More than Craiglist or Zillow?

74 Replies

I closed on a duplex in Buffalo, NY last week. The house (both upper and lower) was vacant, in great shape as the owner had done some minor updates to the flats. The numbers look great on paper and the rents I plan to ask for are reasonable according to Rent-o-Meter and what I am told by folks in the business. I placed an ad in Craigslist and scheduled an open house for Saturday and sat there by myself as no one showed. Seems so easy to get lost in the Craigslist shuffle.

I plan to place an ad in Zillow shortly. When checking out the competition in the area, I saw an ad for an apartment a couple doors away from mine...having been on Zillow for approximately 60 days. UGH! I am up for the challenge and considering including incentives that would vary, depending upon the duration of a lease I secure. Incentives might include free internet, free utilities for a few months, etc.

So my questions to you, my esteemed colleagues, are Craigslist and Zillow the most employed websites for posting available apartments - or are there others I need to include? What strategies do you use in order to find tenants quickly and how do you stand out in the crowd?

Many, thanks!

Do you have a sign in the front yard too?  ;-)

Hi Russell,

I recently had to find new tenants for a house in Los Angeles. I put up ads on both Craigslist and Zillow however Zillow's was far more successful. I may have had only one or two people who contacted me through Craigslist. 

I spent time taking nice pictures of both the inside and outside of the house and write up a detailed description. I scheduled two open houses during consecutive weekends and had prospective tenants contact me to setup a time and give them the address. So even though it was an open house, people who wanted to come and check out the property still had to contact me ahead of time, so I knew roughly how many people would show up. 

The majority of mine come in from Zillow, but a yard sign and craigslist have also produced tenants.

I would want to compare my rental with the one that has been on the market and see if there are discernable differences (from screening to space to price). 

Make sure you are very comfortable with your market- I achieve this by regularly viewing Zillow and knowing the benefits of each area, to the block, of my market.

But remember- you just started this, so don't panic. Open houses in my market are an invitation for nosey neighbors and fellow landlords, I don't do them.

Get some nice photos, get up on Zillow, Hotpads, Cozy, Realtor, Trulia, etc. and see what comes of it.

@Russell Caraotta , you may not want to hear this, but sometimes it helps to have a property management company list your property. They usually have people contacting them looking for places. Plus they will list on multiple sources for you. It all depends on how quickly you want it rented. I have always used an agent or a property management company to list my properties, mostly because I dont have the time to do a bunch of showings and screenings, I just factor it into my costs. In the end, the $1000ish I pay them is worth it. I still manage the properties myself, just don't list them.

Also, did you look to see how long rentals are listed for before being filled? I am not sure if Rentometer does that. It maybe normal for your market to have long vacancy periods, especially if you are in a smaller city.

@jordon moorhead  Yeah, that's been going through my head, too. I left FB last year due to the security/political issues and really feel good to be free of all that stuff. I think I might bite the bullet here and join again! Thanks Jordon!

@Patrick M. Totally agree about knowing the area. I am from this section of the city and know it like quite well. Thanks for the suggestions and encouragement!

@Russell Caraotta I have been renting properties for over 15 years. I will make a few points:

- Yard sign is by far the best method to rent a property, but do not answer the calls yourself. I direct my yard sign to my website which is my Zillow listing. That way they can read all the details without me spending 20 minutes playing 20 questions to someone who says in the end, it costs too much. Another option is let it go to voice mail with details like bedrooms, rent, etc.

- Craigslist is junk. I still post there but it has gone down hill every year for the last five years.

- Zillow is my main source of good leads.

- Facebook generates a lot of activity, but rarely do I find good people there. I kind of feel like it is a waste of time, but when I am trying to rent a place I pursue all options.

- When you setup an appointment to meet someone, have them text you 30 minutes before the appointment to confirm. Do not go to the property if you don't confirm. No shows are common - people are rude and that is just the world now.

- Do not include utilities if possible. It is a pain and utilities like gas, water or electric can get really expensive if your tenant is careless. Better to reduce rent than include utilities.

- Do not lower rent for longer lease. This is a classic newbie mistake. I know you want a long term tenant- we all do. What I have learned is that long leases lock in a landlord more than a tenant. Never go over a year. I have had people tell me they plan to stay 5 years and break their lease after 6 months. I have had people say they only need a year and stay there five years. My point is people move when they want to move. The lease just locks you into a rate and potentially bad tenant. My advice do 1 year and at the end of the year, renew at 1 year if they are good. If they are not great, you can not renew or raise rent.

- Rentometer is not always accurate. I prefer to look at similar listings on Zillow to gauge price. I chose to go a few dollars cheaper and rent my place faster. I never have a vacancy longer than a month, but I see people sit on Zillow for months holding out for higher rents. Be careful that your rent isn't too low or you can create the impression the property isn't very nice.

Good luck!

I filled a vacancy last week.  It was the first one I've had in about a year.  Just a few years ago, I would get a lot of responses from Craig's List.  But now, it's dwindled to almost nothing.  I get a lot of initial responses from Trulia and Hot Pads, most of which no one replies back.  Pretty typical.  But usually get a few showings out of it and have also found tenants that way.  In fact, the tenant I found for this vacancy came from Trulia.

I actually used Facebook Marketplace for the first time, this time around.  I was pleased with it.  I got a lot of responses, most of whom followed through with setting up and coming out to a showing. 

One thing to consider Russell, when you post a sign in the front yard, you are advertising that the property is empty. Depending on your neighborhood, this may be a bad idea. 

@Russell Caraotta I wouldn't be terribly discouraged of an apartment next door being listed without rent for too long. There's more to getting something rented & being attractive to a tenant than price, bedroom/bath count, and sqft! Some units have very odd configurations, or aren't in great condition... or have other characteristics that are off putting to a tenant in the area. 

Just make sure you're pricing fairly and honestly, and sell the unit well when you meet with prospective tenants!

@Russell Caraotta try Facebook marketplace or hire a realtor to list it on the MLS. You can also try local facebook groups for your town (and surrounding towns).

@Russell Caraotta

The order of most inquiries for me:

Facebook Marketplace, Yard Sign, Zillow, Craigslist, Apartments.com

The order of BEST leads/actual applicants:

Zillow, Yard Sign, Facebook, Craigslist

Facebook gets me a ton of inquiries. Half don’t follow up. 90% don’t show up if scheduled. Zillow inquiries are generally real, and good. Yard sign inquiries rarely get past the price of my units (but when they do, it’s worked out well). Craigslist for some reason this year just hasn’t had very many inquiries at all. Nobody has ever called me based on my Apartments.com ad.

I’ve tried the Open House routine. Fell flat. Now, if I already have somebody scheduled for a showing on the weekend, I’ll change my ad and call it an open house, since I will already be there.

Bottom Line: Use them all.

@Joe Splitrock Joe, your response is invaluable. Thank you for taking time to compose such a thought provoking and helpful checklist. I am going to follow it to the letter!

Hi @Russell Caraotta . Craiglist is my recommendation. Zillow makes it too easy for people to contact you. They just push a button on zillow's site and then you get an email. These people must push 1,000's of buttons and hope for calls. They never have any idea which apartment you own. Which part of Buffalo?

My best results come from a yard sign. All calls go to voicemail with the main information beds,baths, rent and deposit. I go thru the messages and call back the ones I think are viable. I also place an arrow (with address) for rent sign on the closest main traffic count road. That one you need to check weekly as they disappear a lot.

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