Web site aims to level apartment-hunting playing field


Great ideas occasionally come from a broken furnace.

Sometime in the next month, Twin Citian James Gorney, and two of his friends, will launch a Web site to provide reviews of apartments and the landlords who own them.

The idea came as a result of his introduction to Minneapolis five years ago when there was no heat in the apartment he’d just agreed to rent. “I called the office and the owner happened to be there and he said, ‘I don’t know what you’re complaining about. We sent someone in to fix the radiator. Everything should be fine.'” It was a broken boiler. “I don’t think I was asking anything ridiculous, I just wanted my house to be more than 55 degrees,” Gorney told me.

“There was no reason to treat people like that. I went online and thought, ‘there must be a place to blog about this or post comments and say ‘this guy’s a jerk; stay away from him. Find someplace else,'” he said. “But there wasn’t.”

Gorney, a software engineer, has since come up with an idea for a social networking site that would provide reviews of properties and the landlords behind them. “I’ve got to believe other people are going through similar things.”

“I’ve always had the best luck just finding an area I want to live and then just wandering around, looking at the For Rent signs and just writing down the number,” he said. So he created ApartmentTruth.com. “It’s not a place to hook up with the apartment renters; that’s been done before. It’s more like a ‘how is this place?’ I want to hear from someone who’s lived there.”

It’s not far from the hotel/motel reviews on travel sites, such as Travelocity. “You can pick an area and it’ll come up with the previously-rated apartments in the database,” according to Gorney. The site will include apartments across the country. “We’re focusing our energy on Minneapolis because that’s our hometown.”

His challenge, however, is to get current renters not only to write reviews of their properties, but also to move out before people start going to his Web site to learn about the apartments. “There’s statistics out there that if someone has a bad experience, they’ll tell six people and if they have a good experience they’ll tell two or three, he said. “We’re kind of in that area of how to get that kicked off and I’m not sure there’s a better way than just putting it out there.”

“We don’t want people getting on there and saying, ‘my sink’s dripping; I’m going to trash this guy,'” he said. “So we came up with an algorithm that makes it extremely difficult to just trash somebody, because there are good landlords out there.”

He hopes to unveil the site around May 1. He says the information it will be free. “Even if takes off and we don’t make any money on it, we haven’t spent a lot of money on it.”