How to Find a Tenant in Any Market: A Comprehensive Guide
Whether you’re managing properties for another real estate investor or handling the day-to-day operation of property management for your own rental units, almost anyone with experience will agree that success in the rental property business hinges largely on your ability to find the right tenants.
Want more articles like this?
Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inboxSign up for free
Of course, it’s important that you know how to identify, evaluate and acquire the right rental properties in the first place – but ask any experienced landlord or property manager, and they’ll tell you their long-term success has everything to do with finding the right tenants.
In order to find the right tenants for your property, you’ll need to understand some basic functions of real estate marketing. Your goal in this initial phase is to catch the attention of the prospective tenants in your market who are a good fit for your property, and in order to do this effectively, you’ll need to be proficient at two things:
1. Creating an eye-catching, informative property listing.
- Including quality photos and/or a virtual tour of the property.
- A detailed description of what tenants can expect from the property.
- A full list of the features and benefits that come with your rental unit.
- An appropriate price that falls in line with the market’s supply and demand.
- An eye-catching headline that will get noticed by the masses.
2. Promoting the listing to the highest-traffic platforms.
- Getting your listing in front of the largest, most relevant audiences.
- Keeping your listing front-and-center on your prospective tenant’s radar.
Depending on the current supply and demand for rental properties in your area, finding a good tenant for your property can be a greater challenge in some markets than in others. Nevertheless, the same general principles will apply across the board in terms of how to create a solid listing, where to advertise your listing and how to draw in the most attention from the best renters in your market.
How to Find a Tenant Part 1: Creating the Listing
To create a compelling listing for your rental property, you’ll need to give your prospective tenants a solid case as to why your property is the right choice for them. Start by asking yourself a few questions:
- Why would someone want to call your property “home?”
- What kind of unique benefits does your property have to offer?
- How can your property stand out from the hundreds of other rental units in your area?
In short, you’ll have to sell them on it.
The good news is, most properties are quite capable of selling themselves, but only if they’re priced right, promoted adequately and represented accurately with a top-notch listing.
It’s also worth noting that while it’s important to make your property look as appealing as possible, it’s equally important to represent your property in an honest way. When real estate investors are wearing their “marketing hats,” they need to constantly fend off the temptation to embellish what they’re selling, and when it comes to finding tenants for your rental units, the same rules apply.
The truth is, you’re not doing the world any favors by misrepresenting your property or “tricking” renters into thinking it’s something better than it actually is. A good landlord/tenant relationship is built on trust, so if you feel the temptation to give off false impressions about your property (however vague or innocent they may seem to you), don’t do it.
Getting Great Pictures
Most of us instinctively know that a decent set of property photos is an important component of a good property listing (I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t include images in their rental listing). With that said, I think it’s worth reiterating just how influential a good visual portrayal of your property can be.
If you want to stand out in the market and find the right tenant NOW, you must give renters a good visual portrayal of your property. Great photos won’t just be informative; they will set you apart from your competition. If you want to catch the attention of the best tenants your market, there is no better way than to give a memorable first impression they simply cannot ignore.
Especially if your property has any kind of “beauty” factor to it, it can be very much worth your while to invest in some higher-end images and even videos of your property (this is precisely what most billionaire real estate investors do—just check out any of Donald Trump’s websites). Even if you need to hire a professional photographer or videographer, there are many instances where this can absolutely be worth the extra cost.
Typical Property Photos:
Extraordinary Property Photos:
Think about it—when was the last time you saw photos of this caliber on Craigslist?
When you give a great visual representation of your property (as if viewing your listing is an “experience to behold”), the value proposition will be obvious.
It’s also worth noting that the subjects of your pictures don’t necessarily need to be beautiful (although beauty certainly doesn’t hurt). If the quality of your pictures are high enough, you’ll find that most things can be made to look surprisingly remarkable, which can add a new element of perceived value to your property.
When you’re compiling these pictures of your property, be sure to include enough images to give a thorough overview of the entire unit. At the very least, you should include pictures (preferably, with multiple angles) of these areas:
- Front Yard, Side Yard & Back Yard
- Extras, e.g. New Appliances, Pool, Patio, Porch, Garage/Parking Area
- A Floor Plan of the Unit (if available)
- Exterior Shots of the Front & Back of the Property
- The Address of the Property (along with the nearest major intersection)
At the time of this writing, Craigslist allows for up to 24 pictures per listing, so don’t be bashful! Show your prospective renters as many pictures as they’ll need to understand what your property is all about.
A good description of your rental property should be both accurate and informative without misrepresenting what the tenant will get if they choose to rent the property.
Along the same lines as your photos, the description should talk about the primary features that the property has to offer. It helps to include a bulleted list, like this:
- Kitchen (including any special features)
- Number of Bedrooms/Bathrooms
- Square Footage of the Building
- Lot Size (typically in acres)
- Garage (if any), Parking, Number of Stalls
- Extras, e.g. New Appliances, Pool, Big Yard, Back Deck, Fireplace, etc.
- Any Recent Updates or Renovations, e.g. Windows, Doors, Appliances
- Any Unique Characteristics, e.g. Scenic Overlook, Basketball Court, Lakefront Lot
Describe the property in a way that inspires people! Words can do an AMAZING job of selling real estate, and your ability to help people see the value of what you’re offering can be a major asset in your effort to find the right tenants.
Most of the listings you’ll find online have some pretty lackluster property descriptions. This is good news because these amateurs are making it all the easier for YOUR listing to stand out. Take a look at this real life example I pulled from Craigslist earlier this year (this was the FULL property description, spelling errors and all):
“new refrigerator. all appliances includes. Huge backyard. walk out in basement to back yard which is fenced in. Lots of updates. 2 stall attached garage.”
Pretty pathetic, huh?
Now let’s take a look at a well-written description for the exact same property:
You’ll love this peaceful, cozy bungalow overlooking Riverside Park. Spend your summer mornings on the front porch with a fresh cup of coffee and your winter evenings snuggled up by the stone fireplace with a good book. Situated in a friendly community on the outskirts of Robertson Township, just thirty minutes from Springfield – this house offers everything a homeowner needs to maintain a happy and comfortable lifestyle. Some of the perks that come with this home include:
- 2,000 square feet with an open floor plan
- Large kitchen with recently updated appliances
- 4 Bedrooms with fresh paint and new carpet
- 3 Bathrooms in new condition
- Award Winning School District
- 2-Stall Garage with overhead door
- Short walk from Riverside Park
- Large back deck, surrounded by trees for maximum privacy
- Walkout basement to back yard.
As you can probably see, even though both of these listings are describing the same property, they’re not created equal. It takes real effort to be creative and think of descriptive words that will make a property sound appealing. Most landlords and property managers just don’t have the patience (or just don’t care enough) to put forth the extra effort to write a great property description, but those who do will likely find that it can make a HUGE difference in the eyes of prospective tenants.
Pricing the Property
As obvious as it may sound, you should always include the rent price in your property listing.
I’ve seen some ads that include every component of a great listing except for the price (sometimes with a “call now for price” teaser at the bottom). In my opinion, this is completely unhelpful to the potential tenants who are looking at your property.
If you want to attract the best renters your the market, you shouldn’t be throwing up obstacles that make it difficult for them to make their decision and take the next step. I see very little benefit in hiding this kind of information on the front end.
The price of your property is a very important component of your listing. Luckily, coming up with a reasonable rent price doesn’t have to be complicated. You’re essentially looking at the location, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, square footage of the unit and the condition.
If you’re not sure how much you should be charging for rent in your market, there are a few ways to nail this down with relative certainty.
- Look at some similar properties for rent in the near vicinity. You can find these listings easily on websites like Craigslist, Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com (among others). How much are they charging for rent? How do their properties compare to yours?
- Call a local property manager and ask their opinion. These people are probably the best-informed, most-qualified individuals to answer this kind of question.
- Check out a website like Rent-o-meter and see what it has to say. Just don’t rely on this as your ONLY source of information. It can be a great starting point, but it’s not the ultimate authority (not by a long shot).
If all else fails, a final indication as to whether you’re asking a fair price for rent is to gauge how many inquiries are coming in from interested parties. If nobody is calling, it could be that you either need to lower your price OR do a better job of communicating the value of the rental unit in your listing.
An Eye-Catching Headline
When you’re posting your listing on sites like Craigslist, it is imperative that you use a headline that looks different and gets noticed.
A good headline is an extremely important aspect of your listing because in a very real way, this will be your only shot at getting prospective tenants to notice you. If you aren’t able to stand out from all the other mundane headlines in your market, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. When you only have a split second to engage someone to click on your ad, standing out and making an impression is EVERYTHING.
If you’re not sure how to come up with an eye-catching headline, ask yourself a few questions:
- What are the positives and negatives of the property you’re trying to rent out?
- How can you use humor to your advantage?
- Can you say something that will make people do a double-take?
- Can you say something obnoxious that will make your ad stick out like a sore thumb?
Here are some examples I’ve played with over the years with some pretty good results:
- ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! 2-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side for HOW MUCH??
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MY STUPIDITY. This property is my loss, your gain.
- CHECK THIS OUT! Rent this amazing 1-stall garage w/ FREE HOUSE ATTACHED!!!
- AM I INSANE?? 3 bedroom / 2 bathroom house at this price?? YOU TELL ME!!
- My wife thinks I’m crazy – but we need a tenant RIGHT NOW!
- YOU CAN’T AFFORD THIS HOUSE (but if you act now, you might get lucky).
- MAKE YOUR FRIENDS JEALOUS! This is the apartment you’re looking for!
Take a look at this example in action. What do you think? Does it grab your attention?
If you need more inspiration, just take a few minutes and browse through the ads in your local market. What kinds of headlines stick out to you? What makes you notice them? Can you apply any of these same principles to your headlines?
How to Find a Tenant Part 2: Promoting the Listing
The idea behind any good promotional campaign is to get your rental listing in front of as many eyeballs as possible (and ideally, without incurring any significant costs).
Probably the most tried and true method that occurs to most new landlords is to simply place a “FOR RENT” sign in the front yard. It’s not a bad idea, but this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your promotional efforts. A sign in the front yard will do a great job of notifying the neighbors and those passing by that the property is available, but it’s not the most effective way to notify the masses (i.e. anyone who isn’t already in the vicinity of your property on a regular basis). In other words, it may be worth doing, but you shouldn’t stop there.
In my experience, the most effective website for advertising your real estate in any capacity is one that many of us are familiar with: Craigslist.
Some other websites that are probably worth trying are:
Postlets is a great resource because it provides free ad syndication to a number of other high-traffic websites like Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads, Enormo, RentJungle and many, many more. These ads are easy to create, they look great, and I really can’t think of a good reason not to go through the motions of creating a good Postlets ad (considering the effort you’ve already put into getting pictures and writing a good property description, why not spend an extra 10 minutes and put this together?).
Websites like Backpage, eBay Classifieds and your own website may be worth the extra effort in some scenarios (e.g. if you’re in desperate need of extra promotion or if you’re running a full-blown property management company), but I’ll be honest… it isn’t always necessary to take these extra steps if you’re already hitting the biggest outlets like Craigslist and Postlets.
Try to gauge how much of a response you’re getting from what you’re already doing, and you can decide from there whether it’s worth taking these additional steps.
Re-posting the Listing
A big part of your success with promoting your listing with websites like Craigslist is that you also need to pay attention.
When you post an ad on Craigslist, it starts at the top of the list and then slowly moves down to the bottom of the search results as other users post their newer ads above yours.
Since the first page of Craigslist’s ad results only shows the most recent 100 posts, this can create an exposure problem for landlords, because in most large real estate markets, there can be thousands of new ads posted each day (which means it won’t take long for your listing to move down the list, off the first page and into oblivion as fresh posts hit the system).
To combat this problem, it’s important to delete the ad and re-post it as frequently as possible, keeping it front-and-center and near the top of everyone’s radar.
Even if you don’t go through these steps, your ad will still appear in the search results (for those who happen to be searching for exactly what you’re offering), but since most people are looking primarily at the first few pages to begin with, it’s important to take every step necessary to keep your listing fresh.
Running a successful ad campaign on Craigslist generally takes more than posting one ad and forgetting about it. You’ll need to monitor your post on an ongoing basis, renew and re-post it as frequently as possible and continue to change/edit the content of your listing if you’re not getting an adequate volume of inquiries.
An Effective Solution For Finding Tenants Any Market
When demand for housing is high and the supply of rental properties is low, most landlords will find that it’s not necessarily all that difficult to find tenant. On the same coin, real estate can be very cyclical in nature. If 2009-2012 taught us anything, it’s that real estate isn’t always the hottest commodity, and good tenants aren’t always plentiful in every market.
Regardless of what your market looks like today, these steps have been tested and proven to produce results that will get you the exposure and attention you need to find the right kinds of tenants in your market.
[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers.]
Now that you’ve made it this far, leave me a comment! What are your best tips and tricks for finding quality tenants for your rentals?
Let’s talk in the comments section below!