The Scientifically Proven Way to Write a Highly Effective Rental Ad

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Before we get to the steps of writing a good ad, let’s learn about the two main parts of the brain and how they function so we can have the greatest impact on potential tenants. Once you understand this, writing ads becomes pretty easy.

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Logical Brain

  • Makes up 17% of the brain
  • Can process 2,000 bits per second
  • Memory is about 20 seconds
  • Thinks in the past and future

Emotional Brain

  • Make up 83% of the brain
  • Can process 400 billion bits per second
  • Memory is for as long as you live
  • Thinks in the present

In Practice

I want to show you how the two sides of your brain work with an example. Take about 10 minutes and go to Craigslist to shop for a property to rent for yourself. I want you to actually look for a property with the mindset of a consumer so what I’ll tell you next will make a lot more sense. Don’t cheat and read ahead. I’ll wait…

Related: How to Use The Craigslist Map View To Reach More Tenants

I’m guessing you started by using the slow, logical side of your brain to come up with some criteria (location, bedrooms, square footage, etc.) for your new place. This is how everyone starts out. With your criteria in hand, what was the first thing you did when you got to Craigslist? I’ll bet you looked at the pictures and scrolled until you found something you liked. Why? It’s because the emotional side of the brain processes information about 200,000,000 times faster than the logical side and can derive meaning from pictures.

Have you ever met someone and had a really good feeling about them? That’s the emotional side making decisions based almost entirely on visual data. They don’t have to say anything, and you somehow like them. That’s what you want in a good ad.

Everyone uses the logical side of the brain to come up with criteria, but when we get down to it, we’re making most of our decisions based on the emotional side of our brain. Actually, about 90% of our decisions are made using the emotional side of the brain, even though the logical side will argue that that’s not true. You’re probably thinking that’s not true right now. Well, it is.

Think about the last time you went to buy a car. Did you test drive all of them, or did you look around and only test drive the ones you thought were nice looking (emotional brain)? Did you compare the components (logical brain) of the cars before buying or did you buy the one that felt nice (emotional brain) to drive?

We make our decision based on feelings, and we do it quickly. The logical brain, for the most part, is only put into play after the emotional side has made a decision. “Can I afford the pretty car that felt nice to drive?” Most people mistakenly start with the logical (beds, baths and square footage) when making ads, even though the logical has little to do with our decisions. Could you imagine going to a dating website to find a list of spreadsheets on potential partners? That’s what most people do when they create ads. It’s a spreadsheet of data and no feeling. The feeling is what’s important. The same goes for picking a place to live. You want your ads to follow the progression of decision-making, which starts with feeling and ends with logical.

Here is a response I received last week to one of my ads: 

“Happy Sunday! I’m just writing to tell you the photos in your ad got me so pumped to move to town! I think your place is too far from my work, but you got me all fired up! Haha. So thank you!

Have a good one,


Let’s get to the mechanics of how to do it.


Because the emotional side is really in charge and it works a lot faster than the logical, we need to focus on the emotional when making our ads. And the most important thing is to have a really good front page photo to get the emotional brain excited. I like to use really nice photos of the house with no clutter and lots of open space like you see in the magazines. People are naturally drawn to these photos. I also include pictures of hiking trails nearby, the beach and the farmer’s market. Get to their emotions. Only after people are drawn in by photos do they tend to read the tagline.


The emotional side of our brain has no capacity for language. True story. Ever try to describe love, hate or even hunger to someone? You can understand it and tap into the emotion, but you can’t really describe it with words because the side of the brain that feels doesn’t understand words. But we have to use language to write an ad. So how do we overcome this dilemma?

In order to use words and still trigger the emotional brain, you have to write from an emotional standpoint. I use words in the tagline like, “Friendly, Awesome Location, Beautiful, Clean” to trigger emotions that everyone likes. They can already see from the pictures that the house is all of these things. And they are typically only reading the tagline because they liked what was in the photo. Your entire ad needs to continue the theme you’ve created because that’s what attracted them in the first place. 


The body of the ad needs to fit the tagline and picture. It needs to have a theme that talks to the person you want as a tenant. If you say “friendly” in the tagline, you need to talk about more about the people living there. If location is what brings them in, then you need to talk emotionally about the location: “Cozy home tucked in the redwoods, just a few miles from the beach for endless fun.” Have pictures of the redwoods, beach, hiking trails and maybe a fire pit. That will get to their emotional side going.

Now that we have the emotional side covered and they are excited, then you switch to the logical side. The last thing I use in my ads is a description of the property, like bedrooms, square footage and amenities. Everyone wants to know these things, but it’s best to get to them after they are convinced they want to live in your property.

If you can do this right, you will significantly increase the demand for your property.

Related: Looking to Advertise Real Estate Effectively? Stop Being Like Everyone Else. Be Different!

To Sum it Up

Great Pictures

  • People are drawn to pictures because our emotional brain, which makes 90% of our decisions, works 200,000,000 times faster than the logical brain. Get their attention with something pretty.
  • Use photos of the area, not just the house, i.e. nearby parks, beaches, forests, museums, farmer’s markets, views etc. Give their emotional brain some candy to chew on.

Emotional Tagline

  • The tagline has to support the front page photo because they were attracted to the photo first. Use feeling words to describe what they see in the photos.

Emotional Info

  • The beginning of the body of your ad should continue the theme of the photo and tagline. Use emotional words to describe the other pictures and why they should rent your property. Let them see it so they can feel it.

Logical Info

  • Once you have them hooked emotionally, then you tell them about the actual features of the home. A lot of times people will compromise on little things because they are excited about your property.

Extra Tips

Create several ads that target different themes and have different first photos. I do one about the house and one about the area, and I receive a lot more applicants. If it’s Craigslist, then renew them on different days to keep top of mind.

What tips would you add to my list? What advertising tactics have gotten your properties rented out fast?

Leave your comments, and let’s talk!

About Author

Brett Lee

Brett Lee is a licensed Real Estate Broker in Portland Oregon where he helps people achieve a better future so they can do the things that truly make them happy. Brett is also a buy-and-hold investor, property manager and investment advisor.


  1. Michelle Moore

    I also find that the first word of an ad should be an adjective like spacious, attractive, nice, affordable, etc. It is amazing how I get many more responses from these ads than one that says “3 Bedroom House”. Which one would you rather live in: “attractive 2 bedroom” or “2 bedroom house”?

    Great idea to ad pictures of the community to the ads! I had not considered that. We have only used pictures of the house.

  2. Tyson Cox

    Great article. It is nice to have an ordered plan of attack for ads. I notice that I do most of these things already, but they are not always consistent. I love the idea of varying the style of ad to get more applications. Thanks.

  3. Al Williamson

    Brett, I love reading about how the brain works and I have done quite a bit of reading. You post is the clearest piece I’ve read! Either you’re brilliant or you put a lot of work into this post. Either way, I appreciate it.

    Amen to everything you said.

    Let me add something about photos. Photo shop is a must to show smaller rooms. You really need to merge several photos together to create a compelling picture.

  4. Dawn A.

    I have noticed that if I put red in the pictures, that they draw the eye and I seem to get more responses to my ads. So I put red curtains up, or a vase of red flowers, or red towels, or a red shower curtain. Red is my new color for rental ads!

  5. I have an interior designer renting one of my units. When she responded to my ad, I asked her what it was about the ad that caught her attention. Her response: the in-unit washer and dryer that I posted in the tagline and showed in the first photos (she could see that they were full-size and not mini in the photos).

    She painted and decorated the apartment beautifully with new modern furniture, 4 post beds, curtains, rods, couches w/pillows, sleek tables etc., so I took photos of everything! When she’s ready to move out and I have a feeling that won’t be for a couple more years, I will use the photos of her apartment and those same photos for the other units that are the same footprint, because anyone looking at them will say, “I want to live here!”

  6. Ayodeji Kuponiyi

    Mind blowing but surprisingly obvious. Like Al, I enjoyed reading/learning how the brain works because in this business it’s all about emotions and understanding them and using that knowledge for win-win as oppose for greed. I’ve contemplated using a professional photographer to take pictures of my property for future ads on Craigslist and others. Using things surrounding the house is also a great and effective tool. My duplex has an annual farmer’s market that attracts crowds as well a near by a historical tree in a big park. Showing this in pictures as oppose to just words would drive traffic and raise my chances of picking out solid tenants as oppose to a handful. Thanks Brett!

  7. Andrey Y.

    Great article. Where did you get the 17% and 83% bit? Percent of what? There are tons of areas in the brain allocated to neither “logical” or “emotional” processes. Curious where you came up with that statistic. Irks me a bit when medical inaccuracies get thrown around like candy.

  8. Jerry W.

    Great article. I have a very run down house on a property in an OK neighborhood but it has great work shops. I made sure to be very honest in my adds about the poor condition of the house but I failed to talk about the parts that a handy man would love. I will work on that. thank you for the advice.

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