Any landlord knows that having rentals sit vacant will quickly turn the ink on their balance sheet from black to red. Reaching and attracting new prospective tenants is the first step in filling vacancies. Online property management software products can dramatically streamline the process of marketing empty units. As you’ll see in this and other articles we’ve written, we believe strongly that these products improve the ease and profitability of managing rental property. We take a look at leading software providers, many of whom offer free online ways to advertise property for rent.
We are considering the following criteria in evaluating each service:
- How widely is your vacancy advertised?
- What features are available to help sell your unit, and how attractive is the presentation?
- What is the cost of online marketing, to the landlord?
- Are applications integrated into the marketing materials so that prospective tenants can apply seamlessly?
- Is applicant screening integrated?
- Extra Credit: Does the product help schedule showings?
- Extra Credit: Is there a tool to help calculate a fair and attractive price for your rental?
Our Winners: Best free online ways to advertise property for rent
Buildium property management software supports the larger DIY landlord and property managers. The software includes tools to help with accounting and bookkeeping, lease & document management, maintenance tracking, applications and screening, and more. For additional information please read our Buildium Overview
TenantCloud is a full-service property management software tool that does a very nice job of meeting the needs of a landlords managing anything from a single home to several hundred units. There are features relevant to owner-managers as well as property managers. From rent-up of vacancies, to financial reporting, to maintenance coordination with service providers, TenantCloud offers valuable solutions.
Rentec Direct offers property management software and tenant screening solutions for landlords and real estate professionals to manage properties, tenants, and accounts online. Subscribers can collect rent payments, post vacancies, screen applicants, collect rent, and more. For additional information please read our Rentec Direct Rental Property Management Software Overview
With SparkRental’s landlord app, you can easily take care of everything from advertising your space to handling payments and sending notices. For additional information please read our SparkRental Property Management Software Overview
Evaluation Criteria: Scoring the best free online ways to advertise property for rent
We graded each of the software providers on 5 key rental marketing factors, on a 10 point scale, plus two bonus features. Read on for more details, here’s how they stack up:
|Extra Credit: Showings||+2||–||–||–|
|Extra Credit: |
|Total (out of 50):||48.5||51||42||39|
Also Read: The Best Tenant Screening Service for Small Landlords
Reach of listings
How widely is your vacancy advertised? “Syndication” refers to how property management software companies post your vacancy ad on rental listing sites. There are many such sites, and each software service selects which ones to partner with. Most services automatically post your listing on the Zillow network, including HotPads and Trulia. We have used craigslist.com to advertise our vacancies for many years and. Other more flashy sites are gaining usership, however we believe that many prospective tenants are still searching for rentals on craigslist. For this reason, we award higher scores to services that integrate with craiglist. We also look at whether units are advertised through in-house marketing, where a site either gets applicants to sign up on their site in order to search for rentals. A trend we anticipate growing is the use of social media to reach potential tenants.
Note: Until recently listing rentals on the Zillow network, including HotPads and Trulia, was free. State-by-state Zillow is now beginning to charge for listings. The first listing is free and all subsequent cost $9.99/listing/week. (5/8/20: Due to the Covid-19 pandemic pricing is temporarily discounted to $4.99/week.) Landlords need to setup a paying account in advance in order to enable syndication to Zillow sites via the software platforms we’re reviewing. This change promises to dramatically change the rental marketing landscape since Zillow has been one of the most-used platforms.
Buildium – score 9.5/10: By listing a rental on Buildium you will automatically be placing the same ad on the Zillow family of sites, livelovely.com, apartmentlist.com, rentpath, and mynewplace.com. Listings are also syndicated to craigslist.com. While other services may offer a longer list of syndication sites, Buildium will get you in front of a very large percentage of rental shoppers.
TenantCloud – score 10/10: TenantCloud boasts the longest list of marketing partners we’ve seen. Any listing will appear on all the Zillow sites, oodle.com, Aol Real Estate, ApartmentFinder.com, apartmenthomeliving.com, westsiderentals.com, and their own TC Rentals board. TC also posts to social media, though it’s not clear which platforms. This is an extremely comprehensive list of sites, which will expose your rental to many, many apartment shoppers. The only element missing in our view is craigslist syndication.
RentecDirect – score 10/10: Rentec Direct also boast an impressive of syndicate sites. Among them are the Zillow sites, apartments.com, apartmentfinder.com, doorsteps.com, move.com, rentals.com, home.com, realtor.com, rent.com, rentpath.com, craigslist.com, rentbits.com, houserentals.com, rentals.vast.com, yakaz.com, hunt.com, and trovit.com. Needless to say, listings should see a maximum number of eyeballs!
SparkRental – score 7/10: SparkRental has kept syndication, focusing on the far-reaching Zillow network. There may be a shift afoot, however, as there are two major changes going on: SparkRental will be rolling out an entirely new software platform in the next few months, and Zillow has recently started charging for listings. Based on their “Coming Soon” page, it looks to us like they may be discontinuing syndication on Zillow sites and opting for landlords.com, forrent.com, “and others”. We’ll update as we know more, but without craigslist or Zillow we believe listings will get limited exposure.
Professional-looking advertising both helps a vacant unit look attractive, and lends credibility to the landlord offering it. Here we evaluate the how easily each service helps property owners and managers present properties in an appealing way.
Buildium – score 10/10: Buildium provides a free personalized marketing website. It boasts a simple, clear, and attractive design and allows unit-specific descriptions. Drop-down amenity lists make it easy to customize features for each unit. Photos and videos are easy to add, making it easy to create attractive, professional listings.
TenantCloud – score 10/10: TenantCloud offers a user-friendly website builder which enables you to create very attractive customized listings for each rental unit. The end product is a personalized listing site for each landlord, featuring a map showing properties, and a “Find a Rental” button so that applicants can browse your properties.
RentecDirect – score 8/10: To our eye Rentec Direct is particularly well designed for larger-scale landlords and property managers. The website builder is less slick and feels a bit less modern than other products we’ve used, however the functionality is broad and is a good fit if you’re setting up a site to present a full portfolio of real estate. Essentially you’re setting up a property management company site. The resulting presentation is not the most stunning we’ve seen, but the capabilities offered are valuable if you’re managing a number of properties.
SparkRental – score 6/10: As we’ve mentioned before, SparkRental is going through a rebirth, completely overhauling their software. Login to the current site is disabled at this point, so we can’t revisit their older rental listing offering. We anticipate that their new product will be a welcome update, with upgraded user-interface. We’ll write more about new developments as soon as they happen – they’ve projected rollout of the new software in June 2020.
We look at costs from the perspective of a property owner or manager who runs a small portfolio of properties, under 25 units for example. We assume this landlord will be looking for free or very low-cost means to advertise and fill vacancies, and that extensive financial, reporting, and communication tools are a lower priority. Highest scores go to the products that provide free online ways to advertise property for rent
Buildium – score 8/10: As we’ve pointed out in past articles, Buildium is designed for landlords and property managers with larger portfolios. The entry-level subscription is $47/month, which will make sense for those who want a full service property management platform – including features such as financial reporting and maintenance tracking. Landlords with even 25-50 units, or small-scale property managers, will probably want a less costly service.
TenantCloud – score 9/10: Landlords can list up to 75 units for free with a Basic membership. Even this subscription level provides access to their slick custom website builder, creating visually appealing and user-friendly listings.
RentecDirect – score 7/10: RentecDirect does have a base-level subscription for $15/month, which includes the equivalent of one tenant screening report without additional cost. A landlord who averages one applicant per month will save money on screening with this subscription, and with a far-reaching syndication network this option may make sense for some. We do believe RentecDirect offers good rental marketing tools, however we prefer services that don’t require a paid subscription.
SparkRental – score 7/10: SparkRental will be attractive to a property owner who has one unit and wants an entirely free way to advertise, take applications, and screen potential tenants. With the Free or Premium subscription levels all screening reports are paid-for by applicants, meaning the landlord bears no cost in filling the vacancy. Ultimate-level subscribers can choose to pay for reports or require prospective tenants to do so. While we like free, we see the limitation of only one unit as a drawback.
Also Read: Rental Property Management Software Overview
Integration of application
We love how online software products make the process of property management more efficient. Having an application built right into rental advertising saves the step of scanning, emailing, receiving, printing, and filing tenant applications. (Or, worse yet, handling paper applications!) All of these products allow prospective tenants to apply online. We look at how easy it is to request and receive the information you want most.
Buildium – score 10/10: With Buildium landlords build customized applications that integrate into their marketing websites, specifying what personal information they require from applicants. Asking whether a tenant is a smoker, has pets, or information about their vehicles is also possible. Creating a custom checklist for use when reviewing applicants streamlines the process of choosing the best tenants. Applicants can also be charged and application fee, in addition to having them pay directly for screening reports.
TenantCloud – score 10/10: TenantCloud also helps landlords customize the application they build-into their marketing website. It is easy to add additional questions, charge application fees, and require that applicants upload particular files. We believe this last feature is particularly handy in verifying applicant identity, or asking for proof of income.
RentecDirect – score 9/10: For a property owner or manager with a significant portfolio – at least 20 units, say – RentecDirect offers a lot of valuable tools to manage applicants. Applications are customizable, and there is a “lead tracking” function that helps match applicants with suitable rentals. Once an applicant has set desired criteria the system can even alert them to suitable new units as they become available.
SparkRental – score 8/10: Prospective tenants can apply directly from rental listings on SparkRental. The application does not appear to be customizable. Landlords may elect to have applicants pay directly for screening reports, however there is no way to charge an application fee.
Again, we love efficiency! The products that score best in this category are those where potential tenants order and pay for screening reports as a part of the application process.
Buildium – score 9/10: Advertising, applications, and screening reports are all seamlessly tied together with Buildium. There are two screening packages to choose from. The Basic level report can be paid-for by the applicant, and delivers a full TransUnion Credit Report. The Premium package can be ordered without the applicant’s direct involvement (with proper pre-approval) and landlords can set criteria a prospective tenant needs to meet in order to get the green light.
TenantCloud – score 10/10: From your custom marketing site potential tenants can complete your customized application, upload any documents you’ve requested, and pay for the screening reports you require. Partnering with RentPrep for screening solutions, TenantCloud provides several a-la-carte report options. We awarded RentPrep our top honors for screening services, and we’re glad to see their partnership with TenantCloud.
RentecDirect – score 7/10: RentecDirect takes applicants from your marketing website to a custom application, however ordering screening reports is a separate step that must be completed by the property owner or manager. From our perspective as owner-managers we prefer platforms that require prospective tenants to purchase reports directly. We also don’t like having to take the additional step of ordering the reports. The upside of RentecDirect screening offerings is that they are affordable and flexible, as there are several screening packages to choose from.
SparkRental – score 9/10: We like the flexibility of SparkRental’s screening options. When setting up listings and embedding an application link, landlords can elect to require one or more of four reports offered – credit, criminal, eviction, and rental history. Depending on subscription level, applicants are charged directly (our preference) or landlords can choose to pay. Flexibility is in screening options is a strength of the SparkRental offering.
Just want great screening reports? Check out RentPrep
Extra Credit: Showing Coordination
Advertising vacancies, fielding inquiries, and scheduling appointments is time consuming. Buildium offers a tool that automates that process, and we’ve decided to award bonus points for this feature.
Buildium – score 2/2: We really like the fact that Buildium allows landlords to setup a showing calendar, so that prospective tenants can see available times and setup times to tour rentals directly from a listing page. We believe this convenience will lead property managers to show units to more potential applicants. This feature also eliminates the time-consuming process of negotiating showing times that are acceptable to both the shopper and the landlord.
Extra Credit: Market Rent Calculator
Pricing units competitively is crucial to filling vacancies quickly with good tenants. We believe rent calculators are useful tools as they scan listings and summarize the competitive environment for similar properties in the area. Having one of these features built-in is valuable-enough that we thought awarding bonus points is useful when considering where to list properties.
TenantCloud – score 2/2: TenantCloud partners with RentRange to offer robust pricing analysis. “We are thrilled to introduce our Property Marketing Report, which provides an in-depth comparison of your property and other properties in the area. Property Reports provide accurate and reliable automated rent estimates”.
Winner: Best Overall
Among free online ways to advertise property for rent, TenantCloud wins Best Overall.
- Vacancies are syndicated (posted-on) a broad range of rental listing sites, reaching a huge percentage of people searching for housing online.
- The user interface is attractive and easy to use, and units advertised on your personalized listings website are presented in a professional, appealing way.
- Up to 75 units can be advertised and managed over the TenantCloud platform, completely free of charge.
- A customizable online application is a click away from your vacancy page.
- Various screening reports are available, and all are paid-for by tenants.
Winner: Best for Showings
Buildium shines in every category we evaluated, except that it requires a membership costing a minimum of $47/month. We do believe this is a great product for property owners and managers who want end-to-end software for professionally managing a medium-to-large portfolio of properties. One feature Buildium alone offers is a showing scheduling tool. By making coordination of showing times easy for prospective tenants and landlords alike, we believe a maximize number of people will see your vacancy, helping to fill it quickly.
Reaching and appealing to the maximum number of prospective tenants is the first important step in keeping your properties fully occupied with great residents. There are many free online ways to advertise property for rent, and we’ve evaluated the best products in order to help you choose the solution that’s right for you.
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