About a year ago, my wife and I bought a house. It’s the house that we plan to spend the rest of our lives in, and when we saw it, we jumped on it. However, we were living in a condo that I had purchased before we married. In a story that will be familiar to many, the condo was not worth anywhere near what I owed on it, and we decided that the best financial move would be to find a tenant and lease out the condo. The goal was to make enough in rent to have the mortgage paid and possibly make a few dollars, and to avoid the credit hit from foreclosing.
(As you might have noticed by now, this will not be our normal storage related blog. We have lots of great information available about student storage and military storage elsewhere on the site. Today, however, is all about the Salvador Dali-style absurdity that is searching for a tenant on Craigslist.)
I knew that renting out my home was not going to be easy, but finding a renter and getting it all organized turned out to be a far more complex process than I had expected. I had to research a variety of things:
- What similar, local rentals were going for
- How much monthly rent would cover my mortgage, condo fees, insurance, maintenance costs, and a little padding to cover unexpected costs
- Local and state laws regarding rentals and deposits
- How to write a lease
- How to market an apartment
- Condo bylaws regarding rentals
It goes on and on.. Not surprisingly, the lease was the most time consuming task of those six. I’m a teacher and a writer, not a lawyer, so plowing through the legalese and wording things properly was not really my forte. I could make it sound nice, but that’s apparently not important in the world of real estate law.
Eventually, with the help of some friends and family and coworkers, I created a lease that, at least so far, has led to my receiving a rent check every month.
After doing some research and checking with friends who have leased their homes, I signed up with a company that runs credit checks, made up a simple little rental application, took pictures of my condo, wrote up a fancy blurb, posted it to craigslist, and waited for the qualified applicants to come calling.
This, not shockingly, brings me back to my original statement:
Because I was introduced to the wonderful world of Craigslist responders. Those who have tried to sell anything on Craigslist are laughing to themselves right now, I know. But, alas…
This is the title of my post:
$1000 / 2br – 1136 sq ft – Great condo! No rent increase for 5 years! Built-in TV!
The first response that came in said:
I will like to know monthly cost of rent an viewing days.
Aside from the fact that this is a horrible, horrible way to introduce yourself to someone who you might want to impress, even if you don’t know that person is an English teacher, the information this person asked for was literally the first word in the post.
This was not the dumbest question that I received. This was simply the first dumb question. The next response:
A breakup snuck up on me, and now I have only a few days to find alternate living arrangements.
I make decent money but the breakup was unexpected, so I’m looking for someone who would be willing to trade a really nice (almost new) furniture set for the first month of rent or whatever number of weeks we can negotiate (I paid $2,250 for it new last year).
The other option is I have a nice little 2000 VW Jetta that looks and runs great — blue book trade-in value $1,955. This is my older car I was in the process of selling anyway.
I do feel bad for this person. It would be hard to have to find a place to live on only a few days notice. But, last I checked, my mortgage company doesn’t take furniture or cars in payment. They insist on my using money. Greedy bastards, I know.
Now, I know that this prospective tenant was thinking that I could just sell the stuff and I’d have plenty of money to cover a month’s rent.
That’s true, but you know what else would work? They could sell it and then write me a check. Jim Gaffigan makes a similar point about birthday presents (the bit starts at about 42 seconds):
Don’t give me an errand. Sell your car, write me a check, and we’ll be good.
As a side note, this person sent me a link to pictures and I would have had to download a viewer to see them. This was either spam or a terrible idea. Either way, I did not respond.
The next response said simply:
That was all.
For some reason, I responded to this person, and she was unbelievably kind. She came to look at the condo and seemed to like it. She wanted to talk to her husband who was still back in their home town. Sounded great. We were getting along well and she asked what information I needed from her. So, I mentioned the application and the credit check.
And the conversation turned somewhat icy…
She told me that she owned another house but they weren’t selling it and they really did a great job with their money but would it be ok to just run his credit and not hers?
Next, I had three perfectly normal interactions in a row:
- An old friend from high school came to look at it but only wanted to rent for a few months. He was upfront about it, told me that he’d understand if we weren’t interested in it, and we had a nice time catching up.
- Two elderly sisters (siblings, not nuns) came to see it but the second bedroom was too small.
- A young couple with their three month old came to look around, but decided that they wanted a garage.
No problem. Everyone looks for something specific when they lease or buy a home.
But, don’t think that I’m finished proving my central thesis: Craigslist sucks. Because I’m just getting warmed up.
The next response was from a woman who emailed me asking if I could call her about the condo when I had a few minutes. Of course I can. And I did. This is a recreation of the phone call:
Me: Hi, I’m calling you about the condo I have up for rent.
Her: Yeah, the one in Arnold, right?
Me: No, it’s near Westport Plaza.
Arnold and Westport are on opposite sides of the metropolitan area.
Her: Hmm, well, I don’t know about Westport. Is the one in Arnold still available?
Me: I don’t have one in Arnold. I only have one and it’s near Westport.
Her: How many bedrooms is it?
Me: It’s got two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Her: I really need one with three bedrooms. Do you have a three bedroom?
Me: Ma’am, I’m not a management company. My wife and I live in this condo and we’re moving out of it. We only have one for rent.
Her: Ok… so, the condo in Westport has two bedrooms. Do you think you’ll have a three bedroom in Arnold soon?
Me: I don’t have any units anywhere except… you know what, why don’t I take down your name in case something comes up.
That just seemed like a faster way to end the call than explaining it yet again.
A brief list of a few other favorites:
- One woman asked me to call her, then yelled at me when I did.
- One woman talked to me on the phone for about twenty minutes, sounded as nice as could be, set up a time, and seemed genuinely excited. When the time came and went, I waited about half an hour and called her. She told me never to call her again and hung up.
- One man set up a time to come out and then texted that he wouldn’t be able to make it because of a “church emergency.” I really wish that I knew what happened at his church that day.
Now, I mentioned at the top of this post that I eventually found a renter, and it’s true.: I used Trulia and I can’t be happier. I have a great tenant, no thanks to Craiglist.
As a coda to the whole story, about a three weeks after my tenant moved in, the woman who had major credit problems emailed me asking if we had lowered our price to $500, and if so, could we reconsider her?
I told her that we definitely had not cut our price in half, and asked her why she thought we had done so. It turns out that someone had stolen my pictures and posted the condo as their own. My condo is not a generic model home–the fridge had “I love nurses” magnets and pictures of my wife and I on vacation and ultrasound images of our daughter. I created a new email account, asked about coming by to see the place, and never saw the ad again.
It’s too bad. I was planning to tour the guy’s condo, offer him a used wheelbarrow in lieu of rent, and ask him why his unit doesn’t look like the pictures.
Then I was going to yell at him. And this is what I was planning to yell, “Craigslist sucks!”
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