It happens that I occasionally write “for rent” ads. Whenever I do, I see poorly written ads. How can homeowners and landlords with thousands of dollars in rent at stake afford to advertise so poorly? For the second article in our “how to” series, I’m going to explain how to write a better Craigslist for rent ad.
DISCLAIMER: Actual Asheville, NC Craigslist ads will be examined in this article. If you wrote those ads, I’m probably going to make fun of you. But that’s not nearly as bad as still having a vacancy, is it?
Let’s look at a few ads from this past weekend. By Saturday evening, 45 for rent ads had been posted. With that many rentals competing, you want to have a well written ad.
In this list there are a lot of problems. It was hard to stop with the screen capture – there are that many problems. Each of these one line display ads have the same job: to get someone to click. Very few do that job well.
More evidence from the listings on Oct 10th and 11th:
- 11 uses of “nice”
- 3 of “charm”
- 15 listings that skipped a major field, like number of Br’s
- 6 “greats”
- 23 “!”
You can go look at the ads for yourself and see what I’m talking about firsthand – here’s the link to the Asheville Craigslist housing for rent section.
List of things NOT to do in a “For Rent” Ad:
- Use ALL CAPS. It’s hard to read and it’s considered the online equivalent of yelling. Ex: AVAILABLE FOR RENT IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!!
- Use the words cute, awesome, great, perfect, nice, amazing, or any related “generalist” adjectives. These are meaningless to the reader. Also “unfurnished.” Just tell me if it’s furnished. Otherwise, I assume it’s empty.
- Leave fields blank. Fill out all the blanks, or fields, when you create your ad.
- Put your phone number in the title field. Presumably, if I want to learn more about your listing, I’ll click it, and then you can tell me your phone number. But before then? Bad idea. It wastes the title space and makes you seem a little desperate.
- Discriminate against a protected class. How about this line from Saturday Oct 11th: “lookin for quiet single or couple.” Hello? If you thought this was different than saying no kids, you’re wrong.
- Skimp on the body text. Once I click, it’s ok for you to tell me about your rental. Stick to the facts, but use as many words as you need. Describe the terms, the location, the benefits, the parking, and anything else that might sell me on your place.
This is the anatomy of the Craigslist display ad, with the field names you are shown during the ad’s creation tagged in red. You don’t need to list bedrooms in the Title, for example, as long as you fill in the #BR: field.
List of things TO do in a “for rent” ad:
- Make good use of the title field! The job of the title is to get someone to click. Without that click, you have nothing.
- Tenants look first for a rent amount and then for a location. Make sure both are clear in your visible short listing.
- Use specifics. “Granite countertops” = good. “Walk to Biltmore village” = good. “Lots of charm” = bad. Be honest about your rentals and remember that the more detail you give, the more likely you’ll find a tenant who appreciates that property.
- Have pictures. They are free and you can have four. Many (smart) people will filter their searches to only listings with pictures.
- Have a benefit for the tenant. Describe it with words. A dishwasher is a feature. Free time from not hand washing plastic cups, now that is a benefit. Close to downtown is a feature. But being happy by participating in downtown cultural life, that is a benefit. Your benefits will always be the things a tenant gets by living in an apartment, but not anything that you, if you’re the landlord, could claim for depreciation.
- Answer the phone. State how you want to be contacted and, if you’re busy, at what times.
- In the body text, list all the features and terms. BBQ grill? Deck? Pet deposit? Parking? Bus stop? Schools? Nearby trails? Application? Deposit? There is more to your rental than you might think at first blush. Also repeat price, bedrooms, and location. EDIT: Since you have room in the body text, use whole phrases instead of the traditional classified shorthand. BR = bedroom, DW= dishwasher, etc.
If you have a particularly egregious example from Craigslist, an ad writing tip of your own, or a good rental house hunting story, please leave it in a comment.
– Clark Mackey, Sparkdog