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Apartment baiting with Facebook Ads (medium.com)
186 points by hackathonguy 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments

I've used Craigslist this way, most of the public rental ads for our area were either for shitty places or overpriced. There's nice to very nice apartment complexes in our area but they are very expensive, have on-schedule yearly rent increase, and charge pet fees.

So I posted an ad on Craigslist in "housing wanted" saying our approximate credit score (750+ each), employment history, what we were looking for, and our income plus a little intro about us personally to give it a little flair.

Since we were pretty much ideal renters I was hoping landlords of the nicer properties would look there first to avoid the sketchy unqualified riff raff that may reply to public ads and waste their time. The other thing is we have/had cats, so the pool of apartments was smaller for us so it made sense to "target" landlords who were open to pets.

To my surprise, got a bunch of really great hits! Way better places at better prices than the public ads. Apparently landlords actually DO browse Craigslist for qualified candidates. Some even congratulated us on being responsible and "ahead of the curve."

Ended up renting from someone found that way. Total cost was $0.

I imagine Facebook groups would work just as well or better. Facebook groups weren't really a thing last time I was apartment hunting and I've owned for a while now so I won't ever get to personally try it out. Facebook groups work way better than Craigslist for both buying and selling stuff and, in general, a local Facebook group I belong to has been insanely useful for a lot of different things.

Seems like this is little more than an end around the fair housing act for landlords.

The FHA makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.

I very purposely didn't include any information about any of those categories in my ad. The only thing you could discern from my ad was that I was (and still am) married.

That's like saying employers looking for candidates on LinkedIn or the "Ask HN: Who wants to be hired?" thread is "little more than an end for employers to get around anti-discrimination laws."

You'll have to elaborate how reaching out to tenant candidates directly gets around the Fair Housing Act and what that act attempts to address.

For example, it’s illegal not to rent to single moms. But maybe you don’t want to. So you can look through the tenants looking for a place and hand pick one before advertising your place.

Or maybe you don’t like gay folks, or black folks, etc.

It’s not that hard to discriminate and make it hard for someone to prove that’s what you’re doing.

I was at Oren’s Hummus Shop in Mountain View when an Israeli-American couple were plopped down next to me. They procesed to converse loudly, and the male smugly boasted about how “horribly old” one rental candidate was, how he’d just waste his time and say it was already rented. Ageism never gets old, but then when it does, it gets bitter as the younger ageism treats it like the elderly in Korea... eventually, it jumps from a bridge due to poverty, shunning, isolation and neglect.

+1 for reminding me how much I used to love Oren’s while living in Palo Alto. :)

Exactly. Here's an article about FB being sued for allowing discriminatory ads:


> I was hoping landlords of the nicer properties would look there first to avoid the sketchy unqualified riff raff that may reply to their ads and waste their time

How did you manage to convey that? By virtue of posting an ad or you went ahead and specified in the ad how high educated, high income, and overall awesome you are?

Selling myself. It was "this is why you'd want to rent to me."

I didn't specifically mention my education though, I thought my profession was enough. I also didn't mention our savings/assets either, because I thought our income was enough.

Mentioned both of our professions, what specifically we do at work, our salaries, our work history (both had been at our companies for many years), our credit scores, our rental history (both individually and together), and a little about us personally (hobbies), that we were quiet, and that we've never missed a payment on anything in our lives. (Bills, loans, rent)

Basically conveying that we were stable, responsible, respectful, and could afford the rent.

I was absolutely floored on how well it worked, I had no idea how many landlords were going to be actively looking for tenants on Craigslist.

"They" say "the best jobs are never advertised." Turns out "the best apartments are [also] never advertised."

May I ask where you posted the listing? I’m thinking that might not work as well in highly competitive places (eg SF) but I hope I’m wrong.

Craigslist "housing wanted" section.

For SF: https://sfbay.craigslist.org/d/all-housing-wanted/search/sfc...

I would also suggest local Facebook groups in this day in age.

Whoops, I meant to ask what geographic location you posted your ad in, because I was thinking in SF it might be more competitive and less effective.

I don't post specifics on the internet but its in the Northeast US, medium sized town.

"I'm working for X having graduated from Y, and have no pets. Normal guy etc."

I've done it before and it works. Really stands out among all the "Single parent, 3 dogs and 2 cats, can afford $500/month for a 1-bedroom apartment in city downtown" ads.

Many landlords would be happy to rent to Horst Christian Simco.


Apparently the common noun doesn't have a space in it but proper noun does.

Somebody should build a service for this.

My wife and I recently moved and, while we ended up somewhere we like, there was one particular street right next to our old house that we always wished we would be able to get a home on. When we talked to other neighbors that were thinking about moving, we found out that we were far from the only ones eyeing that street. Unfortunately, people there rarely sold and, when they did, the homes got snapped up quick.

We thought about sending letters to see if somebody wanted to sell to us without going the realtor route, but we never did. Facebook ads would have made it way easier. And a service where we forked over $50 to run some ads plus $250 as a reward and pushed a button would have been better still.

> We thought about sending letters to see if somebody wanted to sell to us without going the realtor route, but we never did.

We actually just bought a house doing this exact thing. There was one particular area that only had about 30 houses in it and they don't come up for sale that much. Since we really wanted to move this year, we sent letters to the houses we'd want in that area. To our surprise, out of the dozen or so letters we sent, four people responded that they were considering selling and a few others still replied thanking us for the letter but weren't going to sell.

As long as you are willing to be flexible with move date, this works out great for both sides. The sellers avoid agent fees, which at 5 or 6% can be significant, and the annoyances of showings and open houses. It also gives the sellers certainty of sale so when they go to buy another house, they don't have to deal with contingency offers.

> It also gives the sellers certainty of sale so when they go to buy another house, they don't have to deal with contingency offers.

A sale isn’t certain until it’s closed, so unless you are suggesting a sale and lease-back arrangement, it doesn’t really change the sellers situation.

You can work out a lease-back for 60 days on most mortgages and some mortgages don't have any leasing restrictions. I'd say some lease-back would happen in this type of arrangement the vast majority of times.

> We thought about sending letters to see if somebody wanted to sell to us without going the realtor route

I've gotten letters like that before and always assumed they were Realtors trolling for clients.

In a similar situation, here, except I've gotten phone calls asking if I was interested in selling my house.

I don't own a house.

The people I know who have actually done it wrote a personalized response as to why they wanted to live in that particular area.

i.e. "my son lives on X street and I would like to live by him" or "the access to hiking/biking trails is one of the things I cherish the most." , etc.

Otherwise, you are right that I think most of those letters are from Realtors and go immediately in the trash.

I get ~4 calls/day from realtors wanting to list my house. It was so bad last summer that my wife changed her voice mail to start with "If you are Realtor, never call me again...".

At this point I would be suspicious of even a personal letter like you mention above. I really hope technology continues to squeeze realtors out of business. At one point I was indifferent to them, but they have turned my opinion negative.

A friend bought a house by putting an ad on the wall at a nearby store. An old lady sold it to them who does not use the internet.

I get letters like this sometimes (people looking to buy either in our area or specifically our house). This only works when you personalize your letter to the specific house, and sell yourself - i.e. not send a generic 'call me if you want to sell', because then people will assume you're a realtor. I don't think this can be made into a service - it only works when you're clearly not a business and when you can show that you've put in the effort.

And any attempt to turn it into a business will probably only set the bar higher for doing it in earnest.

> We thought about sending letters to see if somebody wanted to sell to us without going the realtor route.

My parent sold a place that they had after a letter was put in their letter box, and we were on the brink of doing this when we were looking for a place. Before we did I walked into work and said “anyone know of a place for sale in xxx that would be interested in a private sale?” Someone did, and we bought it. No real estate agents involved.

I know a number of different people who have done this and purchased homes. They were all in areas where houses rarely go up for sale.

I do like the idea of targeting people through Facebook although I feel like the physical letter would pull more at the heart strings

>We thought about sending letters to see if somebody wanted to sell to us

I heard this is something real estate investors do for people who are in the foreclosure process. Offer a all cash short sale and see if the home owner and bank bites to prevent going through foreclosure. I don't know if it's actually true or not, or how common it is.

There is a service that offers this, it's called "Craigslist" and "Facebook groups."

Direct mail marketing is a popular strategy in the real estate investing world. You can pull lists of properties+owners and filter by various criteria. Foreclosures or absentee owners are some pretty common ones.

Do you know what services they use to find those people? Are there ones tailored to real estate investors? Just our of curiosity.

listsource.com is one. Real estate investors are certainly a big consumer of these services but probably not the only ones.

“Somebody should build a service for this.“

Noooooo.... please don’t ruin this... Let’s keep it for us nerds, okay?

If you’re a nerd, you’ll find some other way to differentiate instead of simply gatekeeping knowledge.

There really is a ton of stuff you can do with Facebook ads. I got one of my first jobs out of college by running ads targeted to the types of companies I wanted to work for.


Very cool! Thanks for sharing!

I did a similar process when house-shopping. Setup ads for a particular location, specifically targeting people who owned in the area, but who lived out of state.

1. Personal FB ad copy 2. Landing page w/ more information about what we were looking for. 3. Contact form

I received ~5 leads from people willing to sell their house with about $100 in ad spend.

How do you target owners in FB (A bit time since I don't use it, but don't remember any particular filter allowing this)

Not only is there a "homeowners" category in the "Demographics" targeting section, but there are specific sub-categories like "Home value" $50,000-$99,999", "Home type: Condo", etc. IIRC, they get it from a data broker like Experian.

And the data broker, in turn, compiles that information from public records.

LexisNexis is actually the big one who resells that information, you can request a copy of your report from their site for free to see what they got on you. Mine listed my house, I believe the day I bought it, and the source of that information (in my case my town hall).

> LexisNexis is actually the big one who resells that information, you can request a copy of your report from their site for free to see what they got on you.

How? Their site has a physical form and instructions to mail it - which is so fucking ironic given they freely sell our data in digital form but we need to mail them forms to get a copy ourselves.

I believe I mailed in the form with a color photocopy of my ID.

Yup - I do believe that FB is severing their relationship with these data brokers shortly, so unsure if this will continue to be available.

Are they? This would really surprise me- Custom Audiences (FB brand name for the tool that integrates data from 3rd parties like Acxiom, etc.) is VERY powerful and makes FB a whole bunch of money.

Ah ok, they're closing Partner Categories (not Custom Audiences). Appreciate the link

Without the data brokers they may try to instead compile that information themselves straight from the source like Zillow does.

Wow, that's kind of creepy. I tend to feel like that every time I go down the rabbit hole of just how much the advertising world knows about us.

Do people even look at Facebook ads? On my browser they rotate through every ten seconds, so even if I was interested the chance that I could read them and decide to click on them before they go away is nil. In he past, every single Facebook ad I'd ever clicked on turned out to be click-bait (the photo/ad had nothing to do with the link.) The ads are on a currently on a part of the screen I have mentally blocked out. The idea that you can hit 100% of the Facebook users in a neighborhood is laughable.

Yes. How else does Facebook make it's revenue?

I'm not questioning that Facebook sells ads, I am questioning their effectiveness and whether the OP is overselling it.

Edit: For example, the only Facebook ads I've seen recently are for riding lawnmowers. I live in the city.

> I'm not questioning that Facebook sells ads, I am questioning their effectiveness and whether the OP is overselling it.

If Facebook ads weren't effective; would advertisers continue to buy them? My direct experience using facebook ads is that they are exceptionally effective at targeting people.

> For example, the only Facebook ads I've seen recently are for riding lawnmowers. I live in the city.

That's not enough information to make a judgement on the efficacy of facebook's ad platform. Perhaps you're correct, and you were miss targeted by Facebook's algorithms. Or perhaps the advertiser didn't properly target their ad. Or perhaps the advertiser WANTED to target people living in cities, hoping to get in front of the eyes of any potential future customers who are thinking of moving out to the country.

If nothing else, you at least remember you saw an ad for a Riding Lawnmower.

Advertising is a prisoner's dilemma: every ad slot your competitors buy is a slot you could've bought instead. Seasoned companies don't advertise because ads are effective -- although in some cases, they are; they advertise because they're worried their competitors are attaining wider mindshare.

Small, local companies frequently fall into the mistaken assumption that targeted advertising on Facebook will drive sales. Advertising should only be assumed to drive mindshare, whose link to sales is often discouragingly weak.

> Advertising should only be assumed to drive mindshare, whose link to sales is often discouragingly weak.

Regardless if advertising is effective at driving sales, a dollar spent advertising Women's Self Defense on Facebook drives (Mindshare|Behavior|Sales) more effectively than a dollar spent advertising Women's Self Defense in Black Belt Magazine.

How do targeted online ads fit with that? What does a 'slot' mean now that we don't have literal slots between TV shows in a handful of stations?

Was about to say that I think you mean ‘ride on’. After a search it turns out some places call them ‘riding’ mowers. It sounds hilarious but there you go.

What could OP be overselling? Do you think they're lying about their experience? The whole post is just "Here's what I did".

This is the part I was questioning:

"(I believe we reached roughly every Facebook using inhabitant of the targeted neighborhood)"

I'm not sure if it would matter, if you were just doing this as an individual once or twice, but it's worth noting that in New York State, at least, this would be an illegal transaction, unless the tenant referring you to their landlord happened to be a licensed real estate agent. The definition of brokering a transaction according to state law, for which you must be licensed is that you're facilitating the transaction "for another" and "for a fee". The $250 dollar reward, therefore makes this an illegal act on the part of the existing tenant. Laws might well be different in other states obviously.

OP here. Where I live, it’s legal to broker one transaction per year without any special license. Not sure about the legal situation in New York, though.

Interesting, and a sensible exception. Like I say, the rules on this are sure to vary substantially from state to state.

Who would complain, though, particularly in this scenario?

Typically (but not always) the complaints about this kind of thing come from people who believe they've been discriminated against, but in fact pretty much anyone can complain. In NYS, you can call the DOS and register a complaint for pretty much any reason you like, and they are pretty consistent about investigating all of them.

My landlord (in NY) offers a sizeable reward for referring new tenants. It's posted everywhere in the building. Are you claiming this is illegal?

Probably, yes, although as I said it would probably never be enforced. To be clear, your landlord is not the one breaking the law. Anyone taking them up on the offer would be though.

IANAL, but I was a licensed real estate agent in NYS about 15 years ago, and this was covered in the course materials.

Actually, it might be more subtle than that. Simply referring someone to your landlord might be ok, but if you discussed anything at all about the property with that person, I think you'd definitely be in violation the moment you cashed the check.

There seems to be a technical difference between a "referral fee" and a "finders fee". And there may be a difference between a real estate sales transaction and a rental, the latter being what I was talking about.

In any case, I do not find any support for the idea that you can't discuss the property with the person you send to your landlord. It wouldn't really be possible to say "this is a great place to live" and respond to "why?" with "can't tell ya!".

Now if you tried to sue because your landlord reneged on your monetary reward, then you might not win because you weren't licensed or something, but that's not at all the same as it being illegal for them to pay you.

NY may have a reputation for corruption, but things aren't that bad.

The legalities of referral fees come into play if you are a real estate agent, and you pay a fee to another agent who failed to renew their license, I believe.

I think you'll be fine, and I wouldn't worry too much about it, but technically, it's against the rules. (As a thought experiment, suppose I knew what apartment building you lived in, and I actively hustled up potential tenants, maybe I even posted ads. I'd send 'em over to you, and you and I could split the fee. At this point, I am acting exactly the way a licensed agent would act, and the whole reason for having the license would vanish.)

I imagine in your scenario, my landlord could refuse to pay the reward, and I would probably lose in court if I tried to force them. That's not the same as it being "against the rules" to send people to them in hopes of a reward.

You just don't use a real estate agent for renting an apartment, regardless. I don't see how you just brush the difference between buying and renting aside.

Well, that is a rather clever use of Facebook Ads.

I knew a guy who tried to use them as a dating service, I guess the lack of incentive is what made his trial fail...

One guy used them to prank his roommate:


(I was kind of disappointed that the "hypertargeted ad" link in the article went to a generic how-to article instead of that post.)

I didn't even click the link in the article because I was sure it would be this!

Amazing post! Will add to the article.

There was a case on YouTube where a (sort of) satirical YouTuber Reactor (a fake over the top reaction channel) used a cut up footage of GradeAUnderA hating reaction channels as an ad on GradeAUnderA's own videos to direct people to Reactor channel as part of a scheme to bait GradeAUnderA (a 2-3 million subscribed channel) into attacking his small channel (1-2 thousand subs post these antics, much more later after the scheme came to light) to "expose" him for being a bully, starting fights (despite saying how he hates them and how they ruin YouTube and attacking people who are having them) and so on.

What a quagmire, I know.

Good video summarizing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9_6UCkxu_U

> I guess the lack of incentive is what made his trial fail...

He should have offered a cash bribe. That would surely have worked.

You mean like free food and drinks? Basically a cash bribe to get her on a date with you.

That depends on your definition of "worked".

HN wonders about whether our industry truly is unwelcoming to women, meanwhile people openly joke about soliciting prostitution. “Riff culture” and “it’s just a joke” don’t make it acceptable.

Lighten up. The obviously bad idea of offering potential dates a cash reward is what makes this joke funny because in the context of running a Facebook ad campaign discounts and promotions are quite common.

What assumptions are you making about the industry I work in? edit: And the gender of the person adversiting..

Prostitution works both ways in 21st century. Given how women sex tourism is rising, I wonder wether men or women have less against prostitution these days...

This made me curious about whether there are good lifehacker-style articles/listicles/compendia of creative personal uses of targeted advertising platforms. Not sure if the answer is no, or if it's just one of those ungoogleable ideas.

OP here. Totally! There are a few good examples in this thread. Let’s create a list!

Neat. I have an friend-of-a-friend who is trying to find a dog-friendly flat in southish London and I've been trying to find a way that they could do this.

Someone in my coworking space is building a platform that does this in New York and Boston. It incentivizes departing tenants to be involved in the leasing process by cutting out the real estate agent and giving a portion of that fee back to the departing tenant. They've just launched: https://www.cribdilla.com/

> Couple looking for 2-bedroom in neighbourhood. Budget: $1250.

God I need to move out of the bay area. I pay $1000 more than that for my one bedroom in Oakland. And it's not even in a great area... And it's not even that nice of an apartment!

Great idea what this guy did. Maybe I should give it a shot.

That’s amazing. Jerusalem is considered the most expensive real estate market in Israel (apart from Tel Aviv), and $1250 is definitely on the high side for a two bedroom.

It's important to note here that this will only work in densely populated areas. Otherwise FB will make you expand your radius / criteria to fit a large enough population potentially rendering the ad useless.

In less densely populated areas there are less flats / houses to choose from so you have to expand your search in proportion anyway.

“Another way would be to split the prize: $125 for the person who’s apartment we’ll be taking over, and $125 for whoever refers us to that person.”

It ain’t broke don’t fix it.

"Pardon the interruption. We’ve seen you here before. Let’s make things official."

Fuck you, Medium. I want to read a blog post, not sign a contract or marry you.

In chrome, go to Settings > Advanced > Content Settings, Select "Cookies", then add medium.com to the Clear on exit category.[0]

Works like a charm!

[0]: Example - https://i.imgur.com/YfUKdjT.png

Installing a browser extension so I can read someone's blog post sounds like overkill. :-)

Hmm nice argument for GDPR. They are tracking my visits without my permission or even notifying me...

Why ground floor?

People with mobility issues sometimes prefer not having to use stairs or elevators. Not implying that's the author's preference, but that's what I've seen in the RE arena.

It's also much easier to access when you have a young child with a stroller.

Or a pet that needs easy access to the outdoors. My son lives on the middle floor of a mid-rise apartment block and it's a bit annoying to take the dog out to pee.

OP here. We have twins, and many apartment buildings in Jerusalem lack elevators. Also, I’ve found quality of life to be markedly improved once we’ve moved to a garden apartment! :-)

that still doesn't explain why not go for 2nd or 3rd floor which is still very easy to handle even with small children (park pram somewhere in basement or ground floor), I am living on 5th floor without elevator with 2nd baby, so did I in previous apartment with previous child, now that's extreme, but 2nd (just bove ground floor) or 3rd floor would be just fine

higher floor you go less foot traffic (noise) around your door you have, less likely your apartment to get robbed, less street noise, less insects, less air pollution and I could go on and on, basically higher you go the better, benefits end on the top floor where possibility of thieves returns, also hot in summer and possibility of leaking roof, but at least no top neighbors noise

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