The Internet hasn’t replaced word-of-mouth, yard signs, or newspaper classifieds as the dominant means to advertise rental apartment vacancies, yet a number of apartment-oriented Web sites now offer landlords attractive alternatives to entice prospective residents to their buildings.
The Internet may currently capture only 5 percent of total advertising expenditures in the U.S., yet the volume of online search, display, and classified ads is growing. Spending on such advertisements amounted to a record $12.5 billion last year, according to a Pricewaterhouse-Coopers study conducted for the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
The apartment sector has been part of the trend, according to Maureen Boyle, director of marketing at Chicago-based Apartments.com, one of hundreds of apartment-specific Web sites that accept advertising of rental vacancies.
Online advertisements can reach a large number of people over a wide geographic area at an attractive cost per lead. An online ad can contain a detailed description of the property, its amenities, and the vacant unit with multiple photographs, and both the description and photos can be updated online after the ad has been posted on the Web site. Online services also offer functions to track and manage inquires and receive rental applications through e-mail. Some companies also offer consumer information, credit reports, or other products and services for landlords and renters.
How much it costs
One national Web site, www.apartments.com, offers two options to advertise rental vacancies: a weekly classified-style insertion and an ongoing display-style advertisement. The weekly insertion, which starts at $65 for two weeks, includes a description of the for-rent unit, up to six photos, an interactive map and directions to the property, online access to modify the ad, and the ability to receive inquiries through e-mail. These ads typically net 15 to 20 leads per month, according to Boyle.
The ongoing ad, which Boyle said is intended to generate “a steady stream of leads,” costs $269 per month and includes a description of the property, an unlimited number of photos, a toll-free telephone number along with e-mail responses and periodic tracking reports, and other features.
Apartments.com is owned by Classified Ventures and has exclusive contracts with six major newspaper companies around the country. The Web site feeds its advertisements to the newspapers’ Web sites and in turn receives space in the print editions of the newspapers to promote itself to their readers, according to Boyle.
Paying per click
The rental section of Move, Inc. (formerly Homestore) offers a different approach. The Web site, www.move.com, offers two options to advertise vacancies: a pay-per-click approach and a flat-rate monthly contract, according to Maria Pietroforte, president of the rental division at Move. The monthly advertisement costs $20 to $35 per floor plan, depending on the size of the rental market. “Pay-per-click” means the advertiser pays a small fee every time someone clicks on the ad on the Web site.
The cost set by move.com might be $1 per click in a metropolitan market or as little as 25 cents per click in a rural area, and the advertiser can set a cap on the total amount he or she wants to spend. For example, if the market price was 50 cents per click and the advertiser capped the expenditure at $30, the ad would appear on the Web site until 60 people had clicked on it.
This approach, which is commonplace on Web sites, is intended to be an affordable way for advertisers to control the number of responses they want to receive.
Rental ads on move.com typically net 22 telephone and e-mail inquiries, though some may generate 75 or more responses, Pietroforte said.
The most effective ads are well-written, include pictures of the apartment community, its amenities, and the unit, and contain a “focal point” or distinguishing characteristic (e.g., “pets accepted”) to attract prospective residents, she said. Ads may contain an unlimited number of photos on this service.
Having tenants pay
A local service in Santa Monica, Calif., Westside Rentals, www.west siderentals.com, takes a different approach. Landlords can post an unlimited number of free ads on the Web site, while prospective renters pay $60 to search and respond to the ads for 60 days. The company believes this approach nets more qualified prospects for landlords, according to Kevin Miller, chief operating officer of Westside Rentals.
“You’re getting tenants who are serious about looking [for an apartment]. They have credit cards and they’re Internet-savvy,” he explained.
Westside Rentals also offers landlords free online rental applications, credit reports, for-rent yard signs, and networking parties for landlords and tenants that are held monthly at the company’s seven Southern California offices. Miller estimates that most of the landlords who utilize Westside Rentals to advertise vacancies don’t use any other service.
“If you have an apartment for rent, we put up a Westside Rentals sign and if any person off the street comes up, you want them to be a member of Westside Rentals,” he said.
The free lunch
By far the most cost-effective online advertising option for apartment owners is Craigslist, www.craigslist.org, which offers its service free of charge. Landlords simply post a notice that’s much like a classified ad on the popular bulletin board-like Web site, and that’s it.
Craigslist doesn’t track the “success rate” of advertisements, but the company claims more than 4.5 billion page views per month and “a lot of apartment owners” realize quick results from the service, according to a company spokesperson. Landlords write their own ads, which can include photographs of the property as well.