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Students build website to make finding home or apartment easier
Jamie Starke remembers searching for his first Victoria apartment.
For almost three months, Starke would spend more than four hours every night scouring online housing listings, then flipping between pages of Google maps, transit guides and bus links to see if any match was appropriate. “There has to be a better way,” he thought.
Now, thanks to the technological efforts of Starke and fellow UVic computer science PhD student Lars Grammel, there is.
A house-hunting treasure map can now guide seekers through the quest of finding that next Victoria rental, through the use of a new online map tool that allows prospective renters to see home details, location proximity to work, school and transit routes — all through one site: Victoria.RentalMap.co.
“When I was looking to rent a place here, I was frustrated by the amount of time I had to spend talking to property management companies to make sure I was aware of everything on the market,” says Starke, 28, originally from Calgary. “Then I had to look at a map and sort out whether the location works for me. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands and create something that would allow users to do both, easily, and in one online location.”
Starke and Grammel are used to the work — both are taking their doctorates at UVic with an emphasis on creating online tools that gather data in a visual, user-friendly format. The pair created the new map, which could be developed for any region, through UVic’s Computer Human Interaction Software Engineering Lab (CHISEL). Starke was even able to use its earliest version to help find his new home.
“Unfortunately, ‘conveniently located’ doesn’t mean anything to a computer and, if you aren’t from here, it doesn’t mean a lot to a renter either,” says Starke. “The more specific information prospective landlords put into their listings, the better we can link them.”
The site updates every morning at 6am, and currently pulls in the most recent listings and feeds from seven of Victoria’s 18 house-listing sites — Craigslist, UVic Housing, property management groups and others — as well as scooping updated information from Google Maps and BC Transit’s feed. Starke and Grammel have then tied it all together with Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) — an easy-to-view format of yellow squares that mark the spots.
Since the two completed the map mid-July, just in time for the rush of students looking for housing, the site has had 3,000 visits, with 2,095 unique views. As of press time, there were over 800 listings registered on the site.
“It really is a great time to be a student if you are looking for housing,” says Starke.
Despite Starke and Grammel’s generous contribution to Victoria’s housing market and weary renters everywhere, the two have not found any way to make a profit off the site, and intend to keep it “open-ended” so that everyone is able to use the map and even access the technology to use in other cities. And, while many have contacted Starke in appreciation, the project won’t even count toward either of the students’ PhDs — Starke simply wanted to fill a need. He and Grammel will continue to develop the map and technology behind it. Though the map currently works well on smart phones, the two are even considering investing in an app for the map’s future.
“This really was just an elaborate extra-curricular activity,” Starke says. “The scientific contribution of this map is not particularity valid for doctorate material. I just needed it, so we made it.” M