Screening tenants well is critically important to your real estate success. It’s the foundation of maximizing cash flow while minimizing headaches. But, before you can screen a tenant, you need them to apply to live in your rental. Before that, you need to get their attention and pique their interest by marketing your rental. Before 1995, this article would have talked about newspaper ads and short phrases to use in order to minimize character counts and therefore costs (w/d 3/2…). However, thanks to Craig Newmark and his website craigslist.org we can ignore all of that and just talk about the number one source for all potential tenants.
That’s right, Craigslist is the number one spot that people use to search for housing. It’s actually quite remarkable how ubiquitous it’s become. I suppose it makes sense: It’s free for visitors & advertisers, it allows for detailed descriptions, plenty of pictures, it’s searchable, and specific to your local area.
Let’s dive in on the 4 different parts you’ll want to include and optimize in your advertising.
70 Character Title
The title is perhaps the most important part of the listing because it’ll be in a list of other blue links begging people to click on them. Craigslist will automatically put your rent rate, the number of bedrooms and square feet in your title. So all you need to do is describe it in 70 characters. I like to keep it simple: Adjective + Building Type + “For Rent”. It’s even better if you can say something about the location too. For example:
- Refurbished Downtown Apartments For Rent
- Cute Duplex on a Quiet Street For Rent
- Spacious Single Family Home Near XYZ School For Rent
Challenge yourself to come up with 10 titles. The first couple will come easily. The next set will be much tougher and you’ll really need to get creative for the last few. This will force you to think of a title beyond the first obvious thing that pops in your head.
Before you go out and drop $800 on a new DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, remember that these photos are going to be viewed in a web browser at 72 pixels per inch. In other words, your smart phone camera is probably good enough as long as you follow a couple rules of thumbs.
Lighting: Turn on all the lights and open all the blinds. Then take pictures either in the morning or afternoon when the sun is shining into the windows. This will allow the most natural light into the rooms and you won’t have to use your flash. Never use your flash.
Steady: When taking photos, focus on keeping your hands as steady as possible. If needed, use a tripod to keep your phone steady. You can also lean against a wall to steady yourself. I like to take at least 2-3 photos so I can choose the best one when I get back home and can review them on a larger screen.
Get Higher: Here’s a trick you don’t see often: stand in a corner of the room and get as high as you can. Depending on the size, you might even get a small step ladder to get yourself higher. This does a few things:
- It lets you capture more of the room
- It reduces shadows seen in the picture
- It helps the room look bigger because the floor seems further down
- It makes the viewer feel powerful and in control, which makes them feel more comfortable when viewing the picture.
That last one is an interesting cinematic technique where the person “in power” is the person who is the tallest. We see this played out all the time. One beautifully horrible example is in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where McGonigall challenges Umbridge over the proper disciplinary actions. Pay attention to the steps they take on the stairs which represents who has the power. By the end, there’s clearly no doubt who’s in control.
By taking pictures at a high level, you’re effectively putting the viewer in the spot of power. They can’t help but see themselves in control of the space. It’s a subtle cue that pushes them to view your pictures favorably.
You get 24 photos with Craigslist. Here’s a suggested breakdown:
- 1 of the front of the property. This should also be your first picture.
- 1+ of each bathroom
- 2+ of the kitchen
- 1 of each bedroom
- 1+ of the living room and each common area
- 1 of the backyard
- If possible, a picture of the floor plan
- Any special features, like new appliances or patios
- If you’re right next to interesting points of interest, include those too.
Try to put each picture in the order you would walk through the unit. People particularly care about the kitchen and bathrooms, so make sure to get plenty of photos of those rooms.
By now they’ve read your title and probably clicked through a few pictures. Now’s the part where you get to give a little intro. I start by thanking them for being interested. Then I give a little information about the building and who I am. You don’t need to over think this part. Check out other listings and borrow from intros you like.
What you do NOT want to say is who you’re looking for. You’re not looking for young families or DINKs. Your property isn’t perfect for a Christian family because it’s across the street from a church. If you mention any of that, you’re at risk of being accused of discriminating against a protect class (Race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, and national origin). Instead, focus on the facts of the property and yourself. Let potential tenants decide if it’s a good fit themselves.
This is the part where you literally list out every detail you can think of. Make it easy for them to scan for the features they’re looking for. Make sure to keep it all factual only. So don’t say: “Large fenced backyard for kids to play in.” Just say “Large fenced backyard” and let them decide what it’s good for. Here’s a minimum of items to include:
- Size: # Bedrooms, # Bathrooms, # Sqft
- Appliances: Refrigerator? Range/Oven? Disposal? heating type? If it’s new, say so.
- Flooring: Carpet? Title? Vinyl?
- Utilities: What’s included in the rent?
- Recent Updates: Example: “Freshly cleaned, painted and refurbished throughout”
- Large fenced yard? # Car Garage?
- Location: Schools, businesses, shopping if nearby (this will also help you show up in searches)
- Rent: $$$ per month
- Security Deposit: $$$
- Application Fee: $$ per adult
Notice that I put all the cost items at the end, but I leave a space so it’s easy to find. Finally, tell them what to do if they’re interested. “Call or email to set up an appointment to walk through the unit”.
Also notice that I do NOT include my screening requirements. I tried that and nobody called. I honestly don’t know if it was because it seemed too stringent written out or if it was because it was too much reading (nobody called, so I couldn’t ask). However, once I removed it, the calls started coming in again and I could do my initial screening over the phone.
Keep listings to the point and factual.
Depending on how hot the market is, you’ll want to post frequently enough to stay at the top of the list. If it’s really hot (lots of people looking), you’ll just need to post once and refresh the listing every three days. If you find that your calls drop off a lot after the first day you’ll want to post again. Now, Craigslist doesn’t allow you to just post the same ad over and over. To avoid this, create up to 3 versions. Tweak your title, your picture order and the text for each ad.
- Day 1: Post your first ad
- Day 2: Take your first off and post your second ad.
- Day 3: Take your second ad off and post your third ad.
- Day 4: Take your third ad off and post your first ad.
- Repeat the cycle
This will keep you out of trouble while keeping your listing near the top every day.
That’s all you need to know about posting to Craigslist. Here’s an example of what it’ll look like when you’re done:
The first time you create the ad will take a little while, but then you’ll be able to reuse it over and over and over again.