huge need for help in leasing out office spaces in Montreal. We're very excited about the opportunity.
[00:13:17] NS: Yeah. Now, I'd like to shift gears just for a minute and discuss the rental housing industry a bit. What do you think is crucial for listing sites to continue to satisfy renters today? What do you think they need to include? I feel like we've had conversations about them being outdated. How are you guys making sure that they're getting the experience that they want and modernizing the experience with listing sites? I know you've mentioned a few things, but do you have any opinions on how you're bringing listing sites into the digital – I mean, it's always been in the digital age, but into today's age, and with new Millennial, Gen Z renters?
[00:14:15] MD: I think, first and foremost, we're really working hard to make sure the sites are easy, fast, intuitive for users. That's key. Transparency is also so important. That's the second part where we really need to show as much information as possible on the listing details page. All the menus, renters can review the menus. Is it pet friendly? Is there parking? Does the parking cost extra per month? If it's a building and possibly, renters might care about now, “Hey, I've have this hybrid work environment that I have with my company. Is there a co-working space so I don't lose my mind in my small apartment with a lot of distractions, can I just go downstairs, and co-working space in the apartment building for four or five hours, take some meetings and calls?”
There's a lot of things that are important now, especially post pandemic, that you need to make sure to include in your listings. Renters, I think, just really want to know about the location and neighborhood. We provide some really great neighborhood scores from a company called Local Logic, actually out of Montreal. It showcases 16 different scores around that location of your address. That's really helpful for renters that we offer now on louer.ca currently. Just making sure also that we have a fraud analyst coupled with AI, that makes sure listings are very safe, and goes through a rigorous process for every single listing that goes on the website.
Renters that previously maybe use other classified sites and run into some interesting or sketchy situations with price too good to be true, we really take that into account and make sure our marketplaces are really safe across the board.
[00:16:03] NS: Perfect. Yeah. I mean, it feels like it really – we are evolving as listing sites become less listing sites, more marketplaces, and more cater to the audience that they're trying to help. It's not just, “Here's a place to live and that's it. You figure out the rest.” I love all of the things that you just mentioned. I think that if I was at an age of renting, those would all be important parts of my search process and obviously, price conscious. All of those things are top of mind for a lot of young renters right now. That's super helpful.
Now, switching gears to the landlord side of things. When using rental listing sites and optimizing your listings, what would you recommend they be investing in to make listing stand out?
[00:16:53] MD: Yeah, there's a handful of things on that. You have to have a good set of photos. That's so key, just having good transparency through photos, making sure you take photos of the good, bad and ugly. I feel like sometimes, you see some really attractive photos, but you go – the renter would go to the unit and be disappointed, because they find something that wasn't previously on the listing.
[00:17:15] NS: Absolutely.
[00:17:16] MD: Make sure you have transparency is key. Really 3D tours of, especially during the pandemic, spiked so much. That's extremely helpful for someone. They don't have to go drive downtown, struggle with parking, pay the big parking fee to go view the listing. They can sit there on the couch, walk through the entire listing with a 3D tour Matterports that – we have a lot of Matterport tours on all of our brands. That's a great way to just get more acquired leads through the door, especially with vacancy rates being low in some of the markets, some landlords have a ton of leads coming through.
If you want to increase quality, make sure that there’s more transparency there and provide those 3D tours. It’s super helpful for renters, and your leasing agents as well, too, so they don't have to call up and ask questions about different rooms in the place. They can really see everything through that 3D experience. It's really important, so amenities and making sure everything's there on details is great.
Here's something that I think landlords have a great opportunity to improve your listings on. I don't see it often, but the ones that do it really stand out. That's just painting a picture of what someone's weekly routine could look like if they lived at that property location. One thing is really selling or showcasing your property, all the amenities and everything about it, but the second component of really attracting a renter is talking about the surrounding area. People who are people of habit, or love routine, talking about and painting a picture of that possible routine could add a lot of value to that property's location. That can be, “Hey, there's a farmers market two blocks away on Fridays.” Someone can think, “Hey, on Fridays after work, I'm going to go to this farmers market, get some vegetables and cook a nice meal over the weekend.” Talk about that, coupled with a nice park, or restaurants, or cool coffee shops.
Anything that you think is going to be really important. Easy transportation, is the Metro hop and skip away? If it is, make sure you mention that. You're talking about all the different aspects that could attract a renter to that location, your property location. You’re creating the best of the best of what's around that address, right?
[00:19:37] NS: Totally.
[00:19:37] MD: Then you paint a picture of what someone's routine could look like, if they lived at your property.
[00:19:44] NS: Yeah, you're telling a story for – it's marketing 101. Oftentimes, certain people who are writing these listings maybe aren’t marketers, or don't maybe fully understand the scope of what they need to include in those details. I think, if you want to stand out, you have to go above and beyond in your content now.
[00:20:05] MD: Exactly. Especially if you don't have all the fancy renovated, or all the fancy new home gadgets that some of the listings have, or you don't have some of the amazing features that some of the new rentals have. You can really spend time making sure that the renter understands that this location is topnotch, because X, Y and Z of what's around.
[00:20:26] NS: Totally. No, that makes sense. I know, we did a webinar a while ago about how to improve your rental listings. We touched on a lot of those things, but I think that you've driven the point home that people really need to be transparent and noting what's around is really important. Especially in large cities, where it's hard to get around and becoming harder and harder to get around, it's important to know what – unless people are buying cars, and there's less parking spots, it's like, how are people going to even get from point A to point B? Being able to communicate how you can get places and the ease of transportation, or the ease of accessibility is super important for renters to note, especially with those locations, like in Montreal.
[00:21:08] MD: No, totally agree.
[00:21:10] NS: Now that I've got you here, I also love to chat about the rentals.ca report, which tackles rent rates and gets a lot of coverage. I mentioned it earlier, about its in-depth analysis across Canada. Can you share a quick review of the trends you're seeing in rental rates right now, any cities that have taken off during the pandemic and maybe are regressing slightly, or maybe opposite, those that regressed, but are now coming back stronger than ever?
[00:21:39] MD: It's been a media storm with our reports recently. There's just been a lot going on. Paul Danison has been doing a great job with all of that. Some of the main things that are coming, as far as what's happening across Canada is prices are going up in major cities and some of the smaller cities as well, too. That's just higher interest rates are keeping home sellers from listing their properties, which ultimately leads to higher demand, the rental market. Immigration remains elevated and the unemployment rate nationwide remains near historic lows, so the rental market demand remains strong. We also have workers returning to the office are boosting rents in downtown metros.
There's a handful of things that are going on and really driving some rents up. Canada needs more supply, bottom line, and any creative way through policy, especially to make it easier for landlords to put shovels in the ground and create more supply. Additional laneway suites was a creative one. But it really supply the big issue here. We have all-time record highs immigration, which is great. There's a lot of pressure coming from all angles on the rental market. We really need more supply. That's the main thing happening right now.
[00:23:00] NS: Yeah. I heard and I don't know if it's true, but they’ve increased – there's a new policy that they've increased the cost by 46% for new development builds, residential development builds. I believe that was in Toronto, and I don't know how recent that was, but it just made me shake my head, because I just don't understand why they would want to make it any harder for people to build for rentals. This is just what we need. We've been having this conversation for the last two and a half years, basically, almost every day, every time I get on this podcast, I talk about supply.
I don't understand why the policies aren't reflecting that. It's an unfortunate situation that renters are facing this continued upward trend, and there's nothing that can be really done about it. The costs of things are becoming harder, too, for building, and finding labor to do the builds is also very difficult. Yeah, it's definitely a problem. It really can't be fixed in a 30-minute podcast episode.
[00:24:09] MD: No, no. It's tough. I mean, supply constraints on lumber spiked during the pandemic and still is high. There are a lot of reasons why it is tough to build. Any creative solutions, even outside of policy. There are some affordable housing initiatives that are going on, but we need more, bottom line. Supply is key. Again, there are so many reasons that are pushing demand up and we just don't have enough supply.
[00:24:35] NS: Yeah. I mean, we just talked about commercial. Have you seen any instances where commercial properties have now turned into maybe hybrid residential commercial, or have gone complete residential at all, or any instances of that that you foresee happening?
[00:24:51] MD: In some cases, yes. We'll see some commercial landlords doing a hybrid version. We have seen some of that across the country, but not a significant amount, but we have seen some of it.
[00:25:02] NS: Sure. Yeah. What's next for the rentals.ca network? Are there any more rebrands in the pipeline, or new features on the way?
[00:25:14] MD: Yeah. We're always just focusing everyday trying to make the experience as best as possible, that’s the number one focus. I can mention, we do have some side things. I'm just trying to think what – let's see. One thing that we're currently working on is making our =marketplaces faster. Our goal is to make it lightning fast, so when a renter goes and visits louer.ca, the pages load super-fast. It's really important, you think about it, the next generation of renters, they have a lower attention span. Maybe TikTok is to blame. I don't know.
We're finding that the younger generation is searching a little differently than the previous generation. They're searching in quick intervals of, let's say, five minutes, while they're waiting in line, or waiting for their Uber Eats and just in that waiting phase for five or 10 minutes. Less likely to sit down on a desktop computer and for a whole straight hour and search. These interval searches are key. It's really important that when they land our web brands, that they load super-fast. If they don't, they're going to go somewhere else and say, “Hey, this is annoying.” They just don't have the attention span, or they have a short attention span, right? That's super key to make sure our sites are speedy.
Then another thing that we are working on at the moment is just trying to try to save time for landlords. That’s just creating different products and features that will make their lives easier. Rentsync because doing some really special things in that arena as well, too. They're coming out with a really special booking app, a new version that's super exciting. I won't reveal too much on this podcast. I'm sure there's going to be a follow up on that.
[00:27:02] NS: Yeah. We've had the booking app for a while, but it's nice to see that there's some new things coming from that.
[00:27:08] MD: Exactly. Yeah. That's one of the few items that Rentsync has in the works. It's really exciting and definitely going to help save time for landlords and manage their properties a lot easier. Then the last one I'll mention, I'm really passionate about is this voice search, so the next iteration of search and what that could look like and what that think will look in the future. Currently, someone searches for property, they go to the homepage, and they click or type in let's say, “Montreal.” They land on the map page. Most likely, they're going to be on a mobile phone. They're going to spend some time looking for the filters, because they want to set their price and their bedroom and all their different preferences, pet friendly, for example. That's going to take a minute, two minutes, sometimes three to five minutes depending on – For me, I have a bigger thumb, so sometimes I mess up on the filters, just because my thumb is a little bigger.
It's a little tedious and it does take time. I really think the next easier experience would be, if you can just go to your rentals.ca and just click on an icon, voice icon and say, “Show me two-bedroom apartments in Montreal with hardwood floors, with natural light under $2,500.” Then that would take me straight to the map page, where those filters which I asked for are already filtered, so I don't have to click anything.
[00:28:25] NS: Amazing.
[00:28:26] MD: That really is a vision that we have in executing this year, and just making the experience a lot easier via voice search. We're super excited about that.
[00:28:35] NS: That's perfect. Yeah, that's good to hear. I know people, my partner specifically with big thumbs, and they also would probably prefer to use voice. I also hate filtering. I feel I'm always missing something whenever I go down, or scroll down and on mobile, it's always harder to filter things. To be able to do that filtering process via voice is probably a little bit smoother of a process. That's awesome.
[00:29:03] MD: Exactly. Then the one other thing around voice is, let's say, you're new to Montreal, you got a new job there, you only have the weekend to search for places and you land in, let's say, The Plateau, which is a really cool area in Montreal. You say, “Oh, this area is great.” In your car, you’re parking, you're on the side of the road, you can just say, “Show me apartments.” You can set that same search. “Show me apartments around me under $1,500 that are pet friendly, have hardwood floors,” and that would pop up on the map. Then, let's say you don't have time, because you have to go meet someone, or you have a meeting, or if you’re just really starving, you want to get one of the famous bagels in the mile end. You just say, “Okay, set a listing alert for this neighborhood from the mile end.” That would automatically set a listing alert. That would start sending listings right away. You don't have to click anything again, this is all voice activated.
[00:29:57] NS: That’s awesome. Yeah. That's awesome. I mean, it's clear you guys have really thought this through. That's great. Do you guys consider feedback from your renters and your landlords to create new features and think about these things? If you do, where would be the best place for people to make those feedback submissions?
[00:30:17] MD: Yeah, we would definitely do. We talk to thousands of landlords and renters to get their feedback and that feedback is so key. It helps us so much. We're really thankful for any feedback that comes across. The best place they can contact us if they have any ideas, or frustrations with anything, we'd love to hear it, it would be email@example.com would be the best. If they want to reach out to me directly, they can find me on LinkedIn.
[00:30:39] NS: Awesome. Matt, thank you so much for all your hard work, and for taking the time to join me on this episode of Sync or Swim. For those who are looking to find rentals in Quebec and that area, then you can head over to louer.ca and find your next apartment home. Until next time, keep swimming.
[00:31:01] MD: Thanks so much. Take care.
[00:31:02] NS: Bye.
E78:The Housing Pulse: Toronto Star's Business Reporter on Canada's Rental Landscape
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