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On a summer season day final 12 months, a bunch of actual property tech executives gathered at a convention corridor in Nashville to boast about one among their firm’s signature merchandise: software program that makes use of a mysterious algorithm to assist landlords push the very best attainable rents on tenants.
“By no means earlier than have we seen these numbers,” mentioned Jay Parsons, a vp of RealPage, as conventiongoers wandered by. Residence rents had lately shot up by as a lot as 14.5 %, he mentioned in a video touting the corporate’s providers. Turning to his colleague, Parsons requested: What position had the software program performed?
“I believe it’s driving it, fairly truthfully,” answered Andrew Bowen, one other RealPage government. “As a property supervisor, only a few of us can be keen to truly increase rents double digits inside a single month by doing it manually.”
The celebratory remarks have been greater than swagger. For years, RealPage has bought software program that makes use of information analytics to counsel each day costs for open models. Property managers throughout the US have gushed about how the corporate’s algorithm boosts earnings.
“The great thing about YieldStar is that it pushes you to go locations that you just wouldn’t have gone should you weren’t utilizing it,” mentioned Kortney Balas, director of income administration at JVM Realty, referring to RealPage’s software program in a testimonial video on the corporate’s web site.
The nation’s largest property administration agency, Greystar, discovered that even in a single downturn, its buildings utilizing YieldStar “outperformed their markets by 4.8 %,” a big premium above opponents, RealPage mentioned in supplies on its web site. Greystar makes use of RealPage’s software program to worth tens of 1000’s of flats.
RealPage grew to become the nation’s dominant supplier of such rent-setting software program after federal regulators accepted a controversial merger in 2017, a ProPublica investigation discovered, drastically increasing the corporate’s affect over residence costs. The transfer helped the Texas-based firm push the consumer base for its array of actual property tech providers previous 31,700 prospects.
The impression is stark in some markets.
In a single neighborhood in Seattle, ProPublica discovered, 70 % of flats have been overseen by simply 10 property managers, each single one among which used pricing software program bought by RealPage.
To reach at a really helpful lease, the software program deploys an algorithm—a set of mathematical guidelines—to research a trove of information RealPage gathers from shoppers, together with personal info on what close by opponents cost.
For tenants, the system upends the apply of negotiating with residence constructing workers. RealPage discourages bargaining with renters and has even really helpful that landlords in some instances settle for a decrease occupancy fee so as to increase rents and make more cash.
One of many algorithm’s builders instructed ProPublica that leasing brokers had “an excessive amount of empathy” in comparison with computer-generated pricing.
Residence managers can reject the software program’s options, however as many as 90 % are adopted, in keeping with former RealPage workers.
The software program’s design and rising attain have raised questions amongst actual property and authorized specialists about whether or not RealPage has birthed a brand new type of cartel that permits the nation’s largest landlords to not directly coordinate pricing, doubtlessly in violation of federal regulation.
Consultants say RealPage and its shoppers invite scrutiny from antitrust enforcers for a number of causes, together with their use of personal information on what opponents cost in lease. Specifically, RealPage’s creation of labor teams that meet privately and embrace landlords who’re in any other case rivals might be a pink flag of potential collusion, a former federal prosecutor mentioned.
At a minimal, critics mentioned, the software program’s algorithm could also be artificially inflating rents and stifling competitors.
“Machines shortly study the one approach to win is to push costs above aggressive ranges,” mentioned College of Tennessee regulation professor Maurice Stucke, a former prosecutor within the Justice Division’s antitrust division.
RealPage acknowledged that it feeds its shoppers’ inside lease information into its pricing software program, giving landlords an aggregated, nameless take a look at what their opponents close by are charging.
An organization consultant mentioned in an e mail that RealPage “makes use of aggregated market information from quite a lot of sources in a legally compliant method.”
The corporate famous that landlords who use workers to manually set costs “sometimes” conduct telephone surveys to examine opponents’ rents, which the corporate says may end in anti-competitive conduct.
“RealPage’s income administration options prioritize a property’s personal inside provide/demand dynamics over exterior components corresponding to opponents’ rents,” an organization assertion mentioned, “and due to this fact assist get rid of the danger of collusion that might happen with guide pricing.”
The assertion mentioned RealPage’s software program additionally helps forestall rents from reaching unaffordable ranges as a result of it detects drops in demand, like those who occur seasonally, and may reply to them by reducing rents.
RealPage didn’t make Parsons, Bowen, or the corporate’s present CEO, Dana Jones, out there for interviews. Balas and a Greystar consultant declined to touch upon the report about YieldStar. The Nationwide Multifamily Housing Council, an business group, additionally declined to remark.
Proponents say the software program shouldn’t be distorting the market. RealPage’s CEO instructed traders 5 years in the past that the corporate wouldn’t be large enough to hurt competitors even after the merger. The CEO of one among YieldStar’s earliest customers, Ric Campo of Camden Property Belief, instructed ProPublica that the residence market in his firm’s house metropolis alone is so massive and numerous that “it could be exhausting to argue there was some type of worth fixing.”