It is reported that there are roughly 20,000 empty homes in London and several times more across the UK. While in some cases inheritance issues or huge damages might keep properties out of the market, quite often they stay empty just because their owners are waiting for a rise in their values before selling them.

In wealthy boroughs like Chelsea and Kensington foreign investors purchase properties and leave them empty as their value increases. This practice is certainly contributing to transform this part of London in a “ghost town” where it is impossible to buy a house at a fair price. Besides, governments over the last ten years have failed to provide London’s growing population with affordable homes allowing people in need to grow massively. Today housing shortage is a social issue that raises questions over enhanced inequalities, poverty and homelessness. The private sector is unable – and probably unwilling – to solve this problem especially without any Council support.

In this context, ideas competitions that address London’s housing crisis are barely helpful. From rooftop dwellings to floating homes on waterways, project proposals in these kind of initiatives can hardly meet the need of new buildings at the social rent levels that are required.

Moving from UK to Italy the situation is not that different. In Milan, rental demand is on the rise, but the majority of properties are owned by small landlords that are much more interested in selling their homes rather than renting them. Contrary to other European countries like Germany, in Italy 80% of the population live in owner-occupied housing and therefore is less familiar with the renting market and its revenues, especially in a city like Milan. The lack of information on the property market as well as the scepticism towards tenants’ ability to pay the rent on time is creating a situation where landlords are unable to meet the expected selling prices and are holding on to their properties waiting for more prosperous time to come. Besides, the big property owners that are operating in Milan are not willing to reduce their estimates on rental revenues and prefer to leave their properties empty instead. As a consequence, the housing market in Milan has become unaffordable for many with almost 70,000 houses unoccupied.

Outside Europe, despite some differences that depend on the context, the richest cities in the world are facing the same dynamics as those spotted in London and Milan. We could say that the presence of ghost neighbours has become an indicator for wealth.

In an attempt to reduce some of the inefficiencies in the rental market that might prevent people from finding affordable housing, a group of young entrepreneurs form the Silicon Valley has created a hastle-free rental service called Onerent. New businesses are usually successful when entrepreneurs are either able to create a new need for their customers - something that didn’t existed before and that, once put in the market, it becomes so essential that all of a sudden everyone start asking for it – or when they identify a gap in the market and come up with new ideas to fill this gap.

Onerent belongs to the latter with a technology-driven service that introduce transparency in real estate market and allow owners to log in to a live dashboard and view real-time updates. As explained by Chuck Hattemer, CMO and co-founder, data science and proactive recommendations guide customers through each step of the renting/owing process. Real-time market data and dedicated research can help define more accurate prices thus speeding up success opportunities while renters can rely on a tenant-screening process that guarantees fair and equal opportunities for all applicants.

Available 24/7, Onerent services are provided by a specialized team that focus on specific tasks in an attempt to optimize those property activities that in traditional real estate agencies are usually handled by the same person. Among the many activities, “mobile managers” are those working on the field and are in charge of on-demand showings for renters and property inspections among the rest. Since its start in 2014, Onerent has improved its financial services for both renters and owners. In the years to come they are planning to pass through three different phases:

  1. Real-time insights optimize property costs for maintenance, leasing and owing thus enhancing the relationships between customers and their properties while Onerent keeps on improving its portfolio
  2. Thanks to the Poplar program, renters get 20% back of their rent as cash when they buy a home
  3. The platform will cover all the issues related to real estate and financial services allowing renters to buy their homes and helping owners to buy and sell rental investments.

As college students, Chuck and his colleagues have faced difficulties in finding affordable housing, their personal experience together with talent, dedication and strong abilities has resulted in a transparent platform for renters and owners. The support provided for the first ones can help people find affordable housing instead of leaving them out of the market, while the information delivered to the second ones can encourage property investments thus reducing the risk of empty homes.