Not too long ago, advertising a rental for property managers meant purchasing an ad in the classifieds section of your local newspaper and sticking “for rent” signs in the front yard. Then, online rental listing sites hit the scene, and almost overnight, renters and property managers grew to expect an easy and customizable rental search process—at no cost.
Now the rental site landscape is a different beast yet again as listing sites like Zillow are specializing in verticals and starting to charge property managers for their services—not to mention the widespread impact of COVID-19 on leasing. So how do you adapt to an unpredictable market and choose the best rental listing sites strategically without breaking the bank?
Hit the Best Free Rental Listing Sites
Tenant Turner looked at inbound lead data from 2016-2019 and found that the vast majority of leads nationwide came from free online listing sites. Many of the free sites will automatically post your ads if you’re using a syndication feed, so it’s no extra work on your part. Below we’ve called out some of the best free rental listing sites, based on popularity, overall polish, and the groups they serve:
- Zillow Group: The Zillow Group includes Zillow, Trulia, and HotPads. At the time this post was written, Zillow still offers free options but is slowly moving state-by-state to a paid model. More details on that can be found here. While many property managers are less than thrilled about the change, paying Zillow does have perks. It will distinguish your ads over others by marking them as “Verified Listings” that appear at the top of search results. Zillow also offers paying customers premium support and nightly listing updates.
Interestingly, the data shows Zillow Group inbound lead traffic is trending downward. This graph shows the number of leads that came through Tenant Turner from 2016 – 2019, which is before many states had been moved to the paid model.
- Zumper (free option): On the other hand, Zumper accounted for 36% of inbound leads in 2019– just as many leads as all Zillow Group sites combined, and is steadily growing. Zumper sites include Zumper, Facebook Marketplace, and Padmapper, serving Canadian renters as well as those in the US. The site has adopted a freemium model, so while a free option still exists, Zumper says a paid relationship will ensure active status on Zumper as well as increased visibility on the product.
- Facebook Marketplace: Over 800 million people use Facebook Marketplace each month, so you’ll want to pay attention to it. You’ll have to manually post your listings if you are not using Zumper or Apartment List to re-syndicate for you. Keep in mind, it doesn’t work like a traditional listing site. Search results follow the Facebook algorithm, so there’s no guarantee your listings will show up for any user at any given time.
- Apartment List: If your target lead is looking for a white glove rental search experience customized to their personal preferences, Apartment List is a site to list with. The search functionality makes it easy for renters to find rentals near a university, in certain neighborhoods, or search by keywords such as “luxury” or “cheap” and ads will also re-syndicate to Facebook Marketplace. Technically, it’s free to list on Apartment List, but if a lead from their site signs a lease, you will be charged a connection fee of $349.
- Apartments.com: Apartments.com, owned by CoStar Group, includes a network of 11 listing sites including recently acquired ForRent.com and sites specifically for niche markets like ApartmentFinder for the cost-conscious renter, corporatehousing.com for the corporate traveler, after55.com for seniors, and apartamentos.com for spanish-speaking renters. In short, there’s something for everyone, and since the sites accept syndication feeds, there’s no extra work for you to expand your listing’s reach. It’s free for single family rentals or buildings with fewer than five units. After that, you’ll need to pay.
- Realtor.com: This site is well trusted and it’s been around since 1996. While Realtor.com is for both for sale and for rent listings, it powers another rental listing site called DoorSteps. Tenant Turner found that just over 2% of leads came from Realtor.com in 2019.
- Craigslist: Footnote about Craigslist: there is no fee to post, but it’s manual, repetitive, and unfortunately, full of scammers. Post at your own risk!
Pay for Premium Listing Sites
With paid sites, you’re guaranteed more exposure, which means more lead traffic, giving your property management company a competitive advantage. However, it can get cost prohibitive for many growing property management companies, and it can be cumbersome to have a paid agreement with each separate listing site. You’ll want to be thoughtful about which sites, if any, you pay. Check out the options below to consider which might be the best paid online listing sites for you:
- Rentals.com: Focusing solely on single-family properties, this has been a paid rental listing site since 1999 and a tried and true way to boost lead flow. Rentals.com is a part of the previously covered RentPath group.
- Rent.com: This is another RentPath paid site that targets first-time renters—especially millennials—coaching them through their first renting experience. If this is your market, then Rent.com may be worth the investment.
- Zumper (paid option): With this freemium model, you’re paying to get guaranteed listings that are prioritized at the top of search results. Landlords or anyone with fewer than 25 units would need to post directly on Zumper to get the paid benefits.
- Apartment Guide: Specifically geared toward multi-family renters, this site is also a part of the Rent Path network. The aesthetic is slick, and attracts a renter seeking a more luxurious property. Apartment Guide also allows site users to leave reviews of certain areas, citing examples like: “This neighborhood is upscale and modern with entertainment options,” so other renters know what to look out for.
Measure Each Syndication Network’s Performance
What works on a national level doesn’t always work in your market, so it’s important to keep track of which online rental sites drive the most traffic for your business before you can decide which are worth paying for. If you haven’t started already, track your lead sources in an excel spreadsheet, or if you are already a Tenant Turner user, simply pull the Lead Source report in your account to see where most of your leads are coming from.
Syndicate Listings to Save Time
The easiest way to get your listings on all the best rental listing sites is by using a syndication feed, which will automatically post your rentals on countless listing sites (free sites as well as any paid sites that you have an agreement with). Below is a recap in chart form of the best free and paid listing sites that accept a syndication feed:
Pro tip: You may be able to continue posting to Zillow Group sites at no extra cost by syndicating from your local MLS. If you’re using software like Tenant Turner to respond to lead inquiries for you, you can set up email forwarding so that interested leads continue to receive instant responses. Keep in mind, your listings will not be prioritized in search results, and that agreement between MLS providers and Zillow may not last, so this work around may be a “just for now” solution.
Post Your Listings on Social Media Sites
Get creative! You don’t have to solely rely on listing sites to advertise your rentals. Property managers are taking advantage of social media to help expand the reach of their listings. That includes posting to local forums, using Instagram to highlight rentals, and posting walkthrough videos on your company’s page.
Don’t underestimate the power of building an online persona and making it personal—show your face, talk about your favorite aspects of a rental, and of course, be clear about how they can contact you. These channels may become increasingly important as online rental listing sites continue to charge.
No one has a crystal ball, but we do have data, and we predict that this listing site landscape will continue to change rapidly over the next few years: Other sites will follow Zillow’s lead and new freemium challengers will fill the gap. No matter the changes that happen, you’ll stay ahead of the curve if you track your own lead sources and only pay the sites that best suit your target audience while maximizing your lead-to-lease conversion.Read more on Marketing