One of my rentals is back on the market. Last time, it took me three months to find a tenant. That’s because I made a crucial error which cost me $2,700 in lost revenue.
You see, if I needed to rent a home, I’d check Craigslist. It’s the only place I’d search. I wouldn’t squint my eyes to read tiny, grainy black-and-white boxes in the Classified section of the newspaper. (Remember printed newspapers?)
My friends would do the same. We’re young and tech-savvy.
I’m so attached to my Internet-driven lifestyle that I carry my assumptions across borders. When I traveled through Australia for 10 months, my first two questions to my local hosts in Perth were “What’s your wireless password, and what’s the Aussie version of Craigslist?”
The answer: a website called Gumtree. I used the site to buy a car, camping gear, and a wetsuit. Then I used the website to find rideshare buddies who would split the cost of gas (or as it’s called there, “petrol,” which sounds more dignified.)
If Craigslist/Gumtree didn’t work out, I’d search eBay or Amazon or some other website. It would never occur to me to check newspaper ads.
My assumptions worked across international borders. But they failed to translate across the borders of Atlanta neighborhoods.
30 Minutes Apart. Worlds Away.
The tenants who live in my Midtown, Atlanta property — a “lifestyle” spot, walking distance to yoga studios, martini bars and dog parks — feel the same way. When I post an ad on Craigslist, my Inbox is overflowing within 30 minutes.
So when I bought a $21,000 house situated in a low-income neighborhood (duh, the houses sell for $21,000), I should have considered that my target tenant might not be as enamored with the digital age as I am.
But I didn’t. I thought about where I — Paula Pant — would search for houses. I didn’t think about where my target client would search for houses.
As a result, I spent months posting ad after ad on Craigslist. I’d get no response. I’d delete the ad, write a better one, and post it fresh. No response.
I doubled-down my digital efforts. I created a website displaying beautiful photos of the house. I linked the Craigslist ads to the website.
I created a “virtual video tour” of the house, uploaded it onto YouTube, and embedded the video on the website.
I posted “For Rent” ads on other websites: Zillow, Redfin, Trulia.
I lowered the rent by $100 a month, and repeated everything I described above.
No response. Not one single email.
At this point I was nearly tearing my hair out. Two months had passed by, and with it, $1,800 in potential rent had evaporated. This was becoming an expensive experiment.
I went to a landlord’s meetup (which I found online) and relayed my issue. The other landlords in the room, the ones with experience renting in that neighborhood, looked at me like I was an imbecile.
“Have you tried putting an ad in the newspaper?”
I doubted it would work, but I was willing to try anything. I contacted the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and asked about their Classified ad prices. It cost $50 to place an online ad and $175 to run a printed ad.
Being prone to frugality, I chose the online ad, a decision that was penny-wise and pound-foolish. Then I waited by a phone that never rang.
I had now entered the third month of vacancy. $2,700 in lost rent had slipped through my fingers. Time to bite the bullet.
I called the Atlanta Journal-Constitution again, dictated the ad over the phone, and paid $175 for a two-week print run.
Suddenly, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. I found the golden ticket. I found a tenant within two weeks.
That happened a year ago. The tenant is perfect: clean, quiet, pays rent on time. His job is requiring him to move. I’m happy that he got a promotion, but of course I’m sad to see him go.
This time, I placed an ad in the newspaper the moment he told me he was leaving. Just for old time’s sake, I also ran an ad on Craigslist. I figured I’d double-check my assumptions.
The experiment is simple: The Craigslist ad contains my email address. The newspaper ad contains my phone number. Guess how I’ve gotten contacted 100 percent of the time?
Moral of the story? Your personal preferences don’t matter. This ain’t about you. It’s about THEM — your target audience. Know what THEY read. Know what THEY care about. Know what they dream about, what frustrates them, and what motivates them.
Master that, and you might end up $2,700 richer.
Thanks to the Carnival of Personal Finance for featuring one of my posts.