Hack Your Competition: Craigslist Apartment Rentals

Finding an apartment rental in any city is a pain. Step in to a major city and your problems are astronomically more difficult. If you have experience with the latter, chances are you’ve shown up to an open house only to find 15 techies all vying to seal the deal. They make more money in a month than you do in a year. Their credit score makes yours look like a decrepit bum with a heroin addiction.

You need to approach hunting for an apartment rental in a way that others aren’t. You need to be creative and, quite literally, treat it like hunting. Your focus cannot be the most desirable part of town, the cheapest rent, or the prettiest building. Your focus — your prey — is the person renting the apartment. When you exploit the latter, the former quickly falls in line.

The following 3 apartment rental tips helped me land amazing apartments in San Francisco (Lower Haight, 2013) and Sacramento (Midtown, 2015). At the time, both markets were extremely competitive and I was making $13 & $20 an hour, respectively. No one should have (logically) rented to me, but I ended up with great places to live and impressive value.

Rentals with No Photos

This may seem like a wild tip but take a moment to consider how you’ve been searching for apartments. In the digital age, we have become conditioned to expect photos for everything. You want to see your future digs before putting in the work to get it. I don’t blame you — everyone wants that.

When you find a Craigslist apartment rental that has no photos, you will encounter:

  • Less competition
  • Bargaining power (less people viewing, the greater your odds to negotiate a deal)
  • Quicker decisions

In my case, both landlords were older and simply did not know how to get photos from their phone to a computer. Additionally, I was offered both apartments upon first visit (pending a credit check, of course). Not because I was the only one applying, but because I played the part.

Play the Part

It takes roughly 1/10 of a second for someone to look at you and make a judgment. What’s worse, trustworthiness tops that list of lousy judgment. You must counter this fact.

When you show up for your apartment rental appointment you should be:

  • Dressed professionally
  • Tattoos covered
  • Stupid facial piercings removed
  • Well-manicured and not a junkie in nice clothes (even if that’s exactly what you are)

One of my first and most valuable business lessons came when I was a carpet cleaner in nice hotels across the Bay Area. I took forever to finish rooms in the beginning because I wanted them to be clean, as if I had to sleep in them. That is until my boss taught me a lesson — perception is everything.

When you clean carpets, you’re left with beautiful “V” shaped patterns in the carpet. Without fail, the carpet could be filthy (within reason) and the moment a hotel manager saw that pattern, they were thoroughly satisfied. They saw that pattern and perceived cleanliness. Needless to say, I got quicker at cleaning rooms.

Come Prepared

Remember, this is an apartment hunt. Your sole mission is to exploit human nature and unavoidable perceptions. This does not mean be unethical or a scumbag. It simply means it’s okay to bluff a little.

Bring these items with you to every single appointment in your apartment rental hunt:

  • Credit report — You’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. This won’t get you out of having to hand over $35 to the landlord for a credit check. Likewise, you are on your own if you have bad credit.
  • A pre-filled application — To be honest, these are less common if you’re dealing with someone who can’t upload photos. Call ahead of time and ask to be emailed a digital copy.
  • Checkbook — If you like the rental, pull out your checkbook and a pen at the end of the walkthrough. Look the landlord in the eyes and ask how much the deposit and first month’s rent are. The reaction you get is comical, yet insignificant. This bluff is merely an animalistic display of bravado that will assert your dominance, intent and trustworthiness. While you should be fully prepared to write the check, no sane landlord is going to rent to someone without proper vetting. But you already knew that, Beast.


Craigslist apartment rental hunting is cutthroat. You are battling a bunch of wolves for number one of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: shelter. At every step, you must identify what your competition is lacking and pounce on it. You must understand how humans think and make those perceptions work against them.

I write other stuff like this @ Nerdy Minutes.

Hack Your Competition: Craigslist Apartment Rentals was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Publication date: 
02/05/2018 - 16:07

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