For so many New Yorkers, the dream of accumulating some savings, whether it be for a vacation, a rainy day fund, or maybe even a down payment on a home, goes up in smoke once the rent gets paid every month.
Now, a start-up is proposing to change that equation by offering what amounts to a loyalty program for renters. Stake, which launched in New York City eight months ago, offers individuals the opportunity to receive up to 5 percent of their rent in a personal account.
“We’re trying to build renters’ savings,” said Rowland Hobbs, the 45-year-old co-founder of the firm.
Under the program, renters who pay on time receive an immediate 3 percent of their monthly payment into a Stake account, which can be managed via an app. The money, which is added to the renter's escrow by the property owner upfront, can then be transferred to a bank at any time. However, those who leave 80 percent of the money in the account can earn an additional 2 percent.
As an example, a tenant who pays $2,500 a month could wind up earning up to $1,500 at the end of the year.
Stake, which last year received $900,000 in angel funding, guarantees that rents under their program will be no higher what the building normally advertises. Renters will also not be charged any brokers fees. The company makes money from management companies or landlords, who agree to pay a $49 per month “subscription fee” per unit.
According to Hobbs, Stake helps landlords by incentivizing tenants to stay longer, thereby reducing the costs of turnover and vacancies. The company is Hobb's third start-up (Forbes published a story about his latest earlier this year). His last enterprise was Linea, a photo-sharing service.
He said Stake is currently being offered in 550 units over 30 buildings in the city, ranging from walk-ups to larger complexes. Individuals can check out the listings on the firm's website.
Madison Realty Capital, which owns more than 1,800 units in the city, has been the biggest New York City landlord to date to offer the program. Beginning next month, the landlord will roll out Stake to residents at a 450-unit complex called The Drake in Rego Park.
Jay Heydt, a managing director of sales and leasing at Madison Capital, said that he had been in talks with the company for nearly a year. He admitted that at first, he “didn’t really grasp the concept.”
But in the end, he realized the company had nothing to lose by offering it. The program is optional for renters.
“In a competitive rental market, it’s really important to try to differentiate yourself," he said. "What is something that is going to give the renter a different experience?”
In addition to a savings account, Stake also includes a free concierge service for renters which offers to help with tasks like hanging a television or finding a pet-sitter or housekeeper. According to Rowland, Stake will perform one-time jobs for free and help tenants find contractors for longer-term services.
Start-ups are increasingly targeting renters, who have historically been saddled with high rents and entry fees, ranging from brokers fees to security deposits. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on start-ups that allow tenants to avoid security deposits by instead paying a low monthly insurance fee.
Hobbs said the rental market is ripe for disruption. "People are renting and renting for longer," he said.
Stake is clearly still in the early goings. Hobbs said that only roughly 20 people have signed up so far. The company does not widely advertise, but instead depends on landlords to market its program.
Molly Repetti, a photo editor, said she found out about Stake through an Instagram ad. In September, she and her partner found a two-bedroom in Inwood through the company. The rent is $2,000 a month. She said she was able to see the money in her account immediately paying rent.
“I feel like it kind of works like Venmo,” she told Gothamist. She said the plan is to keep the money in the account and use it toward the next move.
Having lived in the city for four years, she said the struggle with renting has been dealing with different landlords and realtors. “Everyone wants something different,” she said.
With Stake, she said, the couple encountered no extra fees, other than a one month security deposit.
“I think they are doing something pretty innovative,” she said. “It took all the stress off of us.”