Westside Rentals isn’t your typical Silicon Beach tech firm.
The Santa Monica apartment listing company hasn’t raised a penny of venture capital, has no desire to expand nationally and doesn’t have a free website. Since the day it launched in 1996, it has charged consumers $20 a month for a minimum of three months to access Southern California apartment vacancies on its website.
But starting next year, Westside will expand. It will launch a residential brokerage service, which President Kevin Miller called a natural progression.
Miller said this year will be the company’s best year of business ever.
Westside’s revenue is up 16 percent since 2012, said Miller, though he declined to disclose figures of the private company. Paid memberships have also increased 14 percent since 2012.
“The proof’s in the pudding,” he said. “We’ve always charged since day one.”
While other free apartment listing services such as RentPath’s Rent.com, CoStar Inc.’s Apartments.com and Santa Monica’s RadPad have trained their sights on scaling nationally, Miller said Westside won’t change its strategy anytime soon. Westside lists apartments from Santa Barbara to San Diego but plans not to go beyond that territory.
“When your energy and efforts are concentrated in one area,” he said, “We feel we can deliver better results.”
As of Dec. 2, its site listed 13,800 apartments throughout Southern California, many which can be found on competitors’ sites and apps.
But those firms operate differently. Rather than asking consumers to pay for listings, they earn money in a variety of ways, such as charging landlords for ads, tenants for processing credit card rent payments and selling information about prospective renters to landlords.
Miller said Westside’s big appeal among renters is that it lists units forgotten by nationally focused apartment rental websites.
“What we specialize in is the mom-and-pop listings and those are the most coveted,” said Miller. “We’re about a 70-30 split, smaller mom-and-pops versus the large complexes. The majority is the six-unit stuff. Mom-and-pop landlords are often $200 to $300 below market because they want someone to stay around.”
The 50-person company has also focused on recruiting landlords of small apartment and rental homes to replenish the site’s inventory. It’s a strategy that has continued to draw listings from apartment managers who see Westside as an important website to place their advertisements.
“They have so many different options, which makes it a lot easier for someone to go into the site and find something,” said Vanessa Pineda, owner of Los Angeles Property Management Inc. of Santa Monica, who uses Westside in concert with other listing websites.
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