Rental Ads: From Sloppy to Savvy

by | Feb 13, 2017 | Tenant Screening

Did you know that rental ads can multitask? The same ad that alerts tenants to a vacancy also can attract the most qualified renters, and at the same time set the stage for a more successful tenancy. All it takes is a little savvy.

Consider the example of a recent ad for a unit near the University of Colorado Boulder, where a prime off-campus location can generate $4 a square foot. Very little info about the unit is provided, apart from “Available Now”, but the pictures — taken while trash from the previous tenant still was scattered across the carpet and bags lined the hallway — say it all. Clearly this landlord is confident about filling the vacancy, but what sort of tenant is going to respond to that ad? It’s probably no coincidence that this place is available in the middle of second semester. Perhaps this landlord simply has given up on finding good tenants.

In Denver, the rental market still sizzles, although an influx of new inventory is creating some competition. There, a more savvy landlord advertises a property with a 400-word narrative and professional quality photos that showcase a unit in prime condition. And, the landlord includes the all-important language, “Background and credit checks will be performed, previous landlord and employment history will be required.”

Clearly, this ad will attract qualified applicants. In fact, it would receive a blue ribbon if not for one mistake: the landlord requires deposits that are “half-refundable.” What does that even mean?

Another ad, from the Seattle area, displays the same photo three times, along with other photos tilted sideways, a signal to all that this landlord doesn’t know what they’re doing. Bad tenants may wonder if this landlord won’t run tenant background checks, either.

Fortunately, it’s easy to up your game when it comes to rental ads. Here are a few pointers that can take you from so-so to savvy:

1. Pay attention to the photos. One option is to call in a pro, but if that is not cost-effective, follow these pro tips:

Take photos during the day, and open up the shades. Good lighting equals good photos.
Wide angle, horizontal or landscape settings often are the best for inside rental units.
Point downwards slightly and aim about 7-10 feet out toward the path ahead — that looks natural.
Center the shots over the focal points in each room. Don’t shoot random spaces.
If you really want to go all-out, stage the space first with simple decor, preferably something colorful.

2. Don’t oversell the property. That can lead to disappointment. It’s far too easy for disgruntled tenants to ruin a landlord’s reputation by posting negative comments or reviews. Bad reviews spawn more bad tenants. Teasing a prospective into thinking an average property is a palace will set the stage for negative interactions later on. It’s better for everyone to have their feet on the ground. You know you are on the right track when you hear, “Oh, this is actually really cute,” or, “We can make that work,” rather than, “This doesn’t even look like the same apartment.” That’s not something you want plastered all over the Internet.

3. List your terms so that tenants can self-screen. Include the rent, size, location, length of lease, parking, pets or no, smoking or no, marijuana or no, along with the warning, “Tenant Background Check Required.” While it’s fine to list all fees, be mindful of the need to be crystal clear — a fee is never refundable, a deposit is never nonrefundable, and neither is “half-refundable” — and also avoid a long litany of separate charges. It may be better to increase the rent than to nickel and dime the tenants. The overall cost is the same, but the psychology is different.

4. Avoid superfluous language designed to get into the heads of your prospective applicants — no “perfect for roommates”, “seeking professionals”, or listing the bars nearby that are popular with twenty-somethings. Stick with proximity to grocery stores or public transportation.

Make your ads work for you, and you will reap the rewards, including better tenants and smoother tenancies year after year.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

Property management software for Canadian Condos.

Property Boss

Property management software for single family, multifamily, and student housing.


Screening services for property managers and landlords. Select a market below.