Craigslist can be a really great place to find an apartment to rent – in bigger cities it gets tons of listings, many of which never get posted anywhere else. Some are truly unique. If you know where to look and are quick to act, you can land an amazing deal.
The amazing apartment listings have a significant amount of garbage mixed in, though. PadMapper tries to get rid of duplicates, and it gets rid of a lot of bad ones just by requiring that a location be included, but some still make it through. Also, small landlords tend to be less predictable than big apartment companies.
These are some of the things you should watch for. And please always click the “Flag as Bad” link on their listing preview bubble when you encounter these.
If you email a place and they reply telling you that they’re out of the country for the moment, close the reply immediately, flag the listing as bad, and move on. This is never good. Scammers will generally list a place for less than market value to lure people into abandoning caution.
You should probably never rent a place sight-unseen anyway, even if it means crashing on someone’s couch for a week while you search. I moved to a completely new area recently by staying for a week on a couch (found using airbnb.com) while I searched for a place. I used PadMapper + PadMapper for iPhone to find an apartment to rent, and it all worked out beautifully.
Please, please, please flag scams so we can get rid of them quickly.
2. False Location Descriptions
Apartment listers are frequently OK with puffing up their apartment’s online resume a bit if it gets them more bites or higher rent. If it’s part of a seedy neighborhood called ‘Seedy Forest’, and it’s to the north of a nice neighborhood called ‘Awesome Creek’, they will often claim it’s in ‘North Awesome Creek’. Less frequently, they’ll claim it’s just part of Awesome Creek itself.
But while people will frequently embellish to get ahead, they will rarely outright lie. That’s why PadMapper won’t show any apartment unless it has a precise address.
If you’re looking directly on Craigslist, be wary of North/South/East/West Some-Good-Neighborhood. That’s frequently just another name for its less desirable neighbor.
3. The No-Fee Bait and Switch
In a highly competitive rental market like NYC, it’s common for brokers to post a place that looks really nice and has no fee that isn’t actually on the market. It may have been on the market at some point, or it may not exist. Either way, when you meet them, they’ll mention that they’d like to show you a different ‘much better’ place instead.
It will likely have a fee attached.
There are good brokers, but these are not them. Flag their listings to make the world a better place.
4. Deceiving Pictures
Good pictures will show a wide angle of things, with reasonably good coverage of what you’d expect to find in an apartment. If the poster took 2 closeups of sinks, that’s generally a bad sign…
5. Large, Non-Refundable Application Deposits and Non-Standard Leases
This one seems pretty rare, but it happened to yours truly in NYC.
Basically, two of my friends and I saw an ad on Craigslist for an apartment in an amazing area (SoHo) at a great price. We went to their rental office, saw the place, it looked fine, not amazing. The office seemed a bit seedy and their practices were eccentric, but I chalked it up to being a family operation. In order to apply, we had to put down $500 (non-refundable if we were approved but did not sign the lease, pretty standard). We were approved, and they gave us the lease to sign.
Every lease we’d seen in NYC thus far had been the same stock lease, but this one was different, so we decided we needed more time to read it. We told them that we were going to take the lease home with us to read it, and they initially tried to prevent us from leaving the building with the lease before signing it, but eventually relented, saying we needed to sign it extremely soon.
Upon getting home, we realized what a diabolical piece of legalese we held. The rent was supposed to be roughly $3600/month, but instead it was stated that it was really $7200/month with a $3600/month “concession”. If it was decided that we violated any terms of the lease during the term of the lease, the concession would be nullified retroactively, meaning we could be hit with $43,200 in additional rent at any time. We were not pleased.
Long story short, we didn’t sign the lease, and we lost the $500 to someone who seemed to be used to being sued. Don’t pay a huge deposit before seeing the lease.
That was kind of depressing…
Craigslist really is a wonderful source for finding a place to live, you just need to know what to look out for and be on your toes.
If anyone else has any tips, please share them in the comments section.