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Is Print Dead When it Comes to Advertising Your Rental Home or Apartment?

Online vs print advertising for real estate rentals

by Brenton Hayden on November 28, 2012 · 8 comments


Every dollar you spend on your property reduces your profits. You wouldn’t waste money on improvements that don’t pay off in higher rents or by attracting and keeping tenants. Why on earth would you waste money on print advertising?

Yet thousands of real estate investors do…

Online Advertising Dominates Real Estate

Perhaps no business has adapted to the Internet so quickly and completely as residential real estate. Some 90 percent of home buyers use the Internet today and only 27 percent review print or newspaper ads. The same is just as true for tenants, who tend to be younger and take less time to make a decision. A primary reason consumers look online first is that’s where the listings are. A majority of renters (72%) say they begin their search online. In fact, only 17% go to the newspaper, 5% look for yard signs, and another 5% rely on referrals from friends and/or family, according to a survey conducted in 2008. No doubt those numbers would be higher today.

Online currently accounts for 55 percent of all real estate ad budgets while newspapers have dwindled to 14 percent, according to Borrell Associates. Moreover, online media are expected to continue to grow their domination of the real estate space by an additional 15.2 percent this year.

Think about it from the tenant’s perspective. If you were looking for a home to rent today, where would you look? Would you spend time looking at print ads that provide you only a few words and a price for a small sliver of the properties available? Or would you go online to peruse millions of fresh rental listings, complete with photos, maps and amenities on several web sites? Instead of a few words and a price, you find as much information as the landlord makes available: amenities, neighborhood, transportation, schools. You can shop around and look at other units that are available, and you can register to receive updates and new listings as soon as they are posted. You know that the information you see online is current and the properties are available at the terms listed.

The Perils of Real Estate Print Advertising 

On the other hand, to access a print ad a prospective tenant must first be a subscriber or purchase a copy of the publication, unless it is a free advertiser. Newspaper and magazine ads are often placed 1-2 weeks in advance; the free advertisers you find at supermarkets and drug stores have a longer lead time.

Print ads typically cost double to triple the amount that an online ad would cost. For example, a local Classifieds ad in the largest news print in Minnesota (Star Tribune) is $78 for a 7 day run in the with one posting in the popular Sunday edition. This ad includes no pictures, and will be limited to perhaps 60-100 characters. Its reach is limited to the state of Minnesota where it can be purchased retail and the newspaper’s subscribers. On the other hand, you can reach 79% of the national population in all 50 states, and international audiences as well by using an online listing service specifically dedicated to online rental property ads. Sites like, which also owns, allow you to post multiple photos, and provide generous space for content, descriptions, logos, phone numbers, email address, web links, etc. Not to mention, most ads are for 30 days, and featured nationwide, and cost just $59.99. That’s a savings of $18 compared to the newspaper for a longer and more robust listing that reaches the entire planet.

Most newspapers and magazines today have web sites and will post your ad on their sites as well as in their print publications. Ask yourself, are you really getting something for nothing? Unless you know for a fact that your local newspaper site is the place to be in your market—and that’s easy to find out by checking the volume and quality of their rental ads compared to leading web-only sites—you’re not getting a good deal. Rather, you’re paying for two advertising mediums and neither one will do the job for you.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff November 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Great article Brenton,


Josh Stevens November 28, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Thanks for writing for biggerpockets!

Like most things real estate, it’s all local. What works well in bigger cities, is more difficult in rural areas.

As an example in Oregon on craigslist there are the bigger cities you would expect with their own craigslist pages, however the 300 some mile long Oregon coast is lumped into one section!

My ads in Coos Bay are competing with Brookings through Astoria! While I still use it because a ton of people search on CL, I worry if I didn’t supplement with print advertising I feel I would be doing my clients and potential customers a disservice.

Also we deal with more retirees than younger people moving to the area and they in general still seem to prefer the older methods of searching for properties.

As these change I will depend heavier on internet advertising but until then I will still use some local advertising.

Thanks again!


Kristine-CA November 28, 2012 at 7:15 pm

It’s definitely a local/regional thing. I work one small desert town (population 15K). There’s a 3 day a week print newspaper (now with online version) where the print classifieds still rule. The income and education level is such that the bulk of the rental pool doesn’t yet own or use computers on a daily basis. I work another town, population 350K, where certain neighborhoods rely on rental signs. It’s just the way it’s done there. I can get 20 calls in a weekend from a sign and 1 call from a CL ad. I prefer the sign calls because the caller knows the neighborhood and knows the house.


Kevin Perk November 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm


Welcome to BiggerPockets! Thanks for the interesting article.

We definitely use print media less and less. Our website, along with craigslist and other websites generate the most leads for us. Sometimes we do not even put out signs anymore as the leads they generate are poor.

I think though that it all depends on your property location and the potential tenant base for your property. As mentioned in previous comments, some areas are still better served by print, especially small towns. And even today, some people are just not going to have access to the web and will rely on print as their perspective may be more limited, especially in lower income areas. Older tenants may also still rely on looking through the Sunday paper as it is a medium that they are used to using. While others may be looking for a specific neighborhood or school district and will use neither, but will drive around and focus on the yard signs.

So I think you need to know about your location and your potential tenant base. You will likely have to experiment before you find what works best for you. Is print dead? Maybe not yet but it is definitely dying.

Thanks again for the article and look forward to more,



Kevin Yeats November 29, 2012 at 8:01 am

“Half of my advertising spending works. I just wish I knew which half.”


Brenton Hayden November 29, 2012 at 8:13 am

This is very insightful. I agree that in small or rural areas print typically has a good or better share of the eyes of prospective renters, however I also believe this is slowly declining every day as the internet continues to take hold even in the smaller markets. Specialty properties likes ranches, horse farms, low income multi family housing, senior housing are also amongst a core group that print will still remain effective. Not to mention subsidized housing still relies heavily on local referrals, signage, and local print.

But the fact remains to reach nationwide audience, internet advertising is a tool thats need to be utilized. Considering the cost and the reach, it’s a great supplement to any print advertisement.


Aaron Hansen November 29, 2012 at 9:08 am

Like others have commented, I don’t think it’s dead yet, but it is dieing. Whether renting or selling your house, online is the best option, but there are still those that read the paper so there is some value in it. Maybe subscriptions to papers are down, but they are still in break-rooms at offices or waiting rooms at doctor offices. Older people still get them and I know lots of people that get the paper because of coupons, but I guess it depends on your local paper and how successful it is.


Brandon Turner November 29, 2012 at 10:40 am

Hey Brenton,

Great article. In my town (fairly small) , a two-week ad runs about $50. I still use it, because about 50% of my renters come from that venue (We don’t have a great Craigslist presence yet) but I am seeing increased traffic from sources other than the newspaper.

I’d say the second biggest advertising method is a sign in the front yard. Works like a charm!

Welcome to the BP Blog and I totally look forward to more posts from you!


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