Listing apartments on Craigslist: What works and what doesn’t

Amanda Maher
Amanda Maher | 6 min. read
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Published on April 12, 2016

It wasn’t long ago that I was one of many Boston students hunting for their next apartment on Craigslist. While many landlords quiver at the thought of using the site, the reality is that many people still use the online platform, especially in the early stages of their search.

If you or your property management company is going to go this route, it is important to understand that not all Craigslist ads are created equally. Let’s use the two listings below for comparison.
what to avoid on craigslist

At first glance, there’s a lot to like about this ad. The header is very clear about the size of the apartment and that it is located in a luxury development complex. However, the listing goes downhill as soon as you open the link. You quickly realize that the listing isn’t for one specific apartment, but rather a range of apartments within the same building. It turns out that 1-bedroom apartments only begin at $2950, and can cost upwards of $8000—not an insignificant discrepancy. Moreover, if I were looking for a 2-bedroom apartment, I would have never known to click on this ad based on the header.

Not only that, but the listing discusses apartments that vary from low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise buildings to garden-style units. At this point, even with my extensive knowledge of the Boston real estate market, I have no idea which apartment building the agent is advertising. While the agent goes to great length to list the amenities, I’m left wondering whether these amenities are actually included with the 1-bedroom apartment at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. Do both the $2950 units and $8000 units have the same amenities? Do the garden-style and high-rise apartments both offer these amenities? It’s completely unclear.

Finally, if I’m going to spend thousands of dollars on an apartment each month, I’m going to need some pictures before I pick up the phone. I can understand why the author of the ad didn’t include pictures—he or she is trying to sling so many units at once that you’d never know which picture is associated with which unit. Even on the slight chance that I’d call this agent, I wouldn’t know how to do so, as there was no contact information including in the listing.

the right way to use craigslist craigslist-ad-3

Now, take a look at the difference between Ad #1 and Ad #2. In this second listing, we see that the author has clearly listed a single unit. From the outset, we know what the cost of the apartment will be, when it is available, and the amenities that are included for this specific unit. The only thing that’s missing from the ad is the name of the building where the unit is located. With the spate of new luxury residential buildings that have gone up in Boston’s Seaport District in recent months, it’s anyone’s guess which building this unit is located in. For some renters, the actual building might not matter as much as the unit itself; for others, the building’s prestige will be a determining factor.

But for the most part, this ad is right on the money. The details include:

  • Parking availability
  • Options for lease duration
  • Move-in costs
  • Requisite security deposit
  • Information about in-unit laundry facilities
  • Acknowledgment of the building’s pet policy (four-legged friends welcome!)
  • “Community features” with information about other amenities (a 24-hour fitness facility, a roof deck with gas grills and a fire pit, a game room with billiards and theater, etc.)
  • Plus 15 different pictures, many of which highlight these very same amenities

And best of all, you aren’t left second-guessing who to contact if you’re interested in going to tour the property! The listing broker’s name and phone number are clearly displayed at both the top and the bottom of the ad.

Both Ad #1 and Ad #2 are trying to sell units in downtown Boston luxury apartment complexes, and both are offering units at roughly the same price point. That said, Ad #2 does a much better job luring apartment hunters and their agents given how well the unit is presented.

Using these ads as a reference point, landlords and property managers looking to rent apartments on Craigslist should remember these 5 things.

5 Tips for Listing Rentals on Craigslist

  1. Use an interesting headline to capture readers’ attention, but spare readers from unnecessary CAPS and *JibBeri$h TeXt!* that can prove so distracting. Rather than catching prospective tenants’ attention, you may be turning them off before they ever open the listing.
  2. Create a separate ad for each of the units you’re listing. It’s fine to mention at the bottom of the ad that you also have other units available and to inquire within, but be sure to tailor each ad to a specific unit so readers don’t feel misled.
  3. Include pictures! People are visual and want a glimpse into the unit before they take the time to see it in person. Don’t post blurry pictures; and if the apartment you’re trying to rent is currently occupied, kindly ask the tenant to tidy up before you take snapshots. It’s hard to entice people with an unkempt unit.
  4. Accurately describe the unit. If you tell someone the property has an “updated kitchen!” then that’s what they’ll expect. It’s not like you can hide Formica countertops or a rusted stove. Misrepresenting your units wastes prospective renters’ time and can damage your reputation in the local community—it’s not worth it.
  5. Never, EVER use discriminatory language! Some forms of discrimination are obvious (“Section 8 not welcome”), but there are other protected classes when it comes to real estate. For instance, you typically cannot refuse families with children. It’s perfectly acceptable to screen tenants thoroughly, but do not blatantly describe who you won’t rent to in the ad.

Craiglist limits people to posting 20 ads per day. If those ads are highly repetitive, Craigslist may flag them as spam. If you’re going to post ads for multiple properties, be sure to write unique descriptions for each property (which you should be doing anyway) to avoid the spam filter. If you’re advertising more than 20 units per day, you will need to post those ads using a different email and IP address.

Craigslist can be a terrific tool for landlords and property managers seeking tenants, as the website is a go-to resource for so many apartment hunters. But remember, as with anything in life, you only have one chance to make a good first impression! These ads may be free, but they deserve the same amount of attention you give your other marketing strategies.

Read more on Marketing
Amanda Maher

Amanda Maher is a self-proclaimed policy wonk who dabbles in real estate law. She holds a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from Boston University, as well as a master's in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern.

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