Thursday, February 17, 2011

Does it really work? Feedback on the Rent Calculator

Thanks to interest from readers and responders like you, I have had a lot more opportunity to check my original work and the calculator is holding up quite well under public scrutiny. Thanks to everyone who gave feedback or wrote notes of congratulations - it's made this whole project really, really fun!

Right after launch, I started collecting voluntary feedback from people using the calculator. Originally, I simply asked people to rate the calculator on a 1-5 scale. Here are the results from the first 1,338 respondents (before I switched the feedback system to the present one, which is still collecting data).

Just over 60% of feedback-givers who used the calculator rated the result as "fair" or "very fair," and 84% gave it at least a 3 out of 5. The average score was a 3.63 out of 5. This does not take into account the response bias. People who thought the calculator was unfair seemed, if anything, more likely to give feedback: the average among people who wrote written comments had a lower average fairness of 3.48. (For reference, the total response rate was not recorded exactly but it is a few percent of the total). So I suspect that a very healthy majority of respondents think the calculator is doing its job.

The most common hand-written feedback was complimentary, but many more comments made suggestions either recommends extra features, alternate philosophies, or situations people think are currently unfair. Rebecca and I coded responses by category:

Some respondents were coded in multiple categories, so these do not sum up to 100%.

The top features that are requested are parking spots, balconies, who actually uses the common living spaces, more levels of closet niceness, bathroom specifications, an option to specify square footage, and to account for who is in charge or paying the bills. If you hate being the one to take care of the bills and figure out what people owe, try out our Bill Splitting App which is currently in Alpha development!

For several of the lesser suggested features, I think the best answer is to NOT take them into account. It's not that these aspects of the room don't matter at all - it's just that quibbling over whether or not to check the box creates tension, and the whole point of the calculator is to remove tension. I only included boxes that I think are widely understood to be important - more space, more light, more privacy. The fewer boxes, the better, for everyone's sake.

For instance, who furnishes an apartment is certainly fiscally relevant if people live together for over 3 years, but most people are able to roughly split this without discussion, and so long as everyone keeps what they bought, it should not factor significantly into the communal costs. In time, I will try and add some additional features for the items that I think are unambiguously useful (such as balconies or parking), but I want to keep it simple overall.

There are other things that are probably worth factoring in but are unique circumstances, hard to describe, or vary in importance depending on the location. For instance: smells, the size or excellence of a view, being in a basement of varying dankness, how people share common space, or how much of a common area is taken up by someone's desk. For these, I suggest you use your intuition and use as a starting point. For parking, look around for what people are charging on Craigslist and split it up between people who drive the car. If you and your girlfriend take up more of the common spaces, increase your bedroom size in the SplitTheRent calculator to account for common area you dominate. If you have enough bathrooms that some shared bathrooms are essentially private, don't click on the private bathroom feature at all.

As one respondent says:
"One factor in this household is that the third bedroom has access to a large private roof terrace. Otherwise it seems like a very fair system. I guess that's where 'intuition' comes in."

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