I’ve been looking for a new place to rent using craigslist, and while it’s an invaluable source of information, i’ve been frustrated by how much unnecessary work has been required. I’ve wasted huge amounts of time writing emails and making calls to fill in details not included in ads. Even when I do this extra legwork, I forget to ask about something and show up to a place I wouldn’t have even considered if, for example, I’d known it didn’t have a gas stove.
Part of the problem is that every posting on craigslist is formatted uniquely. One person is a realtor and posts an HTML formatted ad, while another is a homeowner listing a rental for the first time. One is verbose and full of irrelevant details, another is three sentences long and only lists generic information such as number of rooms.
It’s clear that most people writing a listing aren’t real estate professionals, and when faced with a big blank text box, they type in whatever they can think of off the top of their heads and post the ad. Sometimes this works out, but much of the time this results in lots of overhead answering questions via email and phone, or showing the house to people who aren’t a good fit for the place.
Current craigslist housing posting form
Luke Wroblewski wrote a great post about narrative format registration forms -input boxes within sentences-basically madlibs. While the focus of his post was on increased conversion, it shows that this kind of approach can be more inviting and friendly than standard form boxes that can feel like you are doing a lot of work to input information.
What if Craigslist offered a narrative format template just for listing rental properties? Housing listings are a constrained problem with a limited set of vocabulary which lends itself to templates. This template could guide home owners in crafting a post which is easy to read, includes the kinds of information that renters need in order to make decisions and saves everyone time. Of course the old text box could still be an option for those who want to craft their own post.
Mad-libs style template approach for posting rental listings
The template offers a simple streamlined method of posting, resulting in ads which are more consistent, yet customized in the places which matter most, highlighting the unique differences between rentals. The mad-libs format is faster and easier to compose, and results in prose postings which are easier make sense of and save time and effort of matching renters to homes.