CraigsList Cold War

by Daniel Cunningham on

I had a conversation the other day (at times a thinly-veiled argument) with a representative from an apartment listing publication which shall remain nameless, over the impact of Craigslist on the apartment publication industry.  She refused to acknowledge the quality and volume of renter prospect traffic that can be generated by a Craigslist ad and couldn’t even own her patently obvious disadvantage that the lease acquisition cost of Craigslist is zero and all other serious print/online pubs are, well, much more than that. I know she has to tow the party-line but at this point, if you’re an apartment print magazine claiming you’re as effective at driving traffic as Craigslist, especially when advertising costs are computed, then you’re losing serious credibility.

For many property owners/managers, Craigslist is the alpha and omega of critical marketing activities. Personally, I don’t have one community under Leonardo Management which couldn’t thrive strictly off leads generated by Craigslist ads. I understand that during a lease-up or asset repositioning, a wider shotgun approach is necessary to try to reign in as many leads as possible in the shortest amount of time, even if the lease acquisition cost is high.  For a stabilized community in a primary or secondary market, however, Craigslist is, without question, the “go-to”.

This isn’t to say that I fully understand this phenomenon.  How can a site with a notoriously terrible user interface, a sorry excuse for search filtering, which is peppered throughout with listings which are sometimes completely uninformative at best and sometimes downright enigmatic at worst, become the consumer choice over the slicker, more search-friendly apartment hunting sites such as ForRent.com, Apartments.com, etc.?  I understand that Craigslist is a great place to find a used fridge, but the overwhelming use for apartment hunting popularity is confounding – although I do have a theory, and it is that it is this: The very notion that Craigslist appears so unprofessional is what attracts consumers. The user’s belief is that there are deals to be had here – unsophisticated apartment owners and managers who just throw something up with rates below market and hope they get a phone call. Listings come like a ticker tape and if you’re fast on the draw you might snag yourself home sweet home at a bargain. So those first page listings are gold – they have the smell of fresh opportunity and get swarmed like piranha bait.

The problem is, we on the apartment management side all know this and we know that the name of the game is to have your listings appear on that first page whenever possible. And so we have managers furiously posting ads two, three, ten times per day so that the latest post can garner more traffic. Craigslist knows that we do this, and rightly feel it degrades the value of their listing service to have the same unit appear a million times a day and so they in turn are constantly introducing new defenses against this behavior. They scan for repetitive language, posts from matching emails or even IP addresses.  They have random phone call verification requirements and in extreme examples, they blacklist an entire company. In response, a cottage industry devoted to helping management companies skirt these defenses (for a fee) has sprouted up. “Secret” methods for fooling Craigslist are whispered around apartment networking groups like forbidden arcana.  Thus was born, the Craigslist version of the cold war.

Here’s the rub. The more successful we get at defeating Craigslist and flooding the poor folks with our listings, the less useful Craigslist will become to users. And the harder Craigslist becomes to post available units the more management companies will have to turn towards the old guard of apartment search sites. In other words, unless Craigslist completely retools their interface to solve this tension, a collapse seems imminent.

If I were the “other” sites out there I would be looking keenly at positioning myself to be the heir apparent in a post-Craigslist era. I’m not sure what the better mousetrap is, but I know it would be some combination of ease of use in order to achieve broad apartment owner penetration combined with ability to push the right apartment to the right person, likely through some combination of social networking and yelp-like tools. I am available to consult on an hourly basis.

In the meantime, your reward for reading this whole post is that I’m going to give you, the apartment owner, the most powerful and effective weapon ever invented to defeat the Craigslist defense shield. Properties where our own Craigslist posting efforts garnered us 8-10 calls per day have seen that volume double or even triple through this service (which validates the thesis that successful multiple postings are good as gold.) I hesitate to even share it, because I know that the more widely used it becomes, the more of Craigslist’s attention it will receive and eventually they will find a way to defeat it. But for now, go tohttp://www.rentlogicleads.com/  , sign up as quick as you can, send me a personal “thank you” once you’re up and running, and tell Gregg that he owes me one. That’s all I’m going to say about it. Happy posting and good hunting.

Leonardo Management, Inc., is a commercial property management firm servicing multifamily, office, and retail properties & portfolios throughout California, Arizona, and Nevada. The company utilizes a proprietary software application, Leonardo Intelligent Property Management Systems, which drives Leonardo’s unmatched property oversight. This approach, coupled with its award-winning leasing teamsand robust investor-reporting packages allow Leonardo to maximize each asset’s bottom line. Leonardo maintains offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

Visit www.leonardomgmt.com or keep pace on Twitter or our blog, LeoMgmtNews.

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