The US real estate market may have fallen on hard times recently, but people still need to live somewhere. As a result, the rental market has recently experienced a revival, as many home owners who can't sell are being forced to become landlords to make mortgage and tax payments. Over 90% of the residential property rental market is controlled by small time owners -- i.e., those with under 50 units.
These people are often small investors or casual landlords who do not have the resources to easily keep track of tenants, bills, expenses, advertising, etc. Investment Instruments is a web application provider that creates tools that make life a lot easier for small time landlords. Their premier tool is iiProperty, a full management suite for rental property owners.
iiProperty is designed for people who manage between 1 and 55 units, and is built on Ruby on Rails. The management application handles a lot of the legwork of being a landlord. From tracking rental and tenant info, to automatic tenant billing and managing expenses (the service can even send out notices via postal mail to tenants), to cashflow and tax reports. iiProperty also handles the PR front, by letting users design and post "for rent" ads to popular web sites like Craigslist or Oodle. It's something like vFlyer, but focused on real estate.
Where iiProperty really excels it taking the legwork out of being a landlord and keeping real estate investors on top of their properties. If one of your tenants is late on a payment, for example, iiProperty will let you know; if a lease is expiring soon, iiProperty will make sure you're kept aware. The application also lets landlords with multiple properties create a public-facing web site to help advertise their rentals (see an example).
iiProperty ranges in price from free (for one unit) to $64.99/month for landlords who have more to manage.
Investment Instruments also operates a consumer-facing rental site, Rentometer. I was very excited to see Rentometer, because something like it was one of the first ideas I had for the Facebook platform when it was launched last Spring. Little did I know that someone had already created my idea -- albeit not in Facebook (though Rentometer offers up their data through an API, so theoretically, someone could port the site to Facebook fairly easily).
Rentometer is a painfully simple site that lets you check the price you're paying for rent against the median price for your area. The site gathers data from major public rental listings databases (like Craigslist, Rent.com and other classifieds sites) and mashes them up with Google Maps. iiProperty President Owen Johnson told me that the site probably has in the tens of millions of records -- that's a lot of rental data.
Rentometer publishes a weekly report of the highest cost rental markets in the US. I'm sorry to inform that for last week, our friends in the Valley topped the list by a wide margin. The site also periodically releases rental reports for major college areas to help students not to get ripped off while renting an apartment or house. Below is a screenshot from the Rentometer report released for New York University this fall.