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Apartments Rental Ads: How to write an effective ad on Craigslist

So a year after I found my perfect studio, I am on the apartment hunt again. CB and I are looking at various vacancies and hopefully we will be able to find the right unit at the right price. Since graduating, this will be my THIRD time apartment hunting. I look at a lot of Craigslist ads. I’m constantly struck by the difference between the best apartment rental ads and the poorest ones. Landlords don’t need to put up fancy multimedia slide shows of their place, but a few simple steps can make a real difference to prospective renters. Seeing how it’s a renter’s market in many areas of the country, an effective ad makes sure that your apartment stands out.

1. Use proper spelling & grammar

I’ve seen ads WITH ALL CAPS or wRiTteN LiKe tHiS. When I was in middle school, I went through a brief phase when I used randomly placed capital letters. Hey, I thought it was cool. Are you cringing? Because I am. Posts that are hard to read will be glanced over.

2. Don’t be too nitpicky

One ad I read had a laundry list of “thou shalt not’s” (although this is more common with renting rooms or apartment sharing) – the renter cannot have overnight guest, cannot have guests after 9pm, cannot cook too much, cannot use the laundry facilities, cannot parking the parking lot. It seems as if the renter’s sole responsibility is to sleep in the room and pay the landlord a not-so-insignificant amount of money every month! I understand such situations when the rent is drastically reduced to make up for the inconveniences, but when it’s not, rational people will pass up the ad. My thoughts are: if the landlord seem so difficult to deal with in an ad, what will he/she be like in person?

3. Provide enough information

Some of the information at a minimum should be: (1) rent, (2) security deposit, (3) hardwood or carpet? (4) fridge included? (5) laundry on premises? (6) # of parking spots and parking situation – street parking, carport parking, subterranean parking? (7) available move-in date (8) specific address (9) proximity to freeways, (10) availability of AC, (11) utilities – what will the tenant be responsible for and what is the landlord responsible for? (12) upstairs or lower unit, (13) length of lease required

Here are some information that is good to provide: (1) proximity to shops, nightlife, notable attractions (museums, zoo’s, colleges, etc.), (2) number of units in the complex, (3) cost of credit check, (4) phone number for prospective renters to call

4. Pictures!

Some apartment hunters will bypass ads without pictures. As to the number of pictures, I always like 4-5 pictures: 1 picture of the outside of the complex, 3-4 pictures of the interior (kitchen, living room, and bedroom). Be sure to take pictures when there is plenty of natural light so you can show off the unit to its best advantage.  Pictures of the floor plan are also a plus.

5. Link to address in Google Maps

I love this feature and heartily applaud any landlord who makes apartment hunting just that wee bit easier.

6. Be upfront with the monthly rent

This is a personal pet-peeve of mine (and might not extend to other renters), but I don’t want to see $1,000 as the “effective rent” when the apartment is normally $1,300 and is offering a 1-month free deal. If I expect to stay in this apartment for longer than a year, this is something I’m concerned about. Because I don’t want the second year rent to suddenly jump up from $1,300 to $1,500.

And lastly, a word on rent. If you overprice your unit, prospective renters will know. We saw one unit that was small, dark, and not well-maintained. It was 2 blocks from a bigger unit, priced $25 lower, that was bright and cheery. Anyone who is looking seriously at Apartment Dark & Dingy will probably come across Apartment Big & Bright in their search. And I can’t imagine anyone choosing the first apartment after they’ve seen what they can get with their money with the second. If you can afford it, try to price your apartment $25 to $50 below the market rate. My parents did this with a house that they are renting out (they priced at $1,750 instead of $1,800, which was what a similar house across the street wanted), and within a day they had two applications. They rented out the unit in 2 days. A good tenant is worth $600 a year.

Apartment hunters, is there anything else you really want to see in an ad? Landlords, what do you think of this list?

  • eemusings - Worst of all is the lack of photos, closely followed by no specific address.

    And this is all too common, at least in Auckland. Funnily enough, sometimes real estate agents are the WORST culprits. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I'm frustrated by the lack of an address – at least give me an intersection! ReplyCancel

    • amberto - Totally agree – the lack of pictures on any craigslist ad almost always makes me pass it over. ReplyCancel

  • Kim - Ha! Did I tell you about the semi-regular column I have been writing on this very topic? I wrote a very similar post a few weeks ago (http://www.berkeleyside.com/2010/06/03/home-hunting-in-berkeley-lamenting-the-listings/)! Too funny — and seriously, too sad that it's so common to find awful ads. ReplyCancel

  • Sense - 1) does the bathroom have a tub–i won't rent a place without one, and i know lots of other people like me. 2) square footage is nice 3) yard/fence? (if you allow pets)

    the ad is the first test for a landlord. i like looking at an ad and knowing exactly whether it is worth calling and setting up an appointment or not. if the ad doesn't have enough of the info you listed, i don't even bother calling, even if the price is right. Landlords have to put a *little* effort into it! also, when i do call, don't sound like you are on drugs or drunk…or show up like that. Not awesome. My current landlord listed everything I wanted to know, and more, and she therefore got a good, responsible tenant (me!).

    i wrote a guide to craigslist, too, but it was for posting items to sell. ReplyCancel

  • MoneyMaus - Great post! I am currently in the process of searching for a new place, and I can completely vouch for your list. Since I'm looking to live with new roommates, I always want to know a bit about the person. :) ReplyCancel

  • onegirl - I'll ditto the information from Sense regarding pets. Dogs ok, no cats, or something like that will do just fine. Your list is great. ReplyCancel

  • Erika - Pets policy. I've mostly lived in college towns and cannot tell you how many places I've looked at that 'allows pets'; then we show up and 2 cats are fine, but 3 are not. We have 3. ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - I would like to add that they should always comment if they are pet friendly and any restrictions upon that policy. If they are, what is the pet deposit?
    There is nothing worse than finding a great apartment and then realizing it won't work because they don't allow pets. ReplyCancel

  • Pop - When apartment hunting in New York, sometimes it feels like Realtors are leaving out info not because they're incompetent, but because they want to either hide how bad the apartment is or just rope in everybody who's looking so they can sell you on other units they have available. So you get listings that are a "two bedroom" when the second bedroom couldn't fit more than a desk. Or sometimes, an apartment where the shower is literally in the kitchen. I mean, might as well get that shocker out of the way in the listing lest you waste everybody's time. ReplyCancel

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  • CheapGurl - Great post. I totally agree that if a landlord can't be detailed in their ad, then they must be hiding something. ReplyCancel

  • Lindsey - I hated apartment hunting. In Boston it is almost impossible to find a good place listed by a landlord rather than by a realtor (which will take a fee, and when you add first, last, security, and a month's rent for a fee, that adds up fast). And don't get me started on the sketchy realtors we have around here, especially since there are so many college kids who don't know any better (been there as well). ReplyCancel

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  • Sam - The reason realtors don't post addresses in most cities is becuase unless they take you there they don't get their fee from the apartments as most city apartment locators are free to you and the management company pays them NOT you.

    Therefore they NEVER give you addresses because most people would go on their own and completely leave the realtor out in the cold after the realtor did the advertising for the apartment and the management company will not pay the realtor since you went their alone. ReplyCancel

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