How to Find an Awesome Rental on Craigslist
Finding a decent rental can be a minefield of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. As an expat in L.A., I know all too well the challenges renters face in tracking down a pretty property that’s close to a grocery store and great restaurants, isn’t run down, has a trustworthy landlord, is located in a safe neighborhood, and that doesn’t cost you more than 30% of your gross monthly income—because most of us are seriously overspending on rent. Craigslist is a great place to find one; it's also where I buy all my affordable furniture and where we found our magical Los Angeles apartment. You just need to learn how to navigate the clutter. Scroll down for a few of our best tips for finding the rental of your dreams on Craigslist.
Just as you would when looking for a car or tracking down the perfect pair of heels, discovering the right rental requires research, and your starting point should always be the area you want to live in. It's important that you know the region well, including the surrounding neighborhoods and boroughs. When you know your ideal location, be sure to write down the areas it borders. This is important, because some sneaky Craigslist listings might say it's in one area but really it's right on the edge and more in a neighborhood you don't want to be in. To find out if a place is worth visiting, we suggest using the CribQ mobile app. It collects all the Craigslist data and maps it for you; you can even use one of their handy templates to send an email off to the owner. This is great for when you're out on the road and away from a desktop computer, but we don't recommend sending template emails often, as they aren't very personal. We explain this concept in more detail further down.
This is where you write down everything you want from your dream rental. Do you want an apartment, condo, single family, or multifamily unit or townhouse? Then think about the neighborhood, price range, the nearby restaurants, shops and grocery stores, public transport, what's the commute to work like, can you have pets, and do you want a small courtyard? Use all of these to refine your Craiglist search. One tip is to include any possible spelling errors for lucrative neighborhoods, such as "Beverley Hills" or "Manhatan" and "Williamsburgh." These are the little-hidden treasures that no one has found yet because they don't come up in the proper search. If you're still finding too many irrelevant listings, it's time for an advanced search. Use hyphens to exclude keywords; for example, if you type in "Brooklyn-apartment", it will exclude all the Brooklyn apartments. Use the pipe key to do a quick OR search. For example, "Townhouse | condo" will return every result with townhouse OR condo in the title (or both).
Craiglist is a wonderful place, but it's also a scary place if you don't know how to protect yourself. There are a few simple things you can do. Once you know the email address of the agency or landlord, Google it or go one step further and type it into the search bar in Facebook. This can give you some insight into whether they're someone you want to do business with or not. Look the person's name up and see if there are any bad reviews regarding this apartment or person. Don't wire them money until you've met them in person, either at the house, or in a public place where there are security cameras. And never, under any circumstances, send your credit report to someone, especially through a website you don't know or trust. It could be a third party or phishing site that is trying to rip you off. If it's a reputable rental agency, they should be able to organize a credit report themselves, as long as you give authorization. For more information on free credit reports, visit the Federal Trade Commission. This article has a few more warning signs to look out for when conducting a Craigslist rental search.
Now that you're wised up on potential scammers, it's time to learn how to respond quickly, and effectively so you get in first when your dream home comes up. Speed isn't the only thing you need to do well, though, you also need to write a convincing email that isn't just a generic template. If you really want the landlord to choose you over the hundreds of applicants they get daily, then you need to prove you're "the one." How? Simple, treat your first email response like a résumé. Since you'll be applying for a few different apartments, it can be time-consuming writing individual emails each time, so create a template with all the basics that you can tailor each time, just like you would a résumé. Use funny quips and interesting facts about yourself and or your family. Just as in sales or PR pitches, the receiver can smell a generic email from a mile away, and it stinks.
If you really want this place, then impress your landlord with something unique about you and a compelling reason why you really want it. When my husband and I found a place in Silver Lake, I attached a photo of our family and wrote a detailed letter about how much our family would love to live there, what it would mean to our son to have a safe, close-knit community of long-term renters nearby, and to be five minutes from a great school that’s in walking distance. We were new to the country, so we didn’t have credit, but we also didn’t have bad credit, which we worked in our favor. We offered to pay a second month's deposit as added security of our goodwill. But when my husband arrived first at the opening and they read out letter, they were so convinced by the genuine approach that they didn’t want the second month’s rent. They trusted us. It was the beginning of a beautiful landlord-tenant relationship. The Bold Italic has some great dos and don'ts of applying for rooms on Craigslist from someone who lists them.
Even if you've done all the research and feel like this person is legitimate, it pays to protect your personal information at all times. Set up an email address that you use solely for online rental applications. This means the random people you contact won't be able to use that email in Google to find out information on you. You can't trust anyone. Just like we told you to Google them, they are definitely going to do the same to you. So make sure they can't. The last thing you want is them being able to track you down at work or write negative things about you online that can be traced back to your name. Secondly, make sure your social media is airtight. Go into your Facebook settings and make sure it's not set to "public," and this goes for Instagram too. You should probably make sure your other accounts don't have anything derogatory or revealing either.
Sometimes you see a great place with a list of all the amazing features you could possibly want and it seems like a dream. Well, sorry to say, but in some cases, it probably is. Before you apply and start planning your move, make sure they've been completely truthful about what the place actually has. If it sounds like a good deal and there aren't many photos listed, always ask to see more. Request images of those features listed. If they question it or put you off, then it's very possible it doesn't exist or it doesn't look very good, which means they're obviously trying to hide something, and that's a warning sign.
Craigslist is chaotic and overwhelming at times, but hidden in among the thousands of listings could be the home you've always dreamed of renting. So be patient. The old adage rings true: Good things really do come to those that wait, and with Craigslist, this couldn't be truer. Take your time, one step at a time, and you'll find it; promise.
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