The Cozy Blog

WilliamPaid, Rentmatic, Lovely, and SparkRent — What Sets Cozy Apart?

Written on February 25, 2015 by Ravi Dehar

It's been a surprisingly eventful month in the world of online rent collection.

SparkRent and Rentmatic / Lovely transitioned users to other products that might not be a great fit for many landlords and tenants. SparkRent suggested a far more expensive alternative, while Rentmatic suggested a far more cumbersome solution without very much time to make the switch.

And just yesterday, WilliamPaid announced that they are shutting down as well.

Understandably, this makes some landlords and tenants wary. What do these services have in common, and how is Cozy different?

Simply put, for those services, rent payments were their only business. Cozy is different because we know rent payments are not our primary revenue source — in part, that's why rent payments via bank transfer are free with Cozy for both tenants and landlords. We make money on credit reports and, in the future, other optional premium features.

What's next if you use one of those services mentioned above? We recommend switching to Cozy as soon as you can.

SparkRent users have until March 23rd before the service shuts down completely, but because it can take a few days to get tenants set up and bank accounts verified, consider getting set up as soon as possible.

Rentmatic and Lovely users should migrate immediately to ensure that March rent is collected electronically on time.

WilliamPaid users have until March 3rd but, again, we recommend getting everything set up as soon as possible, particularly if you have tenants that sometimes pay after the 2nd.

If you need help migrating to Cozy, let our support team help. And, of course, welcome!

Introducing Easier, Faster Tenant Credit Reports

Written on February 17, 2015 by Gino Zahnd

Using Cozy to run a credit check on a prospective tenant is faster than ever before. If you already have a paper rental application and just need a credit report, all you have to do is invite prospective tenants to share their credit report with you. (You should check out our application and screening tools as well!)

As always, Cozy Credit Reports are free for landlords and just $19.95 for tenants. Even better, Cozy Credit Reports are soft credit checks that don't harm tenants' credit scores, and are more secure for both landlords and tenants: there's no need to collect or store Social Security Numbers or any other sensitive data.

We'll handle everything else and let you know when it's ready.

If you'd like to use Cozy's online rental application, we've made sure the credit reports are integrated seamlessly: just sign up for Cozy for free, add your property and email or post your vacancy's application link wherever you advertise your available rentals. You can make sure that every applicant also submits a credit report, so you'll have a more complete picture of whether the tenant will be a good fit.

Checking your tenant's credit score has never been easier.

How Does Cozy Make Money?

Written on February 13, 2015 by Ravi Dehar

Sometimes, Cozy seems too good to be true, especially if you're using us just for the free online rent payments: what's the catch?

The truth is, Cozy charges for just one thing: credit reports. Those are paid for by the tenant when a landlord requests one as part of the screening process. They cost $19.95, don't impact the tenants' credit score, and for most landlords they completely replace any other rental application fee.

If you've already got a tenant, and you're using Cozy just to collect rent payments, guess what? Cozy is free for you and your tenants. We're not hiding any fees in the fine print here. There are no monthly fees, no transaction fees, no contracts, no set up fees, nothing.

Which sometimes brings up the next question: is that sustainable? How do you stay in business?

There are couple of answers.

We're backed by top-tier investors

Cozy has a team of investors that are helping fuel our growth and ensure our long-term success. We're on a mission to help independent landlords everywhere, and we're here to stay.

We're building even more tools to help improve the landlord-tenant relationship

We're just getting started on our journey. In the months and years ahead, we'll be releasing new products and features that make life easier for landlords and tenants alike. In some cases, these premium features will come at a nominal cost, but the existing features you see today will remain free.

Give us a try! Sign up as a landlord today.

The Cozy Customer Advisory Team

Written on February 12, 2015 by Chris Rivard

Having direct conversations with our customers is central to how we approach design at Cozy.

As we refine our product roadmap for 2015, we’re now scheduling our second round of customer advisory meetings. Our customer advisors are a group of Cozy landlords who participate in discussions with our design, engineering and support teams to offer feedback on how the product is working and where it can be improved.

Customer Advisory Group at Cozy

The first round was held in December and the feedback we received has had a direct impact on our tenant screening tools and the upcoming redesign of our Rental Application.

One improvement that came out of the first round was simply to stop doing something that wasn’t working well for landlords. Originally, when landlords clicked to “Offer” their rental to an applicant, we were also sending emails to the other applicants to notify them they were not getting the place. We thought we were helping! What we learned from our advisors was that, while notifying the applicant who was being offered the place worked just fine, the landlords said they would rather follow up separately with the others. Separating those notifications is helping them better manage their applicant pools in case their first choice of new tenant falls through.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be holding conference calls with small groups of landlords from across the country. The calls are conversational and take place in a Google Hangout as we explore the challenges that landlords face in managing their properties, applicants, tenants, and payments.

What we learn will help us to design better solutions to meet our customers’ needs while reducing the time it takes to go from design research to production software. We’ll also be able to prioritize planned features before we spend precious design and engineering resources.

It’s not enough to identify a market niche, build a product and hope customers find it useful. At Cozy, we want to create products that our customers tell their friends about, that make their lives easier and that save them time. And to do that, we must listen.

If you're interested in joining our customer advisory group, please reach out to our support team at support@cozy.co, and we'll get in touch with you.

Charging Tenants Late Fees Using Cozy

Written on February 12, 2015 by Ravi Dehar

Over the past few days — especially as we see more and more landlords transitioning to Cozy from SparkRent — we've gotten a lot of questions about how Cozy handles late fees.

While we are developing the functionality for landlords to charge their tenants one-time charges, you most likely won't need it to charge late fees.

We looked at the data, and over 99% of Cozy rent payments are made on time.

But how?

Cozy's rent payments are automatic. A few days before rent is due, we send tenants a reminder email, so they can be sure they have enough money in their account. If they need to, they can log in to their Cozy account and choose to make a payment offline.

Other services, like SparkRent, require tenants to initiate a payment every month, which leaves room for human error. Cozy removes the most error-prone step in this process. Tenants still receive a reminder email, but they don't have to do anything, and their rent is paid on time.

We've heard from tenants and landlords alike: automatic rent payments are better for everyone, and we're excited to have you try it out!

Cozy: The Smart SparkRent Alternative

Written on February 11, 2015 by Ravi Dehar

We’d like to welcome some of our newest Cozy customers: former SparkRent users. SparkRent announced today that they’re shutting down and asking users to move to QuickBooks, a more expensive service that doesn’t offer the same functionality. It’s not a great fit for independent landlords, and we’re thrilled that so many have found us instead. Welcome.

If you haven’t decided whether or not to make the switch to Cozy yet, or you’re curious about what’s in store for you, read on. We think you’ll like Cozy, and you’ll find that we’re much more than a SparkRent alternative.

Built for Landlords

We built Cozy from the ground up for independent landlords and their tenants. We design everything we build with the input of our customers, and we’re squarely focused on building a long-term business to serve them. Landlords and tenants are our target audience, and we’re committed to building them the best tools.

Amazing Support

Cozy isn’t an experimental service, and we have a support staff that’s dedicated to answering your questions quickly. Whenever you ask us a question, you’ll get a response from a real human here in Portland, Oregon. It’ll be fast, too.

More Features, Faster

We have a growing team of designers and developers building the future of Cozy. From features like expense tracking, document storage and signing to alternate payment methods, to fundamentally new products that will add transparency (and maybe even delight!) to the landlord-tenant relationship.

Top-Tier Investors

Cozy is backed by a team of investors that are helping fuel our growth. Individuals like Stewart Butterfield, Kevin Rose and Tim Ferris. Institutions like Google Ventures, General Catalyst and The Social+Capital Partnership. We’re here to stay.

A Focus on Affordability

We know independent landlords and property managers operate on tight margins. We’re here to help, not become a burden on your balance sheet. Bank-to-bank transfers are inexpensive, and charging even a dollar per payment seems like a crazy markup. So, on Cozy, it’s free. Today we only charge tenants for credit reports. In the future, we’ll add more premium services like the ones I mentioned above, but we won’t charge premium prices.

If you’re ready to make the move to Cozy and haven’t already, sign up here. We’re excited to have you join us on our journey to become the best property management software around.

Searching for a Roommate or Subletter on Craigslist? Let Cozy Help You Find the Best!

Written on February 09, 2015 by Ravi Dehar

Finding a reliable roommate or subletter — especially when dealing with strangers — can be tough. You want someone you like and trust, of course, but you also want someone you can be sure will always pay rent on time. That's where Cozy can help!

Even though you're a tenant yourself, sign up for Cozy as a landlord. It's free! Then you'll have a whole suite of tools you can use to help find your next housemate or subletter:

Tenant Screening

Add your property to Cozy and you'll get an online rental application link you can post directly to Craigslist or wherever you're advertising your vacancy. No need to guess what questions you should ask — we've taken care of that for you. After you've received applications, they'll all be viewable in one place, in your Cozy dashboard.

Credit Reports

Getting along with a prospective roommate or subletter is only part of the equation. You need to make sure they have good credit too, so you can be certain they'll be able to pay their rent on time every month. Request a credit report as part of the application process so you can get a more complete picture of every applicant's ability to pay for your rental.

Online Rent Payment

Cozy's online rent payments are free. There are no transaction fees for rents paid via bank transfers. While you can certainly accept online rent payments for your subletters or roommates, why not skip that step and invite your landlord directly instead? With your landlord using Cozy too, you won't need to act as a middleman — Cozy will collect rent and deposit it in the landlords account automatically, each month.

To get started, sign up as a landlord today, in minutes!

How We Build Products at Cozy

Written on February 06, 2015 by Chris Rivard

As Cozy has continued to grow, our design team has been focused on making sure that we’re aligning the product roadmap with business goals and, most importantly, what we’re hearing from customers.

But how does an idea actually go from the proverbial lightbulb over someone’s head to a well-designed feature released into the wild? To answer that question, I’d like to talk about our process and how we operate as a design team here at Cozy.

Design at Cozy

One of our team’s core tenets is that a designer must be able to communicate the design problem and solution, and not just visually. They need to be able to tell the story of the feature as if it were real, before we even create wireframes, comps or prototypes. After all, how can you design something you can’t explain?

We typically start off our Monday morning sessions around a whiteboard with markers, talking about a particular problem. This approach helps us get a high-level understanding of the problem and gauge whether or not everyone feels that the problem is worth solving through design. We begin to synthesize the underlying business strategy with the high-level customer interactions and itemize our system-level constraints (time, platform, etc.)

Even though our products have a relatively small footprint, we work with time-sensitive financial transactions (rent payments), so there is no margin for error. We take turns collaborating on the whiteboard while continuing to define the problem and, at the same time, recording problems the solution does not solve. These discussions are informal and conversational, primarily cognitive exercises to help define the design problem explicitly and to differentiate the solution and non-solution. This is effectively the left side of our design squiggle or our prioritization phase.

Next, we write the design down in paragraph form using a basic outline (below). Before trying to explain (or design) the solution, I find it helps to write down a description of the problem and the solution. Writing before designing helps us define the boundaries of the design and begins to bring the design forward into reality. I've found this one-page format works well to communicate the solution in the best way possible to as many stakeholders as possible.

It looks like this:

Strategic objectives

Why would we want to devote resources to this particular feature? To answer that question we define at a high level what it will do for the business and how it fits into our strategic plan. It needs to fit together elegantly with other features and products, make sense as part of a larger product portfolio, and move the business in the right direction. At a startup, the key drivers are typically growth, revenue and customer satisfaction. We try to hit all three.

Design principles

What are the anchoring principles for this feature? What are our points of reference when debating the merits of one design solution over another? These principles can be aesthetic (must follow established visual styles), functional (must work independently of core product), experience-based (infer as much as possible from customer input). I find the set of principles gets distilled over time and the overall design aesthetic of the product begins to emerge. The principles become how the team designs.

Customer goals

What are the goals of the customer in the context of the defined problem? Who will benefit from the feature? Is anyone's experience diminished? What trade-offs are we making?

Context

Imagining that the feature already exists and is being used, we write down scenarios in which hypothetical customers take common paths through the product, interacting with the feature to be designed. These scenarios are the story of the feature in written form, before there is any visual design.

Critical features

We then define the essential features without which the solution will not be considered production complete. In engineering nomenclature, these are the P0s. If there are too many of these, the overall feature is probably too big.

Success criteria

How will we measure the success of this feature? What will success look like? The answers to these questions inform the engineering and marketing teams where to instrument the feature and how to configure tracking funnels. The output of our instrumentation highlights where our design falls short and begins the conversation with customer support that feeds back into design iterations. This is how we design with data.

Open questions

We’ll record what we do not know. These may be engineering, sales or marketing constraints. They may be changes in the competitive landscape or may reflect strategic bets we make in the short term. This is useful information as we return to iterate on an existing feature.

Decisions

Let’s try and not have the same discussion twice, ok? If there is a contentious issue, let’s write down what led to the decision and what was decided so we don't spend time having the same debate again later on.

The purpose of the outline is to think through and write down the design before we start to wireframe or prototype. The exercise typically leads to more discussion and a firm definition of the feature to be designed.

It’s not meant to be a comprehensive document but rather a tool to help us quickly reach understanding and communicate the design to engineering and marketing. Providing this level of visibility to engineering before we create high-fidelity comps allows them to review the solution without having a discussion about visual style, copy or interaction design.

The benefit of this approach to the design team is that we've spent less than a day carefully defining a design problem and creating a story to bring the feature to reality.

The written outline gives us a guide, a prototype in story form. Like the "songline" tradition of indigenous Australians, the story of our proposed feature helps us navigate the vast distance from idea to live feature.

In the next post I’ll talk about how we move from words to visual design, prototypes and production code.

Criminal Searches, Background Checks and Eviction Checks: What We've Learned so far

Written on February 05, 2015 by John Bragg

In recent months, we've been receiving a growing number of requests from landlords, brokers, and listing agents for the inclusion of background checks in our screening tools. The reality is that background checks are hard, and not all background checks are created equal. Whether you currently use them or not for tenant screening, it's always good to know exactly what you're buying, and what it might be good for. We've been doing a lot of research, and I'd like to share some of our findings.

What is a background check?

In most cases, "background check" really means "criminal search."

There are four types of criminal searches:

  1. National Multijurisdictional Criminal Database Search - These searches are performed on each company's own database of legal filings and public data, compiled from whatever sources the companies can find. They cover the entire country, but the data from one screening company to the next can vary greatly in accuracy, timeliness, and detail. These searches are usually performed on a person's name and Social Security number (SSN), and will match any criminal cases associated with that individual.
  2. County Criminal Search - Many US counties will provide public data upon request. These searches can be done in many ways, from large dumps of electronic data to mailed pieces of paper. There is no real standard, so these searches can be difficult in many cases, and outright impossible in others. For this type of search, every screening company uses the same sources, so there is no differentiation between offered services.
  3. Statewide Search - Searches of this type are almost never used, as they are expensive and difficult to obtain. For most uses, they are essentially worthless.
  4. Federal Criminal Search - These searches are all done on the same repository of data, called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). These searches are sometimes used for high-level hiring or security clearances, but the results contain only federal data (think Martha Stewart or Enron), so in the vast majority of searches, nothing is returned. Since everyone gets this data from the same source, there is no difference between companies providing this data.

Special searches:

  1. Eviction Search - An eviction search is simply an expanded search on the screening company's national database, where in addition to searching the data by the person's name and SSN, a search is performed for the person's name and each address associated with the person according to available public data. This type of search tends to find more data to work from, but is susceptible to error, so positive results for evictions should be verified if possible.
  2. Sex Offender Search - Data on sex offenders are easy to obtain, so every screening company offers this service as part of their national database search. Sex offender searches are accurate and reliable.
  3. Terrorist Watch List Search - Like with sex offender registries, terrorist watch lists compiled by government are easy to access and accurate, and every screening company includes them in their national search as well.

In general, when there's a positive result in a national search, it is recommended that the data be verified with an additional county search if possible, since county data will be more up-to-date and accurate as to the status of a case. Some screening services offer an automatic county search in such cases, and most offer it a la carte as well. In many cases, when the national search comes up clear, local searches are not necessary, but if anything does come up, it is never recommended to base any credit or employment decisions on the national data alone - you should always verify at the county level.

Costs

Every screening company has the right to set their own pricing for access to the data they provide. Because many searches cost the screening company money, particularly at the county level, most companies either build those additional costs into their pricing or charge extra for additional services, sometimes depending on very granular circumstances.

For example, Checkr.io charges different rates for different counties, ranging from $1 to $65 depending on the county being searched.

Many companies have an a la carte menu for the various services they provide, and each customer must choose which services to order. It's a tough balance to strike between cost and accuracy.

Bottom Line

While no single company has a perfect, complete set of data to work from, the differences between screening companies can be significant depending on the quality of their respective sources for their national database. Some have 1,000 or more sources to work from, while others may have only 100 or fewer. Since use of this data falls under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it is actually legally required that anyone making decisions on this data try to obtain the most up-to-date and accurate information possible.

Introducing the Newest Member of Team Cozy: Laura Agadoni

Written on January 30, 2015 by Lucas Hall

We’re excited to welcome Laura Agadoni to Team Cozy!

Laura has vast experience as a researcher and online journalist, and is joining Cozy as a content writer on our free landlord education site, Landlordology.

Laura is an accomplished writer, blogger, and editor, and has been featured on Trulia, The Houston Chronicle, The Motley Fool, SFGate, Zacks, The Penny Hoarder, and my personal favorite, The Daily Puppy.

Laura Agadoni

As Landlordology has continued to grow at an astonishing rate, we have attracted other experienced landlords, like Laura, who have a heart for sharing their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Not only is Laura an accomplished journalist, but she is a long-time landlord, having owned and managed rental properties in California and Georgia. After her mother was admitted to a nursing home, Laura was left with her mother’s empty home in California and became a classic example of an “accidental landlord.” Having just moved to the East Coast, she managed her mother’s rental home for a while, but eventually sought the help of a local property manager.

She didn’t stop there. After getting her feet wet as a landlord in California, she jumped all in and bought a rental property closer to home, in the Atlanta area, and is planning to buy another soon.

Laura brings firsthand landlording experience, as well as professional research and writing capabilities to the Landlordology community, and we’re overjoyed to have her in the Cozy family.

Check out her recent articles on Landlordology and feel free to connect with her in the comments or on her personal website.