The Top 3 Apartment Lead Sources Used by Renters


Ask any marketing director what causes some of their biggest headaches, and you are sure to hear about the need for the correct lead source to be entered into the property management system when a prospect visits a community. Unless you know where your leads are coming from, you won’t know where to allocate your marketing dollars.

So what if you don’t know? What if you aren’t currently tracking sources or you aren’t confident in your current source tracking process? Where do you focus your marketing dollars?

The Top 3 Sources Renters Use to Find Apartments

According to the 2012 SatisFacts Index, which compiles information directly from resident satisfaction surveys, here are the top three sources renters use to find apartments. Counting down, a la David Letterman, let’s start with number three:

3. Internet Listing Services (ILS)

Between 11 and 14 percent of prospects have used at least one of the top Internet listing services to find their new apartment. While there are arguments for and against these pay-per services, they continue to be effective in the marketplace.

2. Word of Mouth (without Social Media)

There’s a lot of focus on social media and how referral incentives potentially skew the true measure of how willing someone is to recommend a community. The fact remains, however, that basic word of mouth—the old-fashioned way without social media—is cited by 17% of renters as a source when they were apartment-shopping.

1. Apartment Signs/Driving By/Curbside Appeal

People typically know the general vicinity in which they want to live. Whether it’s to be close to work, close to restaurants and shopping, close to the freeway, close to childcare, or in a certain school district, people have preferences. And when looking for a new home, they tend to walk or drive through the neighborhoods or areas they prefer. In fact, more than one in five renters claimed signage and driving by as a source in their search.

While ratings and reviews are the talk of the industry (and rightly so, as they are becoming the “norm” in the rental decision), it’s important to ensure we don’t neglect some of the old standbys. Some options are quickly becoming obsolete (newspapers, for example, were only cited by 0.8%), but some of the basics still hold true. Ensure your signage is in great condition, is easy to read, and has your community phone number and/or web page listed. A prospect may drive or walk by this morning, look you up on the Internet when she gets home, and call for a tour by the afternoon. Make it easy for her.

What’s the number one lead source that potential renters use to find your apartment communities? Share them in the comments below.



Senior Vice President of Education and Consulting, SatisFacts Research

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Jen Piccotti, Senior vice President of Education and Consulting at SatisFacts Research, has over a decade of experience in customer loyalty, quality assurance programs and process efficiency, and has worked in the apartment industry since 2000. She heads up special projects for SatisFacts, including satisfaction survey action planning, work-time analyses, special studies, quality assurance, process evaluations, and educational services. Jen holds a Master of Science – Quality Assurance degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

5 responses to “The Top 3 Apartment Lead Sources Used by Renters”

  1. Keith Brown says:

    Would be interesting to see if #1 (curb appeal) also extended to photography online. Most people’s perception of a property starts online, and nothing is more frustrating than looking at poor quality pictures online, then getting to a property that looks nothing like the photos.

  2. Max Rockbin says:

    Is there some reason multifamily publications are afraid to acknowledge the utter dominance of Craigslist?
    Deal With It.

    • Michael Cunningham says:


      Thanks for chiming in. You’re right that Craig’s List is a dominant source of apartment leads. What’s interesting about this list is that the data comes from renters completing satisfaction surveys.

      I remember back in my apartment rental days (pre-Internet), I usually responded to the how did you hear about us question with “drive by” because it was the easiest answer to give. That said, the results here do show that curb appeal still serves an important role in apartment marketing.

      Michael Cunningham
      Managing Editor

  3. Aaron Winsor says:

    In my market area craigslist is viewed as the choice of fraudsters so it’s use is a fraction of other sites.

  4. james says:


    Thanks for the article. As a renter, and one in the 20-30 age range, I find it incredibly difficult to believe that the number one source of traffic comes from drive by.

    Let’s be realistic- even if you live in a urban environment- to take this approach would be incredibly time costly and ineffective. Imagine driving around in the area you would like to live in, stopping at the places that you see to get a viewing or a price quote. It would take one day to get to 5 properties- if you’re lucky. Most renters now-a-days go first to Google- perform a search, and view the results. Think of the time it would take to individually stop by every single place versus going to craigslist, or an ILS to view hundreds of communities. There’s no comparison.

    We have to be careful when we look at how we survey. Most renters search, then get in their car and drive- so, we must consider the possibility that they would select- drive by in a survey. If you get a chance to speak with some of the larger ILS’- they boast search data in the millions per month.

    That being said, if you find a community you like, and the curb appeal isn’t there- it’s a deal breaker. Thanks for considering my opinion.

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