Craigslist Ad Dos and Don’ts

Blog Header that reads "Making the most of Craigslist"- Craigslist Ad


A Craigslist ad is one of the most valuable marketing tools available to rental property owners–particularly because it’s free (aside from brokered apartment rental listings in NYC). Craigslist provides a platform for free advertising and is one of the most popular databases for prospective tenants. Maximizing the value of your property’s ad can attract more potential tenants, and save over time in advertising costs (vacancy equals loss of income). Surprisingly though, there are still quite a few rather ineffective and spammy ads lingering in the Craigslist space. I’ve gathered insights from a few industry experts to define exactly what it is that makes a winning or losing Craigslist ad. Sounds simple enough, but what do the experts say?


Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance, suggests a “creative and descriptive header” is the most important element of an effective ad. He says, “If you write ‘great amenities,’ that’s unclear. Instead, include one or two specific amenities the property offers. This will grab attention and resonate with people who are attracted to those amenities.” It’s also frowned upon to title a listing in ALL CAPS, or with lots of explanation points!!! Don’t YELL at your prospective tenant. Instead, write a clear and concise description that draws them into the ad. Once they’re there, the following elements will encourage them to take the next step and inquire.


A Craigslist ad is essentially copywriting, right? Writing an organized, precise ad will boost your credibility as a property owner, and will be more intriguing. Be detailed so most of the prospect’s questions are answered before inquiring. This stirs interest and ensures your property meets the prospect’s needs before contacting you–saving you both time and energy. List the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, in-house amenities (a washer and dryer, for instance), and anything unique the property may boast–including aesthetic details. Also, list on-site luxuries. Is there a pool? A vegetable garden? Tell ‘em about it. Be sure financial details are clear, and if you’re willing to negotiate rent, that’s a huge selling point. Another detail often left unmentioned in rental ads are community or neighborhood benefits. Schrage elaborates, “Sell the street and the neighborhood. Tell them about nearby parks, shopping centers, and freeway access.”


Craigslist offers a query including only listings with photos. Why risk not showing up in results? Provide the prospect with actual images of the property–not of a sample unit. Show them what the bathroom, bedroom, and living areas look like. If there’s a balcony, terrace, or yard, provide an image. Jacob Young, Online Reputation Specialist and founder of Hidden Sky goes on,

“Put yourself in their shoes. The renter is looking for a place to call home. What does it look like in spring and winter? What will their images look like when they send them home for the holidays?”

Some property managers go the extra yard and add additional multimedia, including links to external photo albums, while others include video tours or even microsites dedicated to a specific rental home. Providing a photo or video tour may seal the deal before even seeing the property in person.


There’s an unfortunate trend in the Craigslist world often used by leasing agents and big apartment communities posting repetitive ads with ALL CAPS titles, shouting promotions (ONE MONTH FREE or FREE FLATSCREEN!!), and including the same graphic or image–none of which are of available rentals. Instead, these spam ads serve as a broad advertisement, and though they may entice some people to inquire, often turn others away. These ads are regularly infiltrated with keywords and phrases that renters may search for–many of which do not actually apply to the available properties. Ads for new properties often use words like “historic,” “charming,” and “antique” which are generally not applicable. 


Writing vague, incomplete, inconcise, and generic ads is a waste of time. People searching for a new place to live are seeking enough detail to coerce them to contact the rental owner. Without detail, there’s no incentive. Being vague with adjectives can leave lingering questions that may paint an unattractive picture for your potential tenant. Furthermore, without the inclusion of photos, viewers have no real idea what the property is like. Milo Shapiro, President of IMPROVentures, who also happens to be a rental property manager, shares an example, “I’ve seen ‘photo upon request,’ which makes one seem like a lazy landlord.” Shapiro points out another avoidable mistake that listers sometimes make. “I’ve seen spelling and grammar errors galore that make it look like the person may not know enough to contract properly either.”


Because prospective tenants will be making your rental their home if they agree to your terms and sign a lease, it’s important to allow reasonable freedom within the property. Having too many rules is a major turn-off for renters. Schrage provides one example that I actually remember reading a couple years back when its absurdity leaked into the Web.

“One had a list of additional rules and conditions so long it would make your head spin. Among others, your bed had to be made each morning, and this was after mandatory “wake-up” at 5:30 a.m., when all the lights would automatically be turned on since the building would be operated by someone else. No alcohol or tobacco allowed, and unannounced inspections could occur at any time. And as far I know, the ad was legit.”

The bottom line when using Craigslist as a marketing tool is to actually capitalize on its platform and the subsequent exposure. Free tools are highly valuable to property owners and can alleviate the need for formal advertising. Create a real ad based on a real property. And, within that ad, keep it clean, concise, informative, and appealing. Moreso, take the time to edit your ad and sound like the credible property owner you are. As Schrage suggests, sell the space from a holistic perspective. Beyond the actual property, what else is appealing about the area? If you have braggin’ rights, use them! Include photos that truly display a property’s character. And, if possible, create additional multimedia that viewers will find encouraging and meaningful. After all, the difference between a winning and losing ad is occupancy versus vacancy.  


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