Written by Stuart Foxman

When international students come to Canada, finding the right off-campus home can be tricky. They’re unsure if it’s the best fit, and trying to rent from abroad adds to the stress. Homadorma (homadorma.com) removes the worry. With their online listings, what you see is what you get.

“I was an international student myself. I know how challenging it is for newcomers to start a new life here, and I find it satisfying to try to make their life easier,” says Cypher Chi, who founded the Toronto-based service.

The company name is a play on “home” and “dorm”. Here’s how Homadorma works. People with rooms to rent (the hosts) upload profiles and photos. The listing includes all amenities, types of meals provided, and the makeup of the family members (the adults, any children in the house, age ranges, and continent of birth). Hosts have to actually live in the dwelling in order to rent space.

Students can search the listings by city or school name, and manage all details of the booking online. Homadorma charges a service fee.

To help students choose with confidence, Homadorma awards the hosts badges that accompany their listings. Chi calls them a “seal of approval”.

For instance, hosts who get a home visit in advance from Homadorma get an interview badge. This verifies all information. About half the hosts go through that process, and those listings appear higher up on searches. Hosts who’ve completed a background check procedure with local law enforcement will also get a badge.

All rentals have a seven-day trial. If the homestay doesn’t work out (which is rare), Homadorma helps the student to find a new place.

Homadorma started in 2015 with a listing for one city, Toronto, and added Ottawa in 2016 and Vancouver in 2017. In 2019, the service expanded to 12 more cities: Halifax, Montreal, Hamilton, St. Catharines, London, Guelph, Waterloo-Kitchener, Windsor, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria.

The service now has about 10,000 homes listed. Students who’ve rented through Homadorma have come from 115 countries, with about half arriving from just two: China (30%) and India (20%).

In addition to the listings, Homadorma offers students several other fee-for-services. Students who haven’t decided on a rental yet can get tours of different options before booking. Once they book, that tour charge is waived.

There are also services for airport pickups and drop-offs at the host, and settlement packages – pickups plus help with arranging a bank account, phone plan, transit pass, medical insurance and a family doctor.

Homadorma can arrange insurance, and for students under 17 can offer custodianship services.

Chi studied computer science in China, then became an English teacher there. He came to Toronto in 2006 to pursue an MBA at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

After Schulich, Chi worked for a consumer packaged goods company in online marketing. He left that field to start his own business as a recruiting agent in China for Canadian school boards, colleges and universities. Once students had decided to go to Canada, Chi says there was one major hurdle. “I found myself scratching my head when I tried to find them homes.”

That frustration sparked the idea for Homadorma. Chi has four full-time staff, mainly working on development, and a crew of part-timers who serve as staff interviewers.

After going coast-to-coast in Canada, Chi’s next plan for growth involves creating listings for a U.S. city. That will happen in 2021. “We’ll test the waters, learn from what we gather, and try to expand from there,” he says.

Photo credit: Plexman Studio