Troubleshooting Your Rental Advertising: How to Figure Out Why You’re Not Filling Vacancies

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When you put the time and effort into crafting your rental advertising and you don’t see any movement on it, well, everyone loses. Rather than just let it sit there and waste away, it pays to have a troubleshooting system in place that can help you get to the bottom of why that property isn’t selling. Here’s what that could look like:

Where is the Breakdown?

The process of renting out a unit can break down in several places:

  1. No one is calling about the unit in the first place.
  2. People are calling, but not scheduling a showing.
  3. Showings are happening, but no one is submitting rental applications.
  4. The applications received are not acceptable.

Each of these breakdowns is indicative of a different set of potential problems. Let’s check them out:

No One is Calling

If you put an ad out there and get literally zero response, the chances are pretty good that for whatever reason, your ad didn’t actually reach the audience. Maybe it was never posted in the first place (i.e. your web flunky didn’t notice that Craigslist gave him an error message instead of a “post complete” message). Maybe the ad accidentally got posted to Wayne County, Iowa instead of Wayne County, Michigan, or for some other reason it didn’t actually reach your intended audience. In the end, precisely why it didn’t reach the audience is a largely academic concern — the important part is to get it out there as quickly as possible (and this time, make sure it worked)!

On the other hand, if you are getting a few calls, but only very few, it might be that your advertisement itself just plain sucks. If you put an ad out there with no interior pictures, for example, or with no explanation of the duration and rent of the lease, people just won’t care enough to pursue it. They’re busy, usually frantic searchers, and they can’t afford to waste time on listings that don’t tell them everything they want to know up front. Improve the quality of information — and the appearance — of the ad (and if necessary, the house itself), and you’ll see better results.

Related: 5 Expert Tips to Attract Cream-of-the-Crop Tenants

Finally, the most obvious and painful reason you could be getting no calls is that the rent you’re asking for is simply too high. Try knocking it down to the levels your neighborhood seems to be running for — or just slightly below average if the house has issues — and give it a few more days.

No Showings

If you’re getting inquiries, but then no one actually wants to see the home, there are really only three possible problems:

  • No one is answering the phone or responding to emails quickly enough. Now more than ever, prospects expect immediate gratification, and if they aren’t getting it, they move on quickly.
  • Prospects are finding out something about the home or application process that wasn’t disclosed in the ad. Fix this by adding the information to the ad so it’s not a deal-killer when they inquire.
  • Finally, whoever is answering the phone or responding to emails rubs prospects the wrong way or is terrible at appointment setting. Double-check your ad, and if it seems OK, try calling your own agent and pretending to be a customer.

No One is Applying

If prospects see the home but aren’t interested in submitting an application, the problem is pretty clear: The home isn’t living up to their expectations:

  • The ad might not be clear on the condition of the home, so you’ll need to either lower the price or spruce it up a bit.
  • The ad may be misleading, referring to a room as “huge” when it’s only slightly larger than standard, etc.
  • The home may have a buzz-killer like a walk-through bedroom that isn’t mentioned in the ad.
  • There’s some external factor you can’t control that is driving people away, like being downwind from a mushroom farm.

All of the above can usually be addressed by lowering the asking price to match the expectations of the prospects. The easiest way to test this is to ask prospects for feedback on what they like and don’t like about the home and given what it is, how much would they pay for it.

There is one other potential issue — the person doing the showings is driving prospects away — but that’s much less common. If you can’t figure out any other reason you’re not getting applications, however, it is worth looking into.

Related: How to Best Prepare an Investment House for Rental (As Opposed to Sale)

The Applicants Aren’t Passing the Screening Process

Finally, you have the least likely but also the most pernicious problem: You’re getting applications, but they’re consistently not passing the screening process. The usual problems here:

  • Your advertising is reaching the wrong demographic.
  • The qualification requirements aren’t being covered at every step of the process above — the ad, during appointment setting or at the showing.
  • The home’s location may only be attractive to a demographic that is below your qualifications. So, you may need to adjust your expectations.

This is actually the same problem as the previous one, only this time your rental advertising is also somehow attracting a decent number of actual no-goodniks who think they might be able to sneak in under the radar. You need to carefully go over not just your advertisements, but also your reputation — online and otherwise — and find out why these folks think you’re a decent bet.

Have you ever successfully trouble-shot your advertising funnel?

Let us know about your experiences with a comment!

About Author

Drew Sygit

While in the mortgage business, Drew rose to a VP position at the first broker he worked for and then started his own company. In the pursuit of excellence, he obtained several mortgage designations and joined mortgage & several affiliate association Boards. He also did WebX presentations and public speaking. It was during this time he started personally investing in single-family rentals, leading him to also start Royal Rose Property Management with two partners. He also joined the Board of a local real estate investors association, eventually becoming its President. The real estate crash led to an offer from the banking industry to manage a Michigan bank’s failed bank assets they acquired from the FDIC. The bank acquired four failed banks from the FDIC, increasing from $100M in assets to over $2B while he was there. After that, he took over as President of Royal Rose Property Management. Today, he speaks at national property management conventions and does WebX presentations.


  1. Darren Sager

    Hey Drew you made some great points here. Since pictures say a thousand words it’s vital to get the right shots to properly represent the property. In many cases I’ve found out that it doesn’t matter what you say very much as long as the pictures look great. That makes them want to call to see it first hand. I would also say that the primary reason why a place hasn’t rented is that the amount per month is too high for the people who are looking at the time of the year you have it advertised.

    • Mindy Jensen

      I want to throw in my two cents on pictures. Like Darren said, make them look great. But also like Darren said, get the right shots to properly represent the property. Don’t use the wide-angle lens to make the room look enormous. If it is a tiny room in person, make it look tiny in the pictures.
      Like most of us, I see a lot of houses. I hate going into a house that looks awesome online, but the images were so skewed you can’t tell what angle they shot them from. Accurately represent the property you are trying to rent.
      Great tips, Drew!

      • Drew Sygit

        MINDY: we agree 100%! We see too many owners borderline lying about their properties to get prospects to see them, thinking if they get enough prospects there someone will still apply despite the true condition of the property. In our opinion, you’ll only get unacceptable applicants that way. Then again, that’s probably what the property and the property owner deserve.

  2. karen rittenhouse

    The main way to evaluate your marketing is to follow up with anyone who calls on your ad whether they just asked questions or actually went to see the property.

    Always ask for feedback. When they don’t call you back, call them. Feedback is the only way to know what’s working, what’s not and how to fix it.

    Thanks, Drew, for your post!

    • Drew Sygit

      KAREN: thanks for adding that. Everyone just needs to understand that it’s not always easy or even productive. Many prospects won’t return your feedback messages, if you do get them on the phone many won’t remember the property and some will just hang up on you! Our society is moving faster and faster, leading to overwhelmed consumers who have no issues ignoring vendors. In our experience, the best time to get feedback is at the showing, but even that can be difficult as some are evasive.

  3. Kimberly H.

    Time of year is definitely a factor. Have a listing for rent right now since it’s a new rehab. Gotten the WORST qualified applicants EVER so far…multiple evictions in their history, all collections on their credit, etc…and our look is more professional than ever.

    • Drew Sygit

      KIMBERLY: just had that conversation with one of our owner clients! The challenge is, how far do you lower the asking rent to get cashflow versus attracting prospects that are unacceptable and wasting your time? We haven’t found a simple solution to that problem yet!

  4. Willie Grega

    You mentioned prospects desiring immediate gratification. Some of my properties are located on busy city streets so I receive a lot of phone inquiries (which is my least favorite task of property mangement). I let the call go to voice mail, then immediately send a text to that number with a link to my Zillow postlet listing(s). This provides them complete information about the property, gives them good photos to view, and clear information about the qualifications and screening. This also let’s them see other properties that are available. If I receive a quick return call, then it is usually a serious inquiry. (occasionally however they are letting me know they don’t have a smart phone…but this is increasingly rare)

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