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Facebook Shops Around for Its Next Business Endeavor: Rental Listings
By Liz Dominguez
Once touted as the most popular and innovative internet community of its time, Facebook is now pushing to compete with trendy social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. As part of its rebranding efforts to become an all-in-one service, Facebook recently added payment capabilities to its messaging service, along with various filters to its camera settings to mimic Instagram's photo editing settings. It is now making a move into the real estate industry by adding apartment and home rental listings onto its existing Marketplace storefront, which so far only included household items, job postings and car listings.
 
Adding a social media twist to a popular Craigslist service, Facebook is transforming apartment searching into an interactive experience by providing 360-degree photo capabilities and using social media profile information to reduce the chances of scams and unsafe transactions. And while consumers will be able to search for properties based on location, price, size, bedroom number and animal restrictions—information that is provided by landlords and leasing companies—a real estate agent is nowhere in sight. So, how is this going to be impact the industry?
 
For many real estate agents, being fully entrenched in the rental business is a great way to transition into buying and selling. This is especially true for greener agents that don't yet have the real estate experience, and need to build business by working primarily with renters. After all, it's safe to assume that many of those renters will become buyers someday. Not only is it a great way for agents to familiarize themselves with the industry, but it's vital to building a contact database that they can grow.
 
Not only is Facebook looking to list its consumers' properties using Marketplace, but it is also pulling property information from partnered sources—Apartment List and Zumper—which will integrate hundreds of thousands of listings. Although only in the early stages of adoption, the industry could see this as a direct challenge to Zillow and other popular home search sites. Unless Facebook decides to go the lead marketing and agent branding route with brokerages, as Zillow does, the real estate industry may see this as an unwelcome addition. So far, it doesn't sound great for the industry overall. But here's why it won't be an overnight success:
 
Consumers Want Simple
The more capabilities are added onto an app, the more complex it will be come. Yes, consumers expect a one-stop shop for services that make sense together, such as ordering food and getting it delivered; however, Facebook is primarily a social media site, and that's what it will always be known for. While some community aspects like groups and neighborhood tag sales are successful, trying to condense an entire rental industry into an app's subcategory may be a stretch.
 
It's Free, but at a Cost
While Facebook maintains that the service is free of charge, putting a rental listing on the market is well worth the commission paid. When using a real estate agent, the rental commission goes toward listing services, such as photography and staging, as well as marketing, consulting and vetting renter prospects. While working with a real estate agent may be more expensive, the money paid goes further in providing clients with piece of mind and ensuring a quick and smooth transaction. And while the partnered companies say they are relying on brokers, agents and other property managers to fill out the housing section, Facebook has not yet clarified how it plans to involve industry professionals in the process.
 
Transactions Won't Be So Easy
The problem with marketing a rental outside a multiple listing service is visibility. A brokerage will be able to promote the listing, making it visible to its own set of renters, as well as the clients of other brokerages. By using the Marketplace platform, landlords will have to settle with renters who are primarily on Facebook, which may lengthen the renting process. There is also no vetting by an experienced agent involved. Landlords will have to deal with all credit types, and will have to request and go through references and rental histories on their own. Unless landlords find renter candidates from their own friends list, they will still be interacting with strangers, regardless of being members of the same social media site.
 
It will be interested to see how Facebook fares in its latest endeavor. But the industry will have to keep a watchful eye for signs of this social media enterprise involving itself in buying and selling real estate.
 
Liz Dominguez is RISMedia's associate content editor.

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