For a landlord, the most critical part of your job can also be the scariest: finding good tenants. No matter how much work you’ve put into finding or creating a perfect apartment, a terrible tenant can undo it all and cost you money to boot.
At the same time, it’s become increasingly common to find a large portion of your tenants, or even all of your tenants, online. This is largely due to the pure breadth and depth of the internet– why spend 2 hours posting flyers around your neighborhood when you can spend 20 minutes on a rental site that will forward your listing to dozens others? Craigslist made it both easy and normal to look for everything online– including where to live. Besides convenience, another benefit of finding renters online is that you will attract many more renters than you would by only using more traditional methods. This is because many people, especially under the age of 40, are likely to use the internet as their primary or even only source for apartment searching, and the internet doesn’t have the same geographical limitations as other forms of physical advertising.
The internet is awesome in these ways, but it can also be overwhelming in the options available to you. Ideally, you want to profit from the ease and convenience of finding renters online while filtering through the noise. That’s what this post can offer you: some tried-and-true tips for writing affective listings and finding some potential tenants to move on to the next stage of your screening process.
For an in-depth look at the many other ways you can advertise, check out our guide to writing rental listings!
Consider the Type of Website You Want
Before we continue, it is important to note that not all online listing sites are created equal. Some will be better than others depending on your needs. If you’re a new or casual landlord (aka it’s not your full-time job) then you’ll probably want to first focus on posting to sites with free or extremely cheap listings. Some well-known ones include Hotpads, Postlets, and of course, Craigslist. The downside to these types of websites is that the very qualities which make them convenient to use– they’re free, easy, and well-known– also means that your listing can get buried under mounds of others. To help prevent this, look at our guide for How to Write a Good Apartment Listing. Some also recommend posting listings daily or every other day to keep on top of the constant flow and make your listing more likely to be noticed.
If you still find that your listings are getting consistently skipped over, or if you decide to get more serious with your business, then consider looking at websites that charge to post. While you’ll be spending more money, these websites are more aggressive in their marketing tactics, and they may be the key to finding a perfect tenant. They know how to use search engine traffic to their benefit and can take advantage of paying for keywords. Fellow property owners and managers can point you to the ones they most recommend in your area.
Utilize Websites with Syndicated Listing
As mentioned above, one of the greatest benefits of finding renters online is that there are several websites you can use which take your listing and send it out to many sites, meaning less work for you overall. This is called listing syndication, and it’s used by websites like Rentalutions and Postlets. If you use one of these sites, your listing will get broader exposure. With that in mind, make sure you’re double and triple-checking your listings for accuracy and ensure it’s up-to-date. Additionally, you’ll want to go back and remove every listing (or request their removal) once you’ve found a tenant. You don’t want to be getting calls from people interested in the unit for months after it’s been rented!
Link Your Listing to Off-line Counterparts
You may decide to exclusively use the internet to find tenants, but consider the benefits to your online listings if you pair them with other methods of advertising. A small listing in a newspaper can include the most pertinent details of the property as well as the address of the property’s listing online. This encourages interested parties to look further. You can similarly include the web address in flyers and posters, where space for pictures may be limited. The web address will be most convenient if it’s short enough to seem easy to type into a web browser. Because of this, look for websites that have listings with short URL’s, like Craigslist. Look at a few of their current listings for examples before making your own.
Take Full Advantage of Online Space
The best way to use an online listing to your advantage is to post lots and lots of color pictures of the property you’re looking to rent. Not only are ads with pictures more likely to attract views and inquiries, but pictures can help highlight the greatest features of the unit while clarifying anything a potential tenant may be hesitant about. For example, you may mention in the ad that a home was built in the 1950’s. Rather than a tenant inquiring about the age and condition of the kitchen cabinets, a quick perusal through the photos of the kitchen you’ve provided can help answer their question. This helps save both you and potential tenants time because it can help minimize communication until the tenant looks promising.
Perhaps one of the best things about listing units online is that you can take advantage of the space afforded to you. In a newspaper ad, you’re limited to literally inches of space and you have to rely on a whole host of acronyms to get across the information you want. Even using word-of-mouth can be limiting according to the time you have to spend face-to-face– and it’s hard to control what gets said or promised about your rental if you’re not there as the information gets passed along. With an online ad, you control exactly what you want conveyed.
Medium-sized or large cities are very likely to have lots of neighborhood- and interest-specific online publications. An example of this would be websites dedicated to real estate in particular neighborhoods, like lincolnparkhomes.com for the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. Another would be student or military housing sites if there are any universities or bases in the area. Look around the neighborhood to find information about special sites and research them to find if you can target potential tenants. This may seem like flipping the advice listed above in that you’re focusing on very specific sites, but the idea is to give a little extra effort to focus in on people who are already interested in some aspect of the location. This can pay off big-time in the quality of applicant return even if you won’t expose your listing to as many people as with an ad on a major site.
Keep Track of Your Successes
No matter how you choose to advertise online, make sure and keep track of some statistics. Some good things to note about each listing would be:
Site of the initial posting,
Other sites it was posted to (either by you or as a result of a syndicated listing feature)
Number of inquiries because of posting (site-specific so you can know which sites work well and which are useless)
How many of these inquiries moved onto the second round as potential tenants (to get a sense of the quality of responses)
Keeping a spreadsheet of information like this can provide valuable feedback, even if you only have one rental. You’ll know for next time what worked to get the place rented and what didn’t.
But Some Things Should Always Be the Same
Finally, there are some sure-fire ways to ensure that you’re attracting high-quality applicants. These include:
Use proper spelling and grammar
Make the listing easy to read
Use only clear, flattering pictures
Never intentionally lie or mislead about any aspect of the rental
Promptly respond to all leads and requests for information. Not only will this make your own job easier, but it can help you give off a good first impression to a potential tenant.
Posting listings online can seem discouraging and overwhelming, but focusing your attention on making your job as easy as possible and using sites that really matter will help you keep organized and find a great tenant. And if you think finding tenants online is convenient, how would it be to take your whole business to the internet?