Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Craigslist-Renter Problem

This is completely 100% copied from my dear friend Nick's blog. I'd love to help him get ideas, because he is a very smart guy and I basically try to help his ideas succeed whenever I can. So please read and comment, and I'll make sure comments get to him. Or click the link below and read it on his website and comment there. Thanks!

The Craigslist-Renter Problem:

I’ve started casually looking for apartments with a friend of mine, and I’m running into the same problem many of you are:

  • Craigslist is the best-worst place to find an apartment.

  • There’s a pile of spam/duplicate listings

  • Many listings are misleading (at best)

So while the Craig-team has clearly created a very lean, useful tool which all of us are using, it goes for the lowest common denominator and doesn’t really fit my needs as a guy looking for an apartment to rent. They’ve gone with the catch-all model: What’s useful for selling your bike, or finding a fetishist to bang should be equally useful for finding a place to live, right?


So I’ve started thinking and doodling and I’d like to share what I’ve come up with for feedback.

Problem 1: Accountability. There isn’t any. Sure you can flag a spammer, but the spamhead can just add a new listing every day for his shitty apartment. He can say it’s $500. But $500 what? $500 per room? The whole apartment? Per month/year/week/day?

What if everyone were accountable? What if landlords had to create an account with a username? What if renters past, present, and future could rate them and refer them? What if only one listing per apartment was allowed at any one time? Sure this might scare away a bit of the volume that Craigslist has, but that volume is just noise.

Problem 2: Bait-and-switch. Spamhead has listed an apartment in Venice. It’s 3 bedrooms, listed at $2,400 a month. You live in the Valley. You drive through traffic to go look at the place, and the place is a decrepit shithole. Thanks for wasting my time dude.

Photos should be mandatory. Video walkthroughs should be encouraged. And if I go to see a place with my camera, I should be able to upload my photos to the listing. Imagine that.

Problem 3: I don’t want to start a search from scratch every time I log into Craigslist. I lose what I was doing, and the simple “bookmarking” they have on the site is horrid.

I want to be able to save place, flag places, map multiple places… I want to be able to import addresses of my friends and family from my address book and see where they are in relation to my new place. I want to be able to calculate the average distance of my potential new apartment from my girlfriend’s apartment, my best friend James’ apartment, and the nearest Apple Store.

If I’m a biker, I want to see what’s within biking distance of the place I’m looking at. Is there a movie theater? A great bar? Yelp can certainly tell me, but why should I have to open a new browser tab and do the math for myself. I want to click on a potential apartment and have it tell me that it’s walking distance to my girlfriend’s place and 2.1 miles from the nearest In-N-Out.

Problem 4: I’m moving to a new city and don’t know what the renters laws are, or if I’m getting ripped off on the price.

Aggregated renters rights laws based on where you’re looking, plus a realtime average of rent prices based on my search parameters in a given area. I’m looking for a spacious 3 bedroom in Culver City: what are my neighbors paying?

Problem 5: I’ve found a few potential places, looked at them, talked to the landlord, and now I’ve got to fill out 5 overly complex renters applications and undergo a credit check.

Hey High School Seniors: remember the common application? What if I already had a pre-filled renters application, a verified credit score, and a references from past landlords saying how dandy of a guy I am? What if I could just click a button, and presto, the landlord has all my shit instantly? From the landlord’s POV, what if I could fire up my little app and get a list of all the potential applicants, their credit ratings and referrals? I could just sort a list, pick the kid with the best credit score and references, and be on my effing way.

In a world where we’re drowning in data, Craigslist does not make it simple for me to plug in specific, renter-oriented parameters for me to search by. Sure they’ve got price parameters and ZIP codes, and “only show listings with photos” (which are usually just jpg footers from a douchey realtor embedded in the listing).

But what about all these great APIs lying around out there? What about Google Maps integration? Facebook Connect? Yelp? Wikipedia? Happy Hour App? (Had to sneak that in there.)

This really isn’t complicated stuff people. Someone just needs to say “enough” with Craigslist, I don’t give a rip about missed fucking connections, I just want to find a nice place to live with the least amount of hassle possible.

If you build it, they will come.

Please let me know what you think. Have I left anything out? I love thought experiments, and I’m open to anyone that has ideas that is fed up with CL and wants a simpler, more elegant solution to forking over huge gobs of money to people wealthier than me.

Good day.


  1. This is all true. And yes, it should be better. Isn't the future already? Why are we reading a dumbed down version of the penny saver without any accountability to find our stuff?

    Here is the problem: Craig has no desire to change his ways, at all. If anything, it is just the opposite, he want to do nothing at all rake in the dough. And this model has worked just fine for several years. There was a long article about this phenomenon in Wired magazine a while back, and the conclusion: if you really want Craigslist to change, get everyone you know to stop using it.

  2. Nick isn't proposing changing Craigslist; he's thinking about designing a whole new system. If you have any ideas/suggestions/requests for things you'd like to see, just post here!

  3. Has Nick heard of Padmapper? It's a partial solution to problem number 3. See my post here:

  4. Thanks, Katie! I hadn't heard of it, but I sent your post his way. Padmapper looks rad!