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Last time we looked at The 5 Most Significant Online Property Search Websites - Part 1 The 5 Most Significant Online Property Search Websites - Part 1 Read More , this time we will take a hard look at Craigslist.

It’s hard to take some shots at Craigslist without running the risk of getting shot back at by the hardline Craigslist users, of which I am one as well. CL offers so many people a free way to advertise (or inexpensive depending on what you are advertising) that most of us are willing to overlook its flaws.

And if truth be told, the flaws are not so much with CL as they are with the advertisers. You see, CL is supposedly policed by the community with the moderators stepping in when enough community members “flag” a posting as being inappropriate. The problem with this method when dealing with real estate is that who knows enough about the property to be sure of what they are flagging? Is it the seller who in many cases may be desperate to attract any “buyer” with the hopes of sorting things out later? Is it the real estate agent who is often ignorant of online advertising guidelines? Or is it a “buyer” who spent time and gasoline to travel to a house that wasn’t what it was cracked up to be? Obviously, in these scenarios, there will be spotty enforcement of guidelines and your searching experience will reflect that fact.

Let’s take a look at the process and along the way I’ll give you some tips on how to safely navigate Craigslist real estate listings.

Here is the page you come to when you type in the Craigslist URL.

The craigslist home page


As you can see, CL is International in scope, and although there are some small regional differences, things work pretty much the same no matter which country or city you pick. So, pick your region and click on it. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so that is where I will start.

Starting your search

Notice the red circle. Under the major heading of housing, there are 9 sub headings from apartments to parking and storage. At the bottom you find real estate for sale. This is where we are going to look to start our search for the perfect home!

Honing in on what we want

At arrow #1 you can see that it is possible to search the entire SF Bay Area, or search by the various regions within the Bay Area. It really helps to narrow your search down by using the region that you want to start with. At arrow number two you can see the considerable sized drop down list. Why Craig does this is beyond me. I can see just having the real estate categories there, but I guess Craig thinks that the users will change their mind and decide to look for a job while searching for real estate!

Some more details to see

Here I have selected an area of the SF Bay Area known as the east bay (Arrow #1). Once I did that, the big drop down list (arrow #4) contains a list of the Bay Area cities. I wanted to look for homes where the seller was motivated (arrow #2) and all I want to spend is $500,000 to $575,000 USD (arrow #3)

This search (without actually selecting a city) found 12 listings. (Arrow #5)

Of those twelve, 7 are in one city, so we’ll concentrate on that city.

The search results

Now this is where we have to start to understand what is going on here. If you were to click on each of these listings you would find that there are three listings here by two local real estate agents. They have varying degrees of expertise in displaying the information on the houses. One uses Postlets (which I have previously written about here on Make Use Of) and the other uses his own template. Both are pretty effective in conveying the info you would want in order to decide to go see the house. Two of the ads are a ‘come on and get you give up your contact info’ to someone who claims to have a list of all the area foreclosures and the rest are being sold by the owners with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Here is one of the owner generated ads:

A For Sale By Owner Ad

Not a lot to go on is there?

Here is a Postlets ad from a real estate agent.

A postlets ad from an agent

As you can see, there is much more information available to you.

So, here is the wrap up. Craigslist is a grab bag of things. There is no consistency as to what you will find. You will find that some sellers advertise directly, but since most have never done it before, they don’t know enough to put lots of information in the ad. Even the real estate agents have no consistency in what they offer. And then there are the scammers who are trying to entice you to give up your contact info so that they can build a list of people to try to sell something to.

None of that sounds very good, so why use CL? In my opinion you should use CL as part of your search strategy for several reasons. One of the best reasons is because you can find things that are put on by the sellers themselves. There may be homes that are not on the MLS. In other words, you may find a lot of homes for sale by the owner.

But the most important reason, in my opinion, is the ability to search on words like “motivated” or “desperate” which can lead you to bargains that would be hard to spot otherwise.

You want to start your search on to get the big picture, and then you want to look at Craigslist to get some local information and to perhaps smoke out a bargain.

Next time we will look at Yahoo Real Estate to see how that search giant handles real estate search.

(By) Jerry Kidd is a California Real Estate Broker, blogger, educator and author of Realty Tech Bytes

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  1. serpins
    July 25, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    The article is to long , I've nearly fallen asleep.

  2. Nick
    July 25, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    The title mentions 5 websites...however only 2 are reviewed.

    • Mark O'Neill
      July 25, 2008 at 12:25 pm

      If you check the title of the article, you'll see that it says "part two" and the article linked to in the first paragraph is entitled "part one".

      The other websites are forthcoming in parts 3, 4 and 5.