Alumnus Pushes Student Rental Company to the Next Level Through Pandemic
When Curtis Cofojohn, BA '17, returned to Kent State after serving in the Army, he faced an issue many college students do: where was he going to live?
His choices were 1) an apartment where in a newer building with more amenities at a higher cost or 2) a house without the restrictions of an apartment, fewer amenities but with lower rent. The issue was that his options still were not very clear. There was no easy way to directly compare amenities between housing options or even to find roommates to live with.
Another issue with renting that students face is not being able to physically see the unit they are moving into.
“When trying to find housing while deployed, you can’t go and see it,” Cofojohn said, “you have to rely on your friends to tell you if a house is good or bad, and most of the time you get stuck with the room that’s the smallest.”
Cofojohn said that often photos are reused over the years, giving a misleading look at what the housing actually looks like. This issue was heightened for Cofojohn as he was serving outside of the country.
Cofojohn’s own experiences with off-campus housing led him to create a solution through AllCollegeRentals.com, a site that serves the needs of both students and landlords.
He knew that to grow his business early, he would have to make as many connections as possible in college and utilize Kent State’s programs to support student entrepreneurs.
“It wasn’t until I visited the LaunchNET program where it truly came full circle,” Cofojohn explained. “Tabitha at LaunchNET and I sat down and discussed the avenues that would need to be approached as well as potential speed bumps. Some of these included how to network effectively to a mass audience to both students and landlords on a limited budget at the time.”
Cofojohn started AllCollegeRentals.com with just listings in Kent, and connected with many university officials before creating the company. He says that Kent State’s community of international students creates an even bigger opportunity for his company by helping those students find the right housing.
After graduating in 2017 with a degree in political science, Cofojohn went on to earn a real estate license and build the new site completely from scratch, testing it along the way with feedback from students and landlords. The company has now been active for over a year and has extended beyond Ohio to New Jersey, Michigan, Texas and California.
The site gives students a chance to virtually walk through properties, compare properties side by side and apply for housing. In addition, students can virtually download a lease, sign it and save it in their device rather than having a paper lease.
“Our 3D tours give students the opportunity to walk through the house and see the actual flow of the house from the convenience of their phone, on their own time,” Cofojohn said. “It also saves students and parents the time and money of coming out to look at it.”
One of the unique features of the site is the “compare page” where students can add up to three properties and compare the amenities to find the best fit.
“Students can not only virtually walk through properties, they can compare properties side-by-side,” Cofojohn explained. “They can just favorite and save the properties, and it will show them all of the features and amenities, compare rent and then they can directly apply for that housing from there.”
As of now, universities, landlords, students and parents can access the site and post properties free of charge. Cofojohn is also working with Kent State University to create virtual tours of on campus buildings.
“We have begun our campus-wide initiative with Kent State University to have the entire campus 100% accessible with our gold standard virtual tours, Cofojohn said. “Kent State will be the first campus to be completely virtualized through the [virtual tour software] Matterport platform, along with the enhancements we have made from our platform as well.”
AllCollegeRentals.com is about more than just finding a house students will enjoy, it is also about finding a property with an environment that student will thrive in. Cofojohn knows that students live different lifestyles and some living spaces cater to different people.
“Students can also save their preferences, so they choose the type of house they want, how many roommates, bathrooms, bedrooms and price range,” Cofojohn said, “and then instead of having to go back and search through the site every time new properties are up, students automatically get an email when a property with their preferences is posted.”
Another way students can soon benefit from using the site is that rent and utilities can be paid directly through the site, helping students build credit before graduation. On-time payments also immediately benefit renters through a reward system for everyday things such as gift cards to coffee shops, discounts on books and electronics, and more.
“The site will give students the options to pay their rent and utilities, and build credit at the same time with no additional fee. Just for being a good tenant, you earn rewards points that can be used at stores in that town, or earn something like a $10 Uber gift card,” Cofojohn said. “It helps landlords by incentivizing students to pay their rent on time too and gives them more peace of mind.”
Last fall, Cofojohn’s team completed 144 leases through seven landlords, all online. This year, Cofojohn and his team are finding success during COVID through the convenience and safety of the virtual rental platform.
“Within the first two weeks of this fall semester, we had an average of 87 students per day on the website searching and finding rentals, which was shocking since they had only had about a month or so of actually living in their current places,” Cofojohn explained. “With this data, we are showing promising results for our platform’s ability to reserve rentals up to 4 years in advance and plan on pushing that further with more schools.”
Cofojohn says that the option to virtually save spots in a house years in advance ensures that transfer students and international communities will be on an even playing field with local students, having equal access to housing and doing it in the safest way possible online.
“We are also growing the platform so that students can actually create their own virtual tours from their phones and host individual rooms on the site as well.” Cofojohn said. While this project is currently in beta, it has shown promising results for individual students finding sublease opportunities.
Cofojohn hopes that soon once AllCollegeRentals.com has a presence on more and more campuses, his company will be the top college rental business in the country. His goal is to have the largest student internship program in the country, with students from campuses across the country.
“My plan is to have the largest internship program in the country,” Cofojohn said. “I want to give students from every campus the chance to get internship credit, paid and actual valuable experience.”