When Akobir Azamovich and Faridun Nazarov came to the U.S. as international students in 2007, they found securing reliable housing to be one of their greatest challenges. Dorms were full or too expensive, apartment managers wanted to lock in a one-year lease, classified ad web pages weren’t secure and off-campus roommate-matching was a disaster.
“As somebody going to study in the U.S., I had no idea where I was going to sleep,” said Azamovich. “I ended up couch-surfing on my friends’ couches for almost a year. Had my parents known about this, I wouldn’t have been able to stay even a single day in America.”
Together, Azamovich and Nazarov vowed to find a solution for other students in need of safe, convenient and affordable student housing. One by one, they helped more than 10,000 students and young professionals find homes the hard way – offline.
As the technology became readily available, they considered launching their system globally online. The 4stay.com beta website was launched in June 2017 as an online housing marketplace to help more students around the U.S.
The international student housing crisis
Hundreds of thousands of students went—and are still going—through an experience similar to Azamovich and Nazarov’s. European think tank Class of 2020’s 2018 annual trends report lists financial burden, insufficient student housing and lack of short-term accommodations as top issues for international students. Their study found almost half (45%) of international students have difficulty finding higher ed housing, and many find costs higher than expected. About one-third of international students don’t believe they got good value for the money spent.
“Finding student housing, signing a lease and finding a roommate can be really hectic and stressful for any student,” said Nazarov. “International students also face long-distance living, assimilating into new cultures, learning new languages and academic pressures.”
Companies like 4stay and their partners seek to accommodate many of these housing challenges by offering instant booking of rooms, homestays, and apartments. The 4stay marketplace now offers over 100,000 rooms in over 160 countries, with everything from dorms to private, fully furnished apartments for short or long-term stays. Users can search available listings based on factors such as cost, location or amenities.
“Think of 4stay as an ‘AirBnb’ for students and young professionals who need longer stays,” said Azamovich.
Tackling student housing technology
Azamovich and Nazarov’s solution resolves two major hurdles in the international student housing industry: Availability and technology. As some still remember, it wasn’t always so easy to find housing with the click of a button.
As digital economy has become a fact of life, the “Internet generation” now expects instant results and “quick fix” solutions. Many aspects of their lives are impacted by technology, including their decisions to study or live abroad. Everything from choosing an academic institution to finding learning materials can now be done online. Tomorrow’s college students have access to 10 or more smart devices and expect seamless device-to-device connectivity.
“We’re a housing company, but we’re also a tech company,” said Nazarov. “That means we’re committed to keeping our software updated for the needs of our users and partners.”
The company will soon roll out a SaaS (software-as-a-service) model, which could be used by housing companies, higher education institutions, homestay and student housing companies to manage their inventory. Their website will integrate with MobilityScore, which uses real data to analyze nearby transportation options for students (such as bikeshares and ridehailing services, like Uber).
“For students exploring their housing options, there’s no better tool for understanding how they’ll get around their new city,” said Rachel Karitis, director of marketing at TransitScreen.
These initiatives have been well received by others in the education and housing industries, including community colleges, language schools, universities, homestays and student housing companies who have partnered with 4stay.com.
Partnering for a cause
One of the biggest community colleges in the U.S., Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), connected their campus to the 4stay marketplace, giving students easy access to off-campus housing. INTERLINK Language Centers also recently joined 4stay to provide its six language centers with global student housing booking technology. Study abroad agencies such as Gradtrain.com (based in Israel) and Ubergrad.com (based in India) that recruit and place thousands of international students in graduate and undergraduate degrees across the world also recently joined 4stay’s marketplace.
Now, language centers at Indiana State University, Montana State University, Seattle Pacific University, St. Ambrose University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Valparaiso University will be able to use 4stay’s SaaS-enabled online marketplace. Prior to joining these institutions, students will have a special link to a wide variety of available properties around their campus (whether they land on a homestay or shared apartment).
“4stay is rapidly growing, helping more students and their schools access available, furnished and student-friendly stays,” said Azamovich.
“When students come to their academic institutions, one of their major hurdles will already be handled,” said Nazarov. “We’re definitely changing the way students and interns secure off-campus housing.”
Written by Sandy McLaughlin,
For Forbes & Inc.com