Shelter may soon be just a click away for students seeking off-campus housing. Zilify, a website created by a group of students from the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary, aims to streamline the off-campus housing process and provide prospective buyers with more options than ever before.
Co-Founder and Co-CEO Todd Saunders ’13 cited one particular search for off-campus housing as the inspiration for his current endeavor. The summer before his sophomore year, he was prepared to rent a house ideally close to campus.
“I had everything ready to go, but the landlord voided the lease for one reason or another,” Saunders said. “I searched [http://wmoffcampus.com] and Craigslist, filtering through houses that were five miles away from campus. Some listings even included the option of ‘feeding the chickens every day to get free rent.’ I ended up living in an apartment far away from campus and literally having to commute to class every day.”
Hank Couture ’13, co-founder and co-CEO, explained that Zilify’s appeal comes from in its listings of conveniently located and reasonably priced houses.
“We wanted to come up with a website with the best quality houses in walking distance,” Couture said. “That way, we could make the off campus housing process structured and fair.”
In the near future, students will be able to create a Zilify account and browse nearby residences that are on the market. By entering a price range and a number of occupants, users can view properties with corresponding minimum prices. Landlords are then expected to contact prospective buyers who match their specifications to work out a deal.
Couture expressed his belief that Zilify’s simplified program will allow students to save time and aggravation.
“Zilify makes it simple,” Couture said. “You don’t have to call landlords, and you don’t have to ask around to see if your friends know about any houses up for sale. You just see a picture of the house, read the description and see if it’s something that you’d be interested in.”
In addition to price listings, Zilify provides students with pictures, owner specifications and a downloadable PDF of the house’s lease. Research has been conducted on over 250 houses in close proximity to the College.
Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Chris Crisalli ’13 distinguished Zilify from other sites by stressing the company’s lack of involvement with auctioneering.
“We’re not a real estate agency,” Crisalli said. “We are a company that provides an efficient medium for students to look at and potentially contact the owners of off-campus housing. We’re bringing houses to students that they’d never have thought they’d have the chance to get. There are going to be houses that you see on the website that have belonged to the same organization for twenty years.”
Couture also noted the difficulties that students face living in an area where legacy rather than the market can dictate many residential transactions.
“We kind of think it’s an unfair process,” Couture said. “Houses constantly get passed down within organizations and between friends. It’s all about who you know, and if you don’t know anybody, you can’t find anything.”
Saunders echoed similar concerns with the College’s organization-dominated off campus housing market.
“You have to go through multiple different websites to find housing, but the truth is, the best houses are always passed down by friends,” Saunders said. “These houses are never listed on websites.”
By uncovering some of these hidden property gems, Crisalli argues that Zilify will allow students to become more familiarized with the neighborhood.
“You learn an incredible amount about the community, the landlords and the student body and how they interact with each other,” Crisalli said. “We think that we’re sitting on a great service for not only the students, but the community as well.”
According to its founders, Zilify will be running within a week or two. Once the website’s last few technical issues have been addressed and taken care of, students will be able to create their own accounts and begin browsing through the catalog of houses that will be available on the website.
Crisalli expressed his hopes that the company will revolutionize the off campus housing process.
“We’re trying to open the market up, and we think that it’s going to be a fun and exciting process,” Crisalli said. “We have a dream that, one day, Zilify will just become a verb. Like, ‘I’m going to go Zilify that house.’”