In this past week, City on a Hill Press held an email interview with Jake Brenner, a graduate of California Polytechnic State University and founder of HouseBiscuits.com, a website resource for students at UCSC and across the country who are in search of reviews for houses in their college towns.
City on a Hill Press: How did you get involved with designing this website?
Brenner: The idea for the site came to me during my junior year of college. I lived in a house with four other people that was right across the street from the campus. The house itself was … literally falling apart as we lived in it. Only one of us had ever met the landlord, and he wouldn’t talk to anyone else besides that one person. So if something broke in the house we had to get that roommate to call the landlord, who rarely answered his phone. Long story short, it was a year in a broken house with no sign of change. So I thought, “What if we had a way of talking to the previous tenants or reading a review of the house? Then we would have known how shady this guy actually was before we signed the year-long lease.” So the second I graduated, I began working on getting the site together, and here we are.
CHP: Why do you think the site is important?
Brenner: Any college student [who] rents a house or lives in the dorms understands the pain of paying way too much rent for the standard of living they get. As student renters we are stuck in a horrible position. If you don’t rent this house then someone else will, guaranteed. The landlords know there will always be a demand for the house or apartment since it’s next to a school, [and] they take advantage of this way too much. We are here to change that by allowing renters to speak their mind and for once provide feedback about their experience.
CHP: What were the challenges of getting the site up and running?
Brenner: The biggest challenge hands down is getting the word out there about the site. It’s a great resource for any renter, but especially students, since you can rate your dorm as well. I am starting the site without any large amounts of money backing me so I don’t have the funds for a huge ad campaign. Right now, the site has just been word of mouth over Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/housebiscuits) and Twitter (@housebiscuits). I hope to get the word out there to help students share their experience and educate future renters before they sign a lease.
CHP: How do you feel about the site’s success?
Brenner: So far I am pretty happy with its success, but I know that there is so much more to be had. Currently, we have just over 550 dorms/apartments/houses listed at over 750 schools across the country. However, it’s up to the students to get out there and share their experience about these places and add ones. I know it sounds tacky to say, but it really is all about the users. Without them, there literally is no site.
CHP: Do you hope to influence student lives outside of this website?
Brenner: Of course. I want them to have a better college housing experience. [If] you pay rent, then you deserve the same rental experience as the family next door. Sadly, this isn’t the reality, though. By connecting potential renters with ones who already lived there, we can change this and create awareness. Many times landlords request letters of recommendation or rental history from a prospective renter — why can’t we ask the same of them?