Real Estate Marketing: 8 Tips to Find Motivated Sellers on Craigslist

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Most real estate investors have a “love-hate” relationship with Craigslist.

We hear it all the time:

“Craigslist doesn’t work for the real estate industry anymore.”
“Ever since they killed the ability to post HTML-enhanced ads… my leads have dried up.”
“Sure it’s great for ‘for sale by owner,’ but it’s impossible to scale.”
“All I ever get is spam.”

And I get it – when something isn’t working, it’s discouraging. It’s frustrating. Above all, it makes you want to quit and find a better place to invest your money.

Before you give up, though, consider the kinds of results Cyndy Dumire – a real estate investor and Craigslist ad-writing pro – gets on a regular basis. Every week, Cyndy generates around 80 buyer leads, 30 seller leads, and 10 foreclosure leads. Even more impressive, in the last six months, she’s closed no less than 30 deals from leads that all originated from Craigslist ads alone.

Effective Craigslist Ads With Cyndy Dumire

Cyndy Dumire Effective Craigslist Ads

The reasons most investors give up on Craigslist is twofold.

  1. Their ads don’t attract attention because they’re not offering their target audience a solution to a real and pressing problem (i.e., a market-driven need or desire).
  2. Their ads don’t inspire trust.

We’ve ran hundreds of tests on our real estate websites and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that building trust with the people who arrive on your website impacts ROI and lead generation more than any other element.

And that’s not just true on your website – it’s true on Craigslist.

Of course, if you’re going to use Craigslist and actually get results like Cyndy, then you’re going to need to know more than, “Build credibility!”

And that’s exactly where this post comes in.

Today, I’m going to pull back the curtain and walk through 8 tips to find all the motivated sellers and buyers on Craigslist you want.

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Craigslist Motivated Seller Tip #1: Know your ideal customer

To paraphrase the great Warren Buffett: never sell heavy-metal music lovers tickets to a jazz show.

If you’re trying to market to buyers or sellers, you’ve gotta start thinking like them.

Why do they want to sell their house? How stressful is their situation? How can you help them?

When determining your ideal customer as a real estate investor, there’re two questions you must answer:

  1. What kind of buyer or seller they are?
  2. What influences them in a personal capacity?

Answering the first question is pretty easy. But don’t be misled by its simplicity. One of the first mistakes most Craigslist ad marketers make is casting their net too wide. Unfortunately, targeting too broad of an audience – like “local home buyers” or “local home sellers” – won’t work.

Craigslist is too crowded for bland targets. Instead, you have to get specific about the kind of buyer or seller you’re focusing on and the needs that drive them.

For instance, your perfect customer might be…

  • An out-of-state investor who needs to know cash flow numbers.
  • A house flipper who needs a clear assessment of how much work is required to turn the property around.
  • A rent-to-own tenant buyer who needs to know that you’ll work with them on their unique financing situation.

In other words, be as detailed as possible when it comes to defining the kind of customer you’re aiming at.

Answering the second question – your customer’s influences – takes a bit more work.

To help, here’s a quick breakdown of the four major factors that influence home buyers specifically:

craigslist influences

(Image Source)

Understanding your perfect customer’s influences does not demand addressing each and every element noted above. But you also can’t create the best real estate listing without knowing what is going to sway your customer.

Again, this is all the more true on Craigslist. There are so many ads already vying for their attention, and that is why you need to make yours stand out.

How do you make your listing stand out?

Consider the following template as a starting point from our Posts 2 Profits Craigslist Marketing Course.

Craigslist Ad Template Download
Generate Craigslist Leads With These Free Ad Templates

See the time proven ad templates that have produced 80% of the seller, buyer, and tenant leads top investors get online through Craigslist today.

Notice how this ad communicates directly to the agent’s ideal customer and – especially through the power of questions – draws them in toward a preliminary solution. The “Free Book” offer – rather than an overt invitation to call them – is based directly on their ideal customer’s legitimate need.

craigslist ad template 1

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Craigslist Motivated Seller Tip #2: Get personal

Real estate is all about people.

Of course, in a sense, all businesses are about people. But real estate is especially personal because the commodity it deals in is emotionally charged.

After all, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, safety is one of the most primal human needs and comes in second only to our need for food and water (i.e., “Physiological” needs).

Maslows Hierarchy Of Needs

(Image Source)

Our homes give us safety. And – just like Maslow’s very next need identifies – they make us feel like we have a place to be “loved” and “belong.”

Even more powerful is the realization that our homes are where our memories are created. Not to be cliche, but home really is where the heart is.

So, listing a home or a property is a big deal. And trust is at a premium.

People need to trust you with what is quite honestly their biggest asset.

Keep your target audience – their needs, not yours; their dreams, not yours – at the forefront of your mind when you compile listings.

Craft personal, trustworthy ads with these tips:

  • Use your name in the ad, not just your company’s.
  • Write the way you talk and read your ad out loud to make sure it’s conversational.
  • Press on the pain of the person whose problem you’re trying to solve, then offer your holistic solution.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your personality and passion shine through.
  • Above all, tell a story. Paint a picture of how living in the home would feel using sensory language.

A well-written home description paints a vivid story.

Craigslist Motivated Seller Tip #3: Include a Call to Action

The entire point of any online marketing campaign – including listings on Craigslist – is to get the people who see it, to do something.

Normally, this means getting them to contact you via text, email, or phone. It could also mean getting them to visit your agency’s website.

Simply put: your Call to Action needs to get your reader to actually take action.

That’s why, in your listing, it’s essential to add a clear and enticing CTA, and to give your reader options. For example, the following CTA invites the reader to choose the next step that’s most comfortable for them and repeats the CTA no less than five times.

craiglist sold 1

Action also means you need to always include a direct email link so they can respond immediately to the ad if they’re interested. Oh, and don’t be afraid to call attention to that by inviting them to email you.

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Craigslist Motivated Seller Tip #4: Watch your words

We all know how essential good imagery is to real estate. In fact, we’re going to cover imagery and graphics in the very next point.

However, many investors fail because they underestimate the power of words. As Hamza Yusuf put it, “Don’t ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs.”

On Craigslist, watching your words comes down to two elements:

  1. Your keywords
  2. Your headlines

The right keywords matter because it’s your keywords that will determine whether or not the right people find your ad. This is true both through Craigslist’s own search engine as well as outside search engines like Google.

To get the best visibility for your ads, go beyond merely including your location as a keyword. Geek Estate’s post about “The Most Profitable Keywords in Real Estate offers this brilliant suggestion:

“Profitable keywords imply an action. San Diego real estate implies nothing. It is just a thing. San Diego real estate for sale implies an action. People want something that is for sale, presumably so they can buy it.”

In addition, Geek Estate also adds a second keyword characteristic: laser focus.

In contrast to something like “Rancho Santa Fe homes for sale,” use “individual neighborhoods within Rancho Santa Fe”: e.g., “Fairbanks Ranch homes for sale, The Bridges homes for sale, or Rancho Santa Fe Covenant homes for sale.”

Why? Because “people that type keywords like these into the search engines know exactly what they are looking for.”

Lastly, as vital as keywords are, do not “stuff” your real estate listing with keywords for the sake of keywords. This creates an inhuman feel to your ads and violates our previous tip: “Get Personal.”

The second element to watch is your ad’s headline.

The title of your Craigslist ad is where the real attention-grabbing oomph resides, and you need to spend some time developing and testing titles that captivate. Whatever you do, don’t follow the crowd… unless of course, the ad has been proven to work, like the ones we provide in our Posts 2 Profits Craigslist Marketing Course.

The ad I already called attention to in tip one is an excellent example of a headline that stands out:

Craigslist behind on payments ad

Likewise, so is the headline in this ad:

craiglist sold

On top of our own proven headlines, check out Inman’s 4 tips for writing powerful real estate copy which includes these simple, but super practical hacks:

  1. Short, concise bullet points work best
  2. Use numbers
  3. Use the words “unique,” “special” and “these”
  4. Use commands
Craigslist Ad Template Download
Generate Craigslist Leads With These Free Ad Templates

See the time proven ad templates that have produced 80% of the seller, buyer, and tenant leads top investors get online through Craigslist today.

Craigslist Motivated Seller Tip #5: Be relevant with your graphics

There’s no doubt about it: not adding images to your ads is a Craigslist killer. However, the mere presence of images doesn’t automatically translate into success.

The right graphics dramatically increase the number of people who will take action and get in touch with you. So too … the wrong graphics dramatically reduce that number.

As a golden rule, be sure to use images that are eye-catching, relevant … and high quality. That’s true across the board. But how do you decide what images and graphics to include?

Go back to your ideal customer. The image you choose should be based on the type of buyer or seller you’re looking for:

  • Turnkey investors want to see images that show off how nice the house is, that it’s been well kept and that it’s in a neighborhood that’ll attract the type of tenant they want. That last characteristic means you should always include both pictures of the property itself as well as its surrounding area.
  • Cash buyers or flippers want to see a house that needs TLC in comparison to other houses in the neighborhood. With these types, you’d be smart to show the flaws of the property, exactly what kind of work will be required, but end by displaying its underlying high-points and long-term value.
  • If your ideal customer is a homeowner or retail buyer — if they will be living in the property themselves — then staged images that show off the house as a home are essential. Just be careful what you include in those staged photos:
craigslist doll pic 1

Image Credit: Huffington Post

craigslist doll pic 2

Image Credit: Huffington Post

  • If your ideal customer is an investor, then glamorous, well-staged pictures of the property itself won’t be nearly as compelling as adding numbers to those pictures. In this case, you could try using a multi-property image for investors interested in purchasing multiple properties.
craiglist sold 2

Lastly, as a pro tip, don’t overdo it with images. Remember, the entire point of your ad is to get your reader to do something, like visit your website. Give them just enough to make them want to find out more.

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Craigslist Motivated Seller Tip #6: Post often and from different “angles”

Alongside the previous pitfalls we’ve covered, I’d be willing to argue that the number one real-estate-ad-killer on Craigslist isn’t the words, the images, or even the calls to action.

It’s recency.

The way that Craigslist works is the most recent postings land at the top of the page and the past ones get pushed down. Some people search Craigslist based on the search box (so make sure to include keywords that your best clients are likely to search in your listings), but most people just scroll down the listings a few scrolls to see “what’s new”.

So with that said, to get in front of your prospects the most… make sure you have ads online and active at the times of the day that your prospects are likely looking at Craigslist. 

We’ve even seen with today’s Craigslist algorithm some of the most successful accounts post between 3-15 times per day. 

Here’s how…

Day 1-3:
Launch a Craigslist account and start posting just 3 times per day. Once in the morning, around lunch, and evening – around 7 or 8 pm. These tend to be the times of the day people will look at Craigslist. Think about when you look at your email, Facebook, or Craigslist… it tends to be during that “slack time” during your day. Posting your ads just before these “slack times” helps put your ads near the top of the feed when your best prospects hop on to browse.

On those ads, don’t post the same ad every time. You’ll want to tackle it from different angles. If you’re looking for motivated house sellers or cash buyers, what are different reasons a house seller could want to sell? Create an ad for each. What motivations could cash buyers have? Create an ad for each.

This way you’re keeping things interesting and hitting on multiple hooks. One might grab someone better than another.

Day 4-8:
Add in another ad to your mix. Now posting 2 ads 3 times per day (for a total of 6 ads that day). Again, don’t post the same ad every time and mix up your hooks. Also, mix up where you’re posting your ads – don’t put them all in the same spot.

What we’re doing here is “seasoning” the account in a natural way so you’re not launching a new account and posting 20 ads the first day. That’s a great way to get your account banned and you’ll have to start over.

Day 9-20:
Keep renewing your ads every 48 hours as Craigslist lets you and bump up your ad posting frequency so you’re posting 3 ads 3 times per day (for 9 ads total per day).

Same thing, keep your ads interesting, high value, and hitting on different hooks – things that your top prospects are thinking about, worrying about, or need help with.

Day 21-20:
I’d cap it at about 12 ads per day on that one account. I’ve seen some accounts get ghosted or banned at even that amount if the ads aren’t high value and really helping people. So in this phase, add on a 4th ad 3 times per day… capping it at that 12 ads per day for that Craigslist account.

Just a note: if you post more than 15 ads a day, you’ll get “Craigslist slapped” and your ads will stop showing up.

The lifespan of Craigslist ads can vary depending on the number of competing posts in different geographic locations. In large metropolitan cities, ads may only be visible for 5 days, while in smaller towns they may show up for 50 days.

Why all this focus on recency and renewing? Because generating real estate leads on Craigslist is an attention game, so the more you’re at the top of the Craigslist listing when your best prospects are searching… the more likely your ads will get seen and the prospects will come your way.

If you want to cross that gray line on the Craigslist Terms of Service to ramp it up… we’ve seen it be crazy effective having a few Craigslist accounts. Yes, this is against the Craigslist TOS so it’s your choice and you risk getting your accounts banned. However, if you’re marketing different websites with different phone numbers (i.e. – a cash buyer site and a motivated house seller site) the chances of it being seen as a duplicate account are very small.

It all boils down to value. If you’re adding value to the Craigslist ecosystem vs. just spamming it… then you’re good.

Craigslist Motivated Seller Tip #7: Create a system

By now, you might feel a bit overwhelmed. Keeping track of all those ads can be hard work.

Unfortunately, Craigslist doesn’t provide any analytics or tracking data, so it’s up to you to track each of your ads and monitor your calls as a part of your overall real estate marketing plan so you can see what’s working.

At a minimum, keep a spreadsheet of your Craigslist ads and a method to monitor them.

Not only does creating a system of tracking give you concrete proof of what’s working and what’s not, but getting organized with a system gives you more time to do other more important things.

We recommend you send traffic to a specific URL on your site.

This has a couple advantages.

  1. You can track them using Google Analytics
  2. You can retarget users that you know have come from Craigslist

Here are a few tips to consider when creating a special page for Craigslist traffic.

  • Name the URL something short and descriptive. An example
  • Realize that this site might rank in search so you will need to look at that traffic in your Analytics account
  • You should have content on that page that specifically address the type of lead and ad copy that they are coming from.
  • If they clicked on the ad and are coming to your site, you know what questions they have, make sure the answer is easily found.
  • Track which pages are converting the most traffic and make changes as necessary.

At the end of the day, any data is better than no data.

So, create a page, or have your developer help you. Then just send traffic to that specific page.

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Craigslist Motivated Seller Tip #8: Build trust

I mentioned in the introduction to this post that trust is at a premium on Craigslist. In fact, trust is absolutely crucial to all your real estate marketing efforts.

I’ve touched on this theme a number of times already. But in case you missed it, trust is so vital that it deserves its very own tip.

It’s like the old joke: “It’s all about sincerity. Once you can fake that … you’ve got it made.”

In all seriousness, however, the last question you should ask yourself before you hit “Post” is, “Does this ad build trust?”

A lot of factors go into trust, so let’s just look at the two most prominent.

(1) Be Attractive

It may sound shallow, but persuasion expert Robert Cialdini’s very first step in the famous know “trust chain” is to be “attractive.”

This doesn’t mean you should feature glamor shots of yourself in your Craigslist ads.

But it does mean the images you use must be high quality. It also means providing plenty of attractive “white space” in yours ads. Short sentences and short paragraphs don’t just look good, they’re easy to scan.

craiglist house listed

Being attractive also means covering your bases when it comes to grammar and proofreading. Nothing kills trust more than an agent who can’t spell correctly.

(2) Be Easy to Contact

Conversion guru Peep Laja, in his 39 Factors: Website Credibility Checklist, gives both the number two and number three spots to what we might call contactability:

“Make your address and phone number visible at all times. Include it in the footer (a must), but depending on your site also in the header (especially if your business depends on incoming calls) and on the sidebar, in the microcopy.”

“Make it very easy to contact you.”

How does this apply to Craigslist? Easy. Simply including your contact information once isn’t enough. Take a look at another of our proven templates and see if you can count how many contact opportunities there are:


All told, I counted nine. Even if it feels redundant … your ads should do the same.

Real estate works on Craigslist… you just have to know how to work it.

We’ve covered a lot of ground.

Eight tips on how to find all the motivated sellers and buyers on Craigslist you want:

  1. Know your ideal customer
  2. Get personal
  3. Include a Call to Action
  4. Watch your words
  5. Be relevant with your graphics
  6. Re-post real estate listings … often
  7. Create a system
  8. Build trust

Good luck out there, and let us know if we missed your own favorite tip in the comments.

Mike Blankenship

Michael is a freelance copywriter who helps startups build bigger, more sustainable businesses. He’s been mentioned on Forbes and Entrepreneur for his expertise as a writer, and he's written articles for SUCCESS, SmartBlogger, GetResponse, AdWeek, Jeff Bullas, and a whole slew of other publications. You can learn more about him at or connect with him on Facebook.

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14 responses to “Real Estate Marketing: 8 Tips to Find Motivated Sellers on Craigslist

  1. How often each day should I post the same ad to keep the ad on top most of the time? When are the best days, if any, to post an ad in real estate? Are the weekends a better time than during the weekdays?

    1. Hi John,

      All great questions! I don’t think there’s a bad time to post… and the more ads the merrier, right? ;)

      You shld go on and “refresh” your ads each day so that they show back up at the top of the searches. It might help a bit to stagger your postings so that some show up when people are browsing ads while sipping morning coffee, and some show up during happy hour, some show up for late night cocktails… you get the picture. People often post all of their ads at once, and then they all are “stuck together” in the feed… instead of spaced out.

      Weekends are great for open house ads – I like to get mine up by Thursday at the latest (but again, refresh each day so that yours stay current).

      Hope that helps!

    2. Hey John, great question! We have a training on the whole process in our Carrot members area (an upgrade) that walks through it. But basically… with Craigslist you can refresh your ads every 48 hours… and they tend not to allow the same ad being published at the same time twice. So we suggest setting up a few accounts and having 5-10 ads a day you’re posting… then every 48 hours you’ll refresh your ads. Best days… depending on what types of leads you’re looking for. But we like to post everyday.

      Times of the day… around 9am in the morning… lunch time… then after dinner (When people tend to be looking in CL. That way your ads show up near the top of the list of ads).

      Hope that helps! In our training (currently for Carrot members only) we give you ads, really detailed instructions, etc. So reach out if you want to join the Carrot community!

  2. Moral, Ethical, and borderline Legal Issues. Tip 6 violates Craigslist’s Terms Of Use section of the user agreement. So what your blog report for this topic actually says without you being aware it says, is…….. If we are not willing to lie and cheat with the Craigslist platform for success, “It’s our fault”. WOW!!! I can’t believe Trevor approved this blog post. Ironic that you would talk about trust, trust, trust being paramount in this post but, then advocate the opposite. Again, WOW!!! The Craigslist Terms of Use govern your conduct on the site and in the ads you post. They explicitly forbid any subscriber from opening more than one account and from listing ads on anyone else’s behalf. Just because you know someone who claims to have two separate Craigslist accounts or you find a “blog post” that discusses how to sign up multiple times doesn’t make the practice viable or acceptable under the Craigslist rules and regulations. (Craigslist Terms of Use) Along with the potential loss of posting privileges and involuntary closure of Craigslist accounts, people who violate the terms of use also face the prospect of liquidated damages. The rules that spell out these monetary penalties enable Craigslist to impose fines that range from $25 up to $25,000 for a wide variety of infringements. Maintaining more than one account can carry a $100 penalty for each account and each instance in which you use it to post. (Liquidated Damages) Craig Newmark has filed law suites against people and taken them to court for violating reasons listed in the terms of use agreement. You know……that little agreement we all have to agree to before and when we use there platform. As Entrepreneurs, RE Investors and Agents/Brokers……we should be all to familiar with what happens when you violate or change our minds about the terms and conditions of a “contract agreement” we “agree” to. Bad Business. I was really looking forward to this post, but, now I’m pretty disappointed. The rest of the blog post was great, but tip 6 and how it clashes with tip 8…….WOW!!!

    Craigslist: FAQ
    Craigslist: FAQ-Job
    Craigslist: CL Liquidated Damages
    Craigslist: Craigslist Terms of Use
    Craigslist: Posting Deleted
    Craigslist: Paid Posting Accounts
    Craigslist: User Accounts
    Craigslist: Flags and Community Moderation
    Craigslist: Anonymize

    “IF” you know something I don’t know, then PLEASE, inform me. Good Day to you all.

    1. Hey Walter!

      Thanks for the comment and I appreciate your honesty!

      This post was written by a guest author of ours and that definitely slipped through the cracks during our edit process. In fact, our actual Posts2Profits Craigslist course doesn’t teach it like #6 laid out… so we updated the post to be more in line with our Craigslist course. With that said, having multiple accounts is something we’ve seen work great and we’ve done ourselves over the years. The key I feel is making sure it’s not for the purpose of just spamming Craigslist with no extra value. One instance where it works great is if you have multiple websites and are going after different types of leads on each account.

      Example… if you have a cash buyer website, a motivated house seller, and one going after rent to own tenants. We’ve seen it be very successful splitting those postings up into 3 accounts… each has a different phone number and domain name… and we’re not just reposting the same property or ad over and over. Just providing more value to the Craigslist community.

      But yes, point #6 definitely wasn’t shy about completely disregarding the CL TOS so we apologize and we appreciate you catching that and keeping us honest sir!

      It’s updated now to reflect our stance and the stance we lay out in our course and that match our core values.

      1. Thanks for responding & clarifying Trevor. After rigorous research and hearing the debate out from both sides of this and practicing on craigslist for a week or so (its been YEARS since I have used them….ALLOT HAS CHANGED) I now see this “Gray Area” that you are talking about. It seems that per “household” you are able to have more than one account. (Not abunch, but a few…like 3-5)
        I also see how some of their rules or requirements make absolutely NO logical sense. I also found out that Craig Newmark was taking people to court over the use of “automated” software tools that either “auto-posted” or “auto-flagged” people. I heard someone from a forum recently say that craigslist is a “Jungle”. At the time I did’nt understand what they meant. Now after testing craigslist out for a couple of weeks and researching non-stop, Now I understand what they meant. Even when you do try to follow their rules, you still end up getting flagged. It is soooooo much more difficult to use craigslist than it seems. What’s really weird, is that when you read the terms and Conditions agreement that we all click “Agree” to or the one you go in search of, all these rules thdelete and block for,
        are’nt even listed in there. It’s like you have to learn through trial and error. CRAZY! how ever, I will fully agree that Craigslist
        can be a literal “waste of time”. I have lost so much productive time recently by going through all of this frustrating stuff. However, what can we actually expect from a FREE SERVICE. There are pro’s and con’s that come with it. In closing, thx for clarifying, and thx for this blog post. I will keep trying and one day when I can actually afford your P2P training, I will get it. Until then, I am stuck where I am at with my limited & restricted income because of my disablement. Good Day to You.

        1. Yes Don Craigslist is a bit crazy but it can work great in many markets. Go get ’em and we’re here for ya!

          1. I see now that to legitimately have more than one account, you can open up an account for every person that lives in your household. You kind of have to because they also require a separate phone number for every account that is opened. Wow……I think I am just going to use all the other classified platforms out there along with craigslist. That way I can still have the exposure but not bend rules too far out of wack. Gotta just keep on keep’n on. Sorry……I’ll stop posting here and just move one. Thx for your blog and advise Trevor. Have a good rest of the year.

  3. I think your first ad copy example (4) has too! many!! exclamation points!!!!!


    Are you really advising using that kind of ploy? It doesn’t look like ad copy. More like hokum.

    But you’re saying people respond. So, I guess if hokey stuff like that works I should just shut up and use it.

    1. Hey Mitch! Thanks for the comment man.

      Ya, so that ad was just an example… and I know Craigslist is looking more and more today vs. even last summer at using symbols and punctuation in ad titles. So if we were to suggest what to do today… I’d prob not do 4 million exclamation points in the ads. But make them more natural. The whole reason originally for those symbols in the titles is to make the title stand out in the stream of CL ads.

      With all of that saying, test things in your market and see what works. Mix things up… don’t make all of your Craigslist ads look aline… etc.

      Go get ’em and let me know how we can help!

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