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Can a Search Engine Guru Improve NYC Rental-Hunting?

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There's a newcomer to the already-crowded scene of New York rental-finding websites (check out seven of 'em): Urban Compass. Launched this morning to much fanfare and a Bloomberg cameo, the start-up raised $8 million in seed-round funding and counts as its backers heavy hitters like Goldman Sachs and Amex CEO Ken Chenault.

Urban Compass currently lists apartments all over Manhattan and in areas of Brooklyn as far east as Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, with plans to add more neighborhoods down the line. As with most sites, you can search by location, size, price, and some amenities?like if the building has a doorman, elevator, or gym, or its pet-friendliness. Its claims to uniqueness are manifold: in sum, lower fees, streamlined apartment-viewing that they arrange for you, and completely paperless online rental applications. Founder Ori Allon has sold two search-oriented companies, one to Google and one to Twitter, so we figure he sort of knows what he's doing.

After you browse the listings on the website's map?which include photos and specs, and are taken both directly from landlords and other brokers?Urban Compass schedules appointments to visit the ones you like at the times that you are free over the next two days. You're accompanied by the human cornerstone to their company, a neighborhood specialist (which sounds so much less sleazy than broker, doesn't it?), who shows you the apartment, speaks to the area's character and attractions, and can also guide you through a speedy online application process.

If you get a place through Urban Compass, the fee is 7.5% of a year's rent for places with no other broker, and 12.5% for those where there's another middleman. They're also upfront, warning you that there will most likely be an application fee. (Many brokerages have 15% commissions, but those are sometimes negotiable.) Urban Compass's charge doesn't go to your neighborhood specialist, who are paid based on customer satisfaction ratings, but rather to the company as a whole, so the incentives differ. The company currently has 75 employees and is looking to grow its headcount to 200 by the end of the year, so Allon must figure there's enough demand to sustain yet another rental-finding website. Tech blogs have lauded its launch, but does Urban Compass stand out enough from the competition?
· Urban Compass [official; sign-up required]
· Urban Compass Hopes to Make Finding an Apartment in New York a Little Less Terrible [BetaBeat]
· Urban Compass Comes Out Of Stealth With A Hyperlocal Social Network, And A Disruptive Rental Portal That Will Serve As A Magnet [TechCrunch]
· A Guide to New York City's Major Rental-Finding Websites [Curbed]