A&AA student helps create Hoot Housing, a property rental review site

College students are often accustomed to lowering their standards for a living situation, such as a shoebox-sized apartment under the unresponsive and impersonal supervision of a massive property-management business. After being subjected to a similar experience, Taylor Oyama found a way out.

Her previous apartment, which she shared with four roommates, had ceilings that slanted, cracked linoleum floors, and a gas heater that shook unsteadily. During the initial visit, they hadn’t realized a bookcase was strategically placed to cover up mold.

Hoot team
Above: Members of the Hoot Housing team include Jeff Bayles (foreground), Adam Green (back row, from left), Joy Hurlburt, Taylor Oyama, and Brandon Cordell. Photo by Candice Landau.

When you’re dealing with school and work and everything else that comes with college living, coming home is not supposed to be depressing or frustrating or uncomfortable,” says Oyama, a digital arts major in A&AA. “That was really frustrating for us. We’d share our frustrations with friends and they’d have stories about their own places that were equally as bad or worse. It was ridiculous this was happening so often.”

After living in squalor for a nine-month lease, griping, and sharing similar horror stories with friends, Oyama felt compelled to make a difference for the Eugene student-housing market and wanted to ensure that other residents weren’t also being exploited.

The answer came in the form of a student-housing review website, Hoot Housing. The website would serve as a platform to host reviews from a home or property management company’s previous tenants and offer feedback from landlords. Governed by a group of seven University of Oregon students, Hoot Housing placed second in the entrepreneurial competition Startup Weekend Eugene that took place over the weekend of November 14-16.

The project was featured on KEZI.

StartUp Eugene is an intensive 54-hour competition based out of the nonprofit start-up support network Fertilab Thinkubator. More than eighty entrepreneurs, including UO students and community volunteers, pitched thirty-one ideas for the competition. The best seven ideas were chosen, then teams congregated and members worked to conceptualize functional business models.

Adam Green, Hoot Housing’s back-end developer, is the website’s system administrator. He works with lead developer Jeff Bayes, who maintains the site’s functionality, and front-end developer Joy Hurlburt, who takes care of the user experience. All three are computer and information science undergraduate students.

“I’ve run into a lot of issues in my student rental history,” says Green. “When she pitched it, I really was thinking of it as a RateMyProfessors for student housing. That sounded like a really good idea and I couldn’t believe there wasn’t [already] something out there for it.”

Oyama says that since the website is based on student trust, it requires every feature that a student would desire in reviewing a home and property management company.

After group members have conducted preliminary market research, the team aims to launch the website at the end of spring term or potentially in time for the 2015 Housing Fair when students will begin researching their next homes for fall term. The team’s Facebook page provides more background information.

Taylor OyamaHoot Housing
Above: Hoot leader Taylor Oyama.

December 15, 2014