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Monday, April 14, 2014

A Primer on Craigslist Housing Scams

by LJ:

Between late January and mid-February, our landlord passed away unexpectedly and my husband was let go from his job. One heaven-sent job offer and a month later, we found ourselves back in Arizona with a working car and a (mostly) happy family, but nowhere permanent to live.

We jumped headfirst into the gaping maw of Craigslist and this is where I started to see some patterns in its sad, scammy world, especially the rental listings. I share this hard-earned knowledge with you in the hopes it saves you a few hours of empty searches. Let's start with my favorite rental scam, the Sloppy Listing. 

The Sloppy Listing has three trademarks: (1) a single, grainy photo of the house exterior, (2) wobbly English, and (3) the zip code awkwardly written anywhere in the description.


Home Sweet Home For You !

Description: You don't want to get pass by this beautiful home in the charming 85254 zip code area neighborhood of Phoenix. This house is fine 3/4 acre parcel with 4 bedroom 2 and half bath with granite counters in the bathroom and kitchen area's. It is beautiful home and come by and see today before its going to someone else!

A bonus giveaway to a Sloppy Listing is that the monthly rent is way too low, or any additional photos are obviously pieced together from two different houses. My favorite was a home in "central Phoenix" with all deciduous trees in the front yard and a snow-capped mountain range in the background.

If you pass the Sloppy Listing, you might get lured in by the Sorta Legit Listing. It has (mostly) correct English and pertinent property information, but the photographer has carefully cropped out the cat skeletons in the rafters or the bombed-out meth shack next door. This is where I turn to Google Maps to show me street views of the neighborhood and then SHABAMMO. I can see for myself the scrap lumber pile off the carport that houses a giant scorpion colony.

Then there's the Legit Listings. These are real homes, listed by real people, using really generous language to describe them, like this:

Enjoy easy access to downtown Phoenix in this cozy 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment with quality vintage furnishings! Eat-in kitchen includes tile flooring, microwave and new paint. Bathroom has double sinks and full tub. Bedrooms also have new paint and quality natural lighting. All carpets have been cleaned professionally. Contact Bubs today at or call (602) 555-2222.  

If you could translate realtor speak, this would be your description of the property:

Lull your kids to sleep every night in this 584 square foot apartment right next to the train tracks. This glorified one bedroom apartment (the 2nd bedroom is a den without a door) hasn't been renovated since its construction in 1957 when people didn't own dining tables or chairs. The toilet is sinking a little into the floor, but hey! two sinks! Your glorious west-facing windows ensure you can work on that tan without leaving the couch. Also, something died in the master bedroom closet, but don't worry, I hired my cousin Fergus to run a Rug Doctor across the carpets. Also, NEW PAINT!!

Again, remember that any listing that plays up appliances or amenities you think would be standard, like a working fridge or sink, are trying to draw your attention away from the dead cat in the ceiling. Just sayin'.

The ones that tripped me up were the Shiny Listings. These homes are fairly priced, look impeccably clean, and they have real cross-streets listed with the description. However, when you e-mail to ask about availability, you get a response something like this:


We are pleased that you have an interest in our lovely house. We want responsible adults/family that are neat and also believe that you have what it takes to take care of our house as if it were Yours. I got transferred from my place of work to NEW JERSEY,  I work for a Highway Construction Company here in NEW JERSEY and got married to a lovely wife BRENDA who is a member of Holy Family Cathedral Church ... We will be very pleased if we can find the right/potential tenant to rent our home, a person who does not tolerate anything that has to do with dirt. we also would like to know more about you and when you plan moving into our home.. 

Mr. & Mrs Robert Gundlach & Family.

What follows is a "rental application" that ends with some variation of "Are you willing to give us your money without actually getting keys to the property?" 

Anyways, the happy end to this story is that we found a place to live off Zillow and never had to deal with Craigslist rental listings again. To those of you still searching, may you all find legitimate places to live that are well within your budget, and may you never find yourself sending a wire transfer to a kindly property owner working for a missionary organization in Uganda.

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Laurie Jayne (LJ) Stradling began her writing career with horrible grade-school poetry (the kind with illustrations in the margins). She has since moved onto blogging and the occasional piece of fiction, which has improved slightly since she gave up the illustrations. LJ is a quiet feminist, a loud mom, a well-kept wife and a fervent believer in prayer. She also believes that most dogs came to the earth after the Fall of Adam. Twitter: @lauriestradling.

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