Fireside Chatter

Kindling and sparks from Cozy.

Coming soon: Cozy Pay

Written on October 14, 2016 by Gino Zahnd

We don’t normally announce products until we’ve shipped them, but enough of you have gotten in touch about finding a RadPad replacement (since they said theyre no longer processing rent payments), we’re breaking our own rule. We’re excited to tell you that soon we’ll be launching a new product—Cozy Pay.

Cozy Pay will let you securely send rent online to any landlord, anywhere, even if they’re not signed up for Cozy.

There are other perks. By using Cozy to pay your rent, you’ll build a verified rent payment history to show future landlords you’re a great renter. If you choose to share that payment history, it becomes part of your Cozy Renter Profile, a detailed, easy-to-read rental resume you can share with any landlord, wherever you go.

The price for Cozy Pay will be reasonable and fair, so you’ll be able to rely on Cozy for as long as you are a renter.

On that note, we’ve been around for almost five years, and we’re not going anywhere. In 2015, we grew 900%, and we’ve already tripled our business this year. More than 275,000 people have signed up to use Cozy, and there are Cozy-managed properties in more than 12,000 ZIP codes. We also recently closed our Series B financing, funding that will get us to profitability and beyond.

Be the first to know when we launch Cozy Pay by joining the beta waitlist. In the meantime, invite your landlord to join Cozy and you can start paying rent online now.

Thanks for your support!

How to get all eyes on your rental listing

Written on October 04, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

Here at Cozy, we see thousands of new property listings every week, so we know what works and what doesn’t. Follow these tips for creating an outstanding listing, and watch the applications roll in!

Write the perfect headline

Keep it short and sweet. Include the type of property—condo, house, cottage, apartment, etc. You could mention the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but in some cases that will make the headline redundant. Some listings automatically include that info in the headline (like Craigslist).

Mention the neighborhood where the property is located, using the term your ideal renter will know. Real estate agents might call the area one thing, but the college students you want to reach might call it something else.

Avoid overused words such as “amazing,” “beautiful,” and “wonderful.” Instead, talk about the property’s best attributes. Is it close to a great school? Does it have a big yard? A view of the mountains?

DON’T USE ALL CAPS, which can come across as YELLING.

For more tips on writing a great listing headline, check out this story at Landlordology.

Take good photos

Photos will help sell the place, so it’s worth putting a little extra effort into taking good ones. Likewise, bad photos (or no photos at all) will scare away potential applicants. In Cozy, you need at least one photo to post a listing, but you can add as many as you’d like.

Try to shoot the kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom, and any outdoor space. Bonus: floor plans with dimensions (a simple sketch will work).

Use natural light as much as possible, but fill in with artificial lighting (such flash or moving a lamp to a dark corner) when needed.

“Stage” your property by opening the curtains and tidying up. Put away laundry, toys, mail, and other clutter. Make the beds. Close the toilet seats.

Once you’ve taken the photos, check ’em out. Are they blurry? Delete and try again.

The cover photo is the first photo potential applicants will see, so choose wisely. Ideally the best shot also happens to be the one that captures the property’s vibe. Maybe it’s the dining room with the ornate chandelier, the flowerbeds by the front door, or the modern kitchen flooded with sunlight.

Here are more tips on how to shoot real estate photos like a pro.

Add a video tour

Since most of us can easily shoot video on our smartphones and cameras, take advantage of the chance to show your prospective tenants what it feels like to walk through the property.

It helps to have a plan before you start recording. Know where you’re going to walk and what you plan to highlight.

Use sound, so you can narrate as you go. When you enter a room, say its name and mention a few of the room’s best features.

Follow some of the same guidelines for shooting good photos: use natural light and avoid glare from direct sunlight. Move and pan slowly. Try to keep your camera steady.

Keep videos under three minutes, a length you can accomplish through editing.

Here’s a good example of a video walk through tour.

Write a 💥 description

This is your chance to call out the best features of your property. In Cozy, you can use up to 999 characters (which translates to less than 200 words).

Optimize your description for search engines, which will help the people who are searching for some of your property’s features more easily find the listing. That means using keywords, including specific locations, like the name of a neighborhood or its distance from points of interest (“two blocks from the Metro”). Mention things like “stainless steel appliances” and “fenced backyard.”

Start with the big picture: the size of the property, location, etc., then list the best amenities. Try to help your future residents imagine themselves living there by describing “a day in the life.” For example: “Roll out of bed on Saturday morning and walk two blocks to Delicious Bakery for coffee and donuts.”

Don’t forget about pets. It’s always best to be up front about your pet restrictions from the start to avoid wasting everyone’s time.

Last but not least, be honest. Don’t exaggerate just because it sounds good. Renters can be skeptical about online ads, and for good reason. Don’t be the person who validates their fears.

Once you’ve finished your listing and started sharing the link with potential tenants, they can contact you if they’re interested, and you can arrange to show them the property. Don’t worry about bringing any paper applications; they can apply to your property through Cozy.

Want more info about marketing your property? Check out Landlordologys free guide to marketing your rentals, which includes even more info about listings.

Case study: Creating a thriving property management business, one step at a time

Written on September 27, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

Seven years ago, Phil Farinacci’s girlfriend at the time, Elke, asked him a question that would change their lives. “Why are you renting?” she said. “You make enough money to buy a house.”

She had a point. Phil could afford to buy his own house. Not only that, he could afford a two-family home. That way he’d have a place to live and the income from the rental would cover a huge chunk of his mortgage.

So Phil ended his days as renter and became a landlord in Bound Brook, New Jersey, where he lived after college. The house was a single-family home from the 1900s that was eventually converted into two apartments, one on each level. He and Elke moved into the first floor, and the rent from other apartment gave them a good financial start to their marriage.

Today, Phil and Elke live in Troy, New York, where they both grew up, and they just had their first child—a baby girl. Since they bought the two-family home, they’ve become experienced property managers, as proud owners of six buildings—with a total of 46 rental units—brownstones from the 1800s, a time when Troy was a highly prosperous city known for its production of detachable shirt collars.

One of Phil and Elke’s brownstones when they purchased it (left) and after renovations.

On the side

Phil runs an online college prep course and tutoring business, and Elke works as a stylist, so they manage the properties on the side. Phil’s interest in architecture helped inspire how he renovated each building. Elke fills vacancies and communicates with their tenants, most of whom are grad students and young professionals just out of college.

For the most part, they’ve had really great tenants, Phil says. “They try their best to be responsible, and they appreciate that we try to do our best by them.”

He remembers how one time a tenant put out a small fire on a wooden fire escape by filling pots and pans with water from his kitchen. Another bought and planted a tree to help control overgrown grass. The most difficult tenants are the ones who were living in a building when Phil and Elke bought it. Sometimes, Phil says, they just don’t want to pay rent.

The rental properties help Phil and Elke feel in control of their futures. “We want to have freedom from making decisions based solely on finances,” says Phil. “I want to spend time with my kids and not stress about climbing a corporate ladder.”

Two years ago, they hired a full-time handyman who takes care of all maintenance requests and repairs, which felt like a big step toward making the property management business more sustainable.

From the start, Phil planned to spend a few years learning everything about the rental business. Then he’d find the right people to help run things, one by one. He dreams about not scheduling his vacation around work, and not having to check in on his properties while he’s away.

“I want a business that can run without me,” Phil says. “That’s the goal. We’re always trying to put systems in place.”

Cozy as a tool

A few years ago, a few of tenants started asking Phil if they could pay rent online. He considered accepting payments through Venmo or Paypal, but the apps made tracking the rent payments difficult. And they weren’t designed to manage other charges like late fees and utilities.

Every six months or so, Phil would research new ways to collect rent online, but most services seemed too expensive or complicated. When he came across Cozy, he decided to try it with two tenants for two months. Now he’s hooked.

“Cozy provides a really simplified, cost-effective way of handling a lot of our interactions with our tenants,” Phil says.

These days he collects about half of his rent payments through Cozy, and the other half comes as paper checks mailed to his PO Box. Phil says that even though he doesn’t love driving to the PO box to pick up checks, he’ll keep making the trip until all his tenants switch to Cozy.

Earlier this year, a few members of Team Cozy got in touch with Phil to see if he had any suggestions for ways we could make Cozy better.

“You didn’t know me, or whether or not I’m reliable or intelligent, but you still contacted me,” he says. “You really wanted to understand our clients’ needs. It’s such a testament to Cozy as a company.”

Some of Phil’s feedback helped shape Cozy’s most recent updates and upcoming features. For that, we’re grateful. We hope that someday, Phil will send us a postcard from wherever he’s vacationing with his family.

Skirting a scam: How one renter avoided getting duped by a fake listing

Written on September 19, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

The last time Marko Kovic looked for an apartment in Zurich, Switzerland, he started to suspect the landlord wasn’t who she said she was. He played along, hoping to understand the methodology of the possible listing scam, and he wrote about his experience on Medium.

The scammer mentioned Cozy as a “protection company” that could ensure Marko’s advance payment of 1400 Swiss francs, and the “landlord” went so far as to put a Cozy logo on a fake invoice.

We take these types of scams seriously, especially since this one involved our name. In this case, the fraudulent landlord didn’t try to list a property through Cozy, but it’s worth noting that we’re constantly working to catch fraudulent landlords before they can list a property. We catch most scammers before they get any traction, and we want to help renters avoid all types of fraudulent “landlords” and “listings.”

We got in touch with Marko to learn more about his experience with the scammer.

You approached the listing with a healthy amount of skepticism. Why? Had you heard of other people being scammed in Zurich?

Marko:  Fortunately, I don’t know anyone who has actually ended up being scammed (or maybe people just don’t like admitting it). But, unfortunately, most people in Zurich and other bigger cities in Switzerland seem to be quite aware of apartment scammers. Scammers have become something of a constant parasitic companion, it seems. I suppose the scammers wouldn’t be doing what they are doing if they didn’t succeed some of the time.

When did you know you were going to write about your interaction with “Isabella”?

Marko: As soon as “Isabella” mentioned her supposed background (living abroad and happening to have a nice place that she’d like to rent out), I thought, “Alright, this is probably yet another scam. Let’s have some fun, and waste the scammer’s time in the process.”

Why do you think they chose to use Cozy in their scheme?

Marko: I believe they wanted to create the impression that a trustworthy third party is involved. As much as it hurts me to say, that was a smart move. My first thought, fueled by the desire for the whole thing to be true, was “Well, Cozy is obviously legit, so maybe the apartment is legit as well?”

We loved your advice to apartment hunters to “curb your initial enthusiasm and analyze the facts in a level-headed, non-emotional manner.” Do you have any tips for helping people do that?

Marko: I think there’s a simple rule of thumb that can help a lot: If you are asked to send someone money in advance, before signing an apartment lease and before even seeing the place, assume that someone is trying to scam you. If you stick to this rule, I think you’re safe from most apartment scams.

Based on your experience, is there any way to ensure a landlord’s who they say they are without meeting them in person?

Marko: Renting an apartment, I believe, usually doesn’t happen with simple verbal agreements, but rather in written form with something like an apartment lease. So if a landlord is trying to forgo this “normal” way of doing things, it’s probably wise to curb your enthusiasm.

What do you expect to see from a prospective landlord before they ask you for any money?

Marko: In my opinion, it should always be possible to have a look at an apartment before signing a lease, let alone sending anyone any money.

Have you seen any fake listings since this incident?

Marko: I think I have, but I haven’t reacted to them. Not in the least because fake listings tend have a somewhat short half-life. Take the money and run, so to say.

We hope you found a great apartment! Did you find a great apartment?

Marko: Thank you so much—as a matter of fact, I did!

The long goodbye

Written on September 14, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

I admit: I still pay for some things using paper checks. Since becoming part of the team at Cozy—where we help people understand the perks of paying and collecting rent online—I’ve started to question my own check writing habits.

Not only are checks expensive to process and cumbersome to use, they’re highly prone to fraud, which proves that paper checks are outdated currency, especially for those of us who have reliable access to the internet and can pay our bills online.

Yet every so often, I find myself reaching for my checkbook, cloaked in its horrible bank-provided plastic cover. Then I go through the ritual of figuring out the date, spelling out some numbers, and signing my name.

I’m not alone. A lot of Americans helped make the total number of checks paid in 2012 amount to 18.3 billion. (Related, but not really: oversized checks are more popular than ever.) So why do we keep writing checks?

Maybe it’s cultural

Other countries just don’t write as many checks as we do in America. In the UK, only 3% of people between the ages of 18-24 own a checkbook, which inspired UK banks to plan to phase out checks by 2018. But they changed their minds, citing the impact on the elderly, the most vulnerable in society, and small businesses and charities that rely on checks.

Australia has an electronic payment system, BPAY, which exists in part because of a centralized banking system (BPAY is owned by Australia’s four largest banks).

In the U.S., the existence of 6,000-plus banks, some of which are regulated by states, has made sweeping changes to payment systems nearly impossible. And the Fed doesn’t have the power to mandate electronic payments like the EU did in 2003 with the Single Euro Payments Area. That means American consumers and the private sector will be the ones driving the adoption of technologies that will help make paper checks obsolete.

Breaking a habit

Back in 2002, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, posited that we haven’t yet reached the kind of critical mass that would create a robust network of electronic payment alternatives to paper checks, a “chicken-and-egg problem.” “Consumers would find it preferable to use electronic payments if many other consumers do, but since a critical mass has not yet adopted the technology, consumers largely do not use it.”

But you’d think in the past 14 years, we’d have reached that tipping point. According to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve about how Americans pay for things, from 2009 to 2012, the total number of checks paid declined at an annual rate of 9.2 percent. That may not sound like a lot until you take into account that since 2000, the number of checks paid has declined more than 50%, from 41.9 billion to 18.3 billion.

That’s not all. The sharp rise in the Google search for “how to write a check,”reveals that either we’re forgetting how to pay by check, or, more likely, we never learned. People are more interested in paying rent online, which corresponds with the average check amount last year: $1,487.

Even though many industries are transitioning away from paper checks, including the U.S. Treasury, which is working to stop making one-time payments with paper checks, a whopping 50% of U.S. companies use checks to pay their bills.

I realize that accepting paper checks slows cash flow, but for small businesses, that lag time might be worth avoiding electronic payment processing fees. My friend Pam, who runs a flower shop in another city, had no way (and no desire) to accept an electronic payment from me. “Sorry,” she told me, “it’s got to be a check. I’m not set up for anything else.” Good thing I had a check, an envelope, and a stamp.

Let’s face it, check writing is a habit. For more than three years, I wrote a monthly check to my son’s preschool for his tuition, and I hand delivered it. In the weeks before he went to kindergarten, I learned the preschool accepted electronic payments. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle (including the time I forgot the check and had to make an extra trip to deliver it on time) by paying electronically. I’d just never thought to ask if the option existed. Maybe I’m just old.

“Older people are just a little, or a lot, afraid of computers,” Howard Bodenhorn, professor of economics at Clemson University, told me over the phone. “The idea that all their financial information can just be put out there somewhere terrifies them.”

Change is coming

Howard noticed that cashiers at Walmart now send checks through digital scanners then return the paper checks to the customers, on the spot, which saves the company the hassle of managing stacks of checks every day. That’s legal thanks to Check 21, the act that allowed the recipient of a check to create a digital image of it.

Simple, the tech company that offers digital banking, decided not to offer its customers paper checks as part of checking accounts when it launched in 2009, in part because Simple’s CEO and co-founder, Josh Reich, didn’t use checks in Australia.

That choice wasn’t always easy. “It’s about trying to layer technology onto something built for paper processing,” said Amy Dunn, communications specialist at Simple. “That’s the source of much frustration with the banking system.”

Simple does let customers send paper treasurers checks, because ultimately, Amy said, it’s the customer’s money, and “they should be able to move it how they want to.”

With the demise of paper checks, Amy noted, banks won’t have the option to do things like “check stacking,” the now illegal practice of processing the biggest check first so an account runs out of money faster, incurring more overdraft fees. It’s one of many traditional banking practices that are considered predatory.

Unlike cash, which Howard predicts will stay around for as long as people continue to operate underground economies (forever), he predicts checks will “disappear long before $100 bills,” probably in the next 15 years.

Larry Schweikart, a banking and business historian at the University of Dayton, says he, like many Americans, use paper checks because they create a sense of independence, accountability, and security. He doesn’t own a debit card, and he promises to keep buying his groceries with paper checks until the bitter end (he predicts checks will obsolete in 10 years). “Once stores stop taking checks, there’s not much you can do,” he told me.

Unlike Larry, I won’t miss my checkbook one bit. But I’m not about to set it on fire, either. Even though I don’t have a landlord who demands I pay my rent using checks, sometimes, I still need it. Besides, I don’t want to melt the plastic.