Pro Publica: “Texas-based RealPage’s YieldStar software helps landlords set prices for apartments across the U.S. With rents soaring, critics are concerned that the company’s proprietary algorithm is hurting competition…For years, RealPage has sold software that uses data analytics to suggest daily prices for open units. Property managers across the United States have gushed about how the company’s algorithm boosts profits. “The beauty of YieldStar is that it pushes you to go places that you wouldn’t have gone if you weren’t using it,” said Kortney Balas, director of revenue management at JVM Realty, referring to RealPage’s software in a testimonial video on the company’s website. The nation’s largest property management firm, Greystar, found that even in one downturn, its buildings using YieldStar “outperformed their markets by 4.8%,” a significant premium above competitors, RealPage said in materials on its website. Greystar uses RealPage’s software to price tens of thousands of apartments. RealPage became the nation’s dominant provider of such rent-setting software after federal regulators approved a controversial merger in 2017, a ProPublica investigation found, greatly expanding the company’s influence over apartment prices. The move helped the Texas-based company push the client base for its array of real estate tech services past 31,700 customers. The impact is stark in some markets. In one neighborhood in Seattle, ProPublica found, 70% of apartments were overseen by just 10 property managers, every single one of which used pricing software sold by RealPage.
To arrive at a recommended rent, the software deploys an algorithm — a set of mathematical rules — to analyze a trove of data RealPage gathers from clients, including private information on what nearby competitors charge. For tenants, the system upends the practice of negotiating with apartment building staff. RealPage discourages bargaining with renters and has even recommended that landlords in some cases accept a lower occupancy rate in order to raise rents and make more money. One of the algorithm’s developers told ProPublica that leasing agents had “too much empathy” compared to computer generated pricing. Apartment managers can reject the software’s suggestions, but as many as 90% are adopted, according to former RealPage employees….”