Dear PoPville – Craigslist Apartment Search Headache

Photo by PoPville flickr user Rich Renomeron

“Dear PoPville,

Can anyone explain the demise of craigslist as a good source for apartment rental listings? Over the years, I have found great apartments in places like Brooklyn and Albany, but now, having recently returned to D.C., I have been foiled. So far I have found hundreds and hundreds of fake, inappropriate, or overly commercial listings, but very few legit, owner-posted ads. I am spending hours flagging posts instead of inquiring about potential new places to call home.

Is this just a bad time to be looking for an apartment in D.C.? I am well aware of the recent real estate boom that has caused what I consider to be false inflation of prices, but I figured that there are always options, no matter what the market. Also, full disclosure: I am on a tight budget, so perhaps there are real listings for those who have more money throw at rent.

Are there any other listing services that have replaced craigslist? Or are folks just able to rent their apartments so quickly that there’s no need to advertise? I am completely blindsided!

Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.”

48 Comment

  • i feel for you on this. i found my current apt in April via zillow and had a good experience using that for listings.

  • I’m not sure about other options if you’re looking to rent in a smaller building (like a rowhouse), but when I was apartment hunting about a year and a half ago, I mostly browsed large management companies’ websites (WC Smith, Borger, Bernstein, etc.) and also walked around the neighborhood and stopped in at the leasing offices in larger buildings (many of them managed by the companies I just mentioned). Their listings sometimes show up on CraigsList, but not always. For what it’s worth, I was looking in the $1300-$1500 range–no doubt people have differing opinions on what constitutes a “tight” budget. One thing I did find was that in many cases the actual prices of vacant apartments were $100-$300 higher than what management companies listed on their websites as the “starting at…” price–so take their info with a grain of salt. However having previously apartment-hunted in Manhattan and Brooklyn over the years (I’m about to date myself, but…using the Village Voice classifieds!), despite DC’s crazy prices, I did really appreciate that you can deal directly with management and avoid all of the broker fee BS that’s common in New York. When I was doing my walkabouts, I also occasionally saw “for rent” signs out front of smaller, owner-occupied buildings, so while that’s more labor-intensive than searching on CL, it could also yield some leads.

  • I think it’s the nature of the housing market. If you know anyone here that belongs to neighborhood listservs in areas you want to consider living in then have them post something for you regarding your budget and timeframe to see if someone in the area has something coming available. I see these from time to time on both professional and neighborhood listservs. Good luck!

  • Craigslist is fine. Your complaint does seem to be more about the actual rental prices, which I get, but I don’t think going off craigslist will help much. That said look up the websites for the big apartment managers that focus on class B. I can only think of a couple off the top of my head but some internet sleuthing will help.

  • I hear you. I recently went through this process and found it really exhausting. Thankfully, I did come across quite a few decent posts, after hours upon hours and weeks of searching. Signing a lease on Thursday for my new place, that I found on Craigslist, from an independent property owner. There is hope, you just have to commit time to weed through it. I also used NestDC and Urban Igloo which were helpful at times.

  • Every time I have needed to find a new tenant I posted on craigslist. I’m not aware of a switch to a different listserv, and I found my most recent tenant about 6 months ago from CL. I will say I have noticed a lot of scam-type ads or ads from apartment buildings rather than private owners (even in the “rooms/share” section which is where I post, since technically the apartment is part of my house).

    Have you tried searching different sections (i.e. rooms/shared instead of apartments)?

  • The quality of people willing to have casual sex has also drastically decreased. It’s sad.

  • found mine on zillow….craigslist is the ‘default’ search people use, not everyone uses zillow so your odds of being the first one in the door increase.

  • ledroittiger

    Use Padmapper. Also has a great compatible mobile app on iOS for hunting on the move.

  • What’s the price range and how far from a metro are you willing to walk? If you can’t reconcile those two then you’ll have a hard time finding a place. Craigslist is our go to for advertising our rental.

  • “I am well aware of the recent real estate boom that has caused what I consider to be false inflation of prices, but I figured that there are always options, no matter what the market.”

    Rental housing in DC costs what the market will bear. If it’s too expensive, you need to try living farther away.

  • I found several of my first apartments on Craigslist by posting about myself in the housing wanted section. Sometimes a landlord will have a vacant place and want to control who applies for it. Equal housing opportunity issues aside, I think it makes sense to many of them, especially if it’s a rental suite in their townhouse or rowhouse and they live above/below.

  • Hi

  • +1 to the advice from Bmoredc. Most larger management companies do not advertise on Craigslist. Browse their website and call the leasing office for buildings in your target neighborhood and price range. Do not email, pick up the phone and call. Generally they get 30 days notice of vacancies, so if you call around the first of the month (like, call today!) they will know their vacancies for the following month. This is how I found my place because scrolling through Craigslist was such a pain in the butt. I live in a Bernstein and I highly recommend them, but also check out Borger, WC Smith, Fred A Smith, Yarmouth, Chatel, and Urban Investment Partners. Also walk around your target neighborhoods looking for “for rent” signs. Many individual landlords won’t list their place on CL because they don’t want to deal with 100s of inquiry emails. Also check CL all the time, as in a few times per day because the legit, cheap apartments go really fast. Good luck!

    • I second the rec on Bernstein. No complaints about them so far, although granted, I had many years of tiny places with shoddy-to-nonexistent building management in New York, so maybe I have low standards as a result. I think it’s not so much that there are no decent listings on Craigslist, just that they’re overwhemled by a TON of crap, so sometimes it takes a lot of effort to separate the wheat from the chaff (similar to many people’s experiences with online dating, now that I think about it).

  • @3:12 I’m not sure that was condescending enough. Could ya slather on a little more smugness?

    • Condescending AND not necessarily true on the “market” bit, as there are rent-controlled units that are not necessarily priced at full market rate. Granted, that doesn’t mean they’ll be renting at a huge discount, the way old-school rent control in, say, New York worked, but point is, there *are* some less-inflated rentals out there.

  • I totally feel your pain. My 1-Bdr (Capitol Hill) condo was rented for $1,950 (my asking price was $1,800) to the first person that came to see it (their credit and references checked out of course) a couple of months ago. Basically, my ad went up on all real estate listings (Craigslist, Zillow, and etc.) Friday night and the first individual came in Saturday morning to see the property. Lease was signed early on Sunday. It really all depends on how quickly you respond to the ads and using a real estate agent is not a bad idea. If you love it and the price is right don’t hesitate. I would recommend putting fillers out there with local real estate agents that have rental properties. Sometimes they have listings that don’t even advertise, because they already know someone that’s looking. If your budget is lower than 1.7-1.8K for a nice 1-Bdr in a decent area, I would recommend looking in the “up and coming neighborhoods” or going across the river to Rosslyn and Crystal City….(Ballston/Clarendon are too damn expensive already) or renting from someone temporarily and waiting until the summer moves are done. Late spring and summer are tough in DC due to military and college moves.

  • Sounds like your issue has less to do with Craig’s List and more to do with sticker shock of DC. Try searching for group houses instead of apartments, the rent tends to be much cheaper.

  • I know, it’s a pain. Where do people go to find easy quick on-order nsa these days?

  • Like another commenter asked- What’s your definition of a tight budget? If you’re not being realistic then it’s not Craigslist that is the problem.

    And are you looking for a 1 bedroom apartment or a shared living situation? You really need to disclose more details about your search so we can help out.

  • I’ll add a recommendation for Keener Management to the list of bigger management companies to look at. We’ve had a great experience in one of their buildings. I’ll also just say that when I’ve been looking, I’ve had an easier time finding something in a bigger building since there are more units, so you’re not competing with 100 people for one apartment. I’ve also really enjoyed some of the benefits of living in a managed building – 24-hour maintenance and someone to receive packages, to name just a couple.

  • I could see how someone not familiar with DC might not realize a listing is a scam until it’s too late. Every time that I’ve looked, I could spot the scammers from a mile away so I’d just flag or keep moving along, but I always thought they were pretty obvious. The tell-tale signs: flowery language, generic looking pictures, and a price that seems too good to be true. You’re not going to find a newly renovated, 1 bedroom apartment for $1k/month near Dupont Circle, you’re just not.

  • PadMapper.

    Also- our group home is listing an apartment on Craigslist right now that has been flagged for removal, but it’s legit. I think it may be because the listing is quite low ($675), but that is mostly because our landlord has kept the same price for the house for several years, and the room doesn’t have a “traditional” door (just a curtain, but you can open the closet door onto the area of the curtain). Either way, apparently because it’s a low price, it isn’t considered a legitimate listing. Hmm.

  • Seems to me that with some really basic skills of how to filter and not click on the scams, Craigslist is as good a way to find a place as ever. I have found it most helpful for finding group living situations, not so much studios or apartments to rent. Perhaps you also need to adjust your budget or expectations.

  • I experienced the same thing this past winter…lots of fraudulent ads…but there are also plenty of legit ones as well…the scam ones just make the process harder…I did finally find my current apt. on CL…also, the good ones go very fast in DC…

  • justinbc

    It’s most likely your budget. We’re currently renting out one of our houses now and just about everything I looked at in the comparable range seemed pretty legit. If it was fake then you couldn’t easily discern it via the listing.

  • Another good suggestion – if you know the neighborhoods you’re interested in – is to get on a bike and ride around. I’ve found plenty of rental signs in front of apartment buildings and private homes. Just bring a pad and pen to write everything down. You’ll cover a lot more ground on a bike than merely walking around. And some of those sign-only rentals are dirt cheap!

  • I went through an apartment hunt recently and I did find that below certain prices there just weren’t legit offers. A lot of management companies will post listings at $1,600 a month or something and then when you follow up there’s “no longer any units at that price, but we do have one at $2,000.” I encountered this a lot.

  • I think Craigslist is useful, but I think the issue of scams you are identifying has to do with your tight budget. Scammers are going to be more successful with people who don’t know the market and are looking for a great deal so they may not think things through as much as others would. I haven’t looked for a one bedroom in a couple of years so I can’t give you the exact dollar figure, but there is a price out there were you should just assuming every ad under that price is a scam.

  • The really good apts. don’t go on CL anymore because the tenants moving out will have friends ready to move in, or other word-of-mouth, listserve etc. situations. Last time I had an apt. open I queried PoPville about how much rent I should charge and had 2 people respond in the comments with their emails. I rented to the first one I talked to. But you can also help your chances by posting your own ad on CL under “housing wanted.” Landlords who do need to find a new tenant are also eager to avoid the hassle & potential scams.

  • I am a landlord in Capitol Hill and I post exclusively on Craig’s List. However, the last time I learned that I need to take down the ad quickly. Almost always I wind up renting to one of the first five people who responds so I’m learning to take down my ads more and more quickly. The ads that stay up longer must be the bad deals and/or scams so if you want to get the legit and good deals you need to reload the page frequently.

  • I just found my new apartment on Craigslist and the one I am moving out of is already listed on it. I didn’t come a cross a single fake or weird listing from the probably 100 I looked at. I think this is more a single users experience. A few years ago found an apt through a realtor which worked fine, but Craigslist is still THE place to find an apt.

  • Let me second the recommendation of Keener Management – I lived in one of their buildings for my first 2 years in DC and was really pleased with everything (except the rent increase, which is why I moved).

    I found my latest place on Craigslist – I consider myself very lucky, because I know such a great place probably would’ve gone very, very quickly.

    I have friends looking right now for a 4 bedroom under $4200ish in walking or reasonable metro/bus distance from Georgetown Law, and they are having real difficulties – Craigslist is not that helpful for them. I understand your plight.

  • DC doesn’t have a clue how to use craigslist compared to a lot of cities.

  • Something else to keep in mind – summer is the busiest time of the year for the DC rental market, and that means that while there are more vacancies, there is also a lot more competition for those apartments, and landlords take advantage of this by raising how much they ask for in rent.
    The last time I looked for an apartment I set up an RSS feed through Google Reader (RIP) that would pull out Craigslist ads that met certain criteria I was looking for – so I would see them the instant they were posted and avoid constantly refreshing and sorting through the list of ads (my pet peeve at the time were the apartment complexes that would advertise as being in DC, but were actually in VA or MD).
    Good luck! It’s sad to say, but if you’re on a tight budget you may want to look into cheaper options in the suburbs until you have the time and means to find the kind of place you’re looking for in the city. I lived in an apt by the train tracks in Silver Spring my first year after grad school, so if that’s all that your budget allows for, there’s nothing wrong with that!

  • Sorry to say this, but you’re not looking at a realistic rent for DC. If you’re running into nothing but scams, then you’re looking for an apartment that doesn’t exist. Either expand your search to include edgier or more distant neighborhoods (Trinidad, Fort Totten, Virginia), or try to find a roommate situation. The apartment that you want–I’m guessing close to metro, relatively safe, and under $1500 a month–may have existed five years ago, but it doesn’t now, unless you manage to snag an under-market apartment through a departing tenant.

  • As a landlord, I have the opposite complaint. We have a legit listing and people e ail over and over again about it it never follow through with making a time to see the place or don’t read the listing and don’t realize what th place has/doesn’t have (our listings are always pretty specific).
    So, it works both ways!

    • justinbc

      Totally agreed on this one.

      • DC CapHill

        I have noticed that as well, as a fellow DC renter that’s gone head-to-head with people over the past 11 years, and won more times than not for taking an extra 2 seconds to actually be thoughtful, and follow up on a listing. Responding to 50 different ads doesn’t mean you are going to get even 25 replies. And if you aren’t the least bit human, i.e. have some kind of personality, an individual renter isn’t looking for the next Dexter to occupy their unit.

        It never ceases to amaze me in DC, the average level of education and IQ score, coupled with ZERO SOCIAL SKILLS.

  • randomduck

    “One thing I did find was that in many cases the actual prices of vacant apartments were $100-$300 higher than what management companies listed on their websites as the “starting at…” price–so take their info with a grain of salt.”

    Isn’t that basic bait-and-switch advertising? In retail circles, that’s illegal, and in any case, that’s unethical.

  • One small Craigslist tip I’ve found weeds out a lot of scams: search using a realistic price minimum. If your max price is $1,000, search between $800 and $1,000, not everything below 1K. Yes, you’ll need to stalk the listings for a few days to get a sense of what rent goes for in a particular neighborhood (and make sure you’re searching in areas that match your budget), but it helps knock out listings that are too good to be true.

  • You could also try I’ve had a great experience from them. They’re a mid-sized company that only works in DC.

  • FAS was a very “interesting” experience. You will certainly get what you pay for as far as pricing. Upon finding a place, you will be required to place a deposit on an apartment several days before you even see the lease. No lease terms are negotiable. My resident manager was great, but that person and the overall management are very disconnected. Also, be sure to get renters insurance, there will be no consideration by the managment for issues outside of your control. Wouldn’t rent w/ FAS again

  • I second what everyone is saying about summer in DC – this is school/military/intern/fellowship season, so the competition for places goes up. Craigslist, especially when coupled with Padmapper, is still a great resource to use. I would also reach out to your network of friends and coworkers, and on FB as well – I found my new roommate because she dates a friend of mine, and I never even had to put the room I’m renting up on Craigslist.

    If it’s an apartment you’re looking at, don’t just check out the neighborhood, actually talk to the neighbors and see what they have to say about living there.

  • Don’t bother with Craigslist if you’re looking for an apartment building (as opposed to a basement unit in a rowhouse, or a sublease). Walk around the neighborhoods you like and visit leasing offices, or write down the numbers and call them if the leasing offices are only open during your work hours. Apartments that are a good deal (read: rent controlled, lower pricing than the so-called ‘luxury’ buildings with tiny rooftop pools and shoddy construction) don’t have to do much advertising to rent out their vacant units. I would definitely suggest doing the legwork on this one.

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