Trulia applies a Band-Aid to rental fraud problem; YoChicago offers a solution

by Joe Zekas on 7/31/11

A recent post at TruliaBlog boasted that:

As online rentals fraud is becoming an industry-wide problem, Trulia is committed to keeping our rental listings scam-free and accurate. While tackling this problem and keeping up with fraudsters is an ongoing task, we have taken a few initial steps to reduce fraud and protect our valued customers.

The “few initial steps” – which you can read about in the linked blog post – don’t address the most common form of fraud in Chicago-area rental ads, i.e. the bait-and-switch posts from the rental services that we routinely refer to as bedbugs.

It takes only a few seconds to find fraudulent ads on Trulia – just look for listings that are headlined as “Address Not Disclosed” and / or placed by one of the bedbugs on our rental service do-not-call list. The odds are high that following up on the ad will waste your time – or worse.

The first ad I drilled in on using the rules I just provided brought me to an ad for a River North studio that’s $100 a month below what the management company lists it for at its Web site. And the bedbug-placed ad endows the building with a roster of amenities it simply doesn’t have.

It isn’t sufficient to avoid “Address Not Disclosed” / identifiable bedbug ads. A search for rentals in ZIP code 60654 – River North – surfaces the ad in the above screen cap. I’ve flagged it as fraudulent at Trulia, and you can follow this link to see whether they remove it.

A fully furnished, highly-upgraded 2-bedroom, 2-bath with in-unit washer / dryer at 33 W Ontario for $1,000 a month? Sure.

Fraud is so pervasive in online rental advertising, and the bedbugs have honed their skills over such a long period of time, that it simply can’t be addressed by any Web site. The only solution is high-profile criminal prosecutions and license revocations. That’s a solution we’re unlikely to see in Illinois, which has a long-standing history of not taking effective action (hell, any action) against the abuses of this segment of the real estate brokerage industry.

If you’re looking to rent in downtown Chicago, Lincoln Park or Lake View, YoChicago has an easy way for you to avoid rental service rental fraud. You’ll find almost every rental option in those areas on our rental lists and maps, and useful tips about the neighborhoods in our rental Guides. Skip all online rental advertising and deal directly with a landlord. You’re likely to save money as well as avoiding hassles.

Added: I wrote the following post, at Trulia, last November:

Apartment rental bedbugs have totally trashed Trulia

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

boiztwn August 2, 2011 at 12:30 AM

Who searches for rentals on Trulia, anyway?

I still remain convinced that domu is the best resource in Chicago for direct availability and pricing.

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Joe Zekas August 2, 2011 at 10:40 AM

boiztwn,

What are you smoking? domu is, in my educated opinion, a radically over-hyped waste of time.

Do a search on Streeterville, for example. You’ll find a few of the major rental buildings and a subset of MLS-listed rentals and virtually nothing else.

Use YoChicago’s at-a-glance apartment list and map and a broker’s MLS rental search and you’ll have access to many more listings and much more detail on them.

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boiztwn August 3, 2011 at 12:01 AM

There are scores of “listing services” out there and there are even more advertising venues. There’s no silver bullet.

Domu will never be “everything” yet it’s still a great resource — and I’ve said that before. It’s by Chicago, for Chicago, and it is not only more locally focused than big-name advertisers (apartments.com; forrent.com; rent.com), but also more up-to-date than a massive, prolific list that identifies all rentals, yet cannot discern what is available NOW or the changing market rates, especially when said owners/brokers/managers have no zeal in updating listings, availabilities, or pricing.

Domu connects prospectives directly to landlords.managing agents, lists current availabilities, and is easy to navigate. Just because every housing option in the city isn’t accessible on there does not make it somehow deficient; if anything it means MORE landlords and managing agents should list to comp their neighbors and get into the marketplace.

In this regard, domu is a great local resource that has no advertising competitor.

Just my two cents.

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Joe Zekas August 3, 2011 at 12:40 AM

boiztwn,

You’re spouting pure garbage. domu is not an accurate, up-to-date source. If you want an easy illustration of this, compare the rental rates quoted at domu for 420 East Ohio with those quoted at the building’s site.

In addition to inaccurate or out-of-date rent rates domu only lists the types of units available while the building’s Web site gives you actual prices and actual availability dates for each type of unit.

domu’s a waste-of-time blind alley, not a resource. When there’s an easier, more complete, more accurate way to connect directly with landlords, why would anyone use domu?

I don’t know what your interest is in touting domu, but your statements have zero credibility. I’ve included screen caps below primarily because I don’t have a very high regard for domu’s credibility.

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boiztwn August 3, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Joe, I reeeeally don’t get your one-man domu crusade. Anyone with any knowledge of any rental database ad agency knows that the information is only as current as the account holder wishes it to be.

If the building/company is not updating their availabilities and pricing for an ad agency’s database, that’s on them. And that is a common occurrence across the web (apartments.com, rent.com, et cet) — it’s not exclusive to domu.

But their single listings do reflect accurate pricing, AND give an availability date. Large building accounts are always going to be in-flux with pricing and availability.

Plus, you can comp block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood with the map. There is no better and easier DIY starter resource out there for the north side. None. Not even Craig’s List. If there is, show me.

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boiztwn August 6, 2011 at 9:05 PM

No better resource provided, Joe?

Figures.

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Joe Zekas August 6, 2011 at 9:19 PM

boiztwn,

What’s exclusive to domu is its pretensions to being something it isn’t.

You’re having trouble getting much of anything right in this thread. Since you either missed or choose to ignore what I said in an earlier comment, I’ll repeat it for you:

“Use YoChicago’s at-a-glance apartment list and map and a broker’s MLS rental search and you’ll have access to many more listings and much more detail on them.”

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boiztwn August 6, 2011 at 9:36 PM

“At-a-Glance” does not mean that it’s focused. It’s just a glance.

If you’re a landlord that’s advertising, it is not “at-a-glance.” It’s great that you’ve catalogued rental properties, but your lists are wholly ineffective.

Just keeping it real.

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Joe Zekas August 6, 2011 at 10:09 PM

Boiztwn,

Are you seriously suggesting that a comprehensive list and map of all available apartment complexes in, say, Streeterville, with links to their Web sites for accurate, up-to-date info, and links to available videos, is outranked in utility by domu’s hyper-thin coverage of that neighborhood?

Are you seriously suggesting that domu’s sampling of less than all of the MLS-listed rentals in Streeterville has more utility than seeing all of the Streeterville rentals at a broker site?

Have you ever looked closely at any of domu’s data? I have, and it isn’t a pretty sight. It’s a swamp of garbage at some levels, as I’ve shown above. Let me give you another simple, easy to understand illustration.

The image above is a domu screen cap for Unit 1106 at 415 E North Water, renting for $2,500 and listed with American Invsco according to domu.

There’s a fatal problem with that listing at domu: Unit 1106 is listed with Baird & Warner and rents for $2,850. Unit 1206, renting for $2,500, is listed with American Invsco.

The closer you look at domu the more you see a hill of crap with a cloud of smoke blown over it.

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boiztwn August 9, 2011 at 11:46 PM

Yes, yes, yes, and yes, Joe.

1. The “comprehensive list” is not up to date with pricing, much less even offers available pricing. Most management companies do not even have comprehensive pricing/availability lists (like PPM, which I’ve already mentioned here) — so domu is bous how? Also, said “list” is not as widely notable as the domu ad campaign is — so who is looking at it, anyway?

2. The MLS is the MLS and only a limited number of individuals have access to it. Domu is for casual browsers — not industry types. When Joe Blow can peruse the MLS at any time, then you’re free to educate me about this “pitfall.”

3. Invsco is a property owner/manager. Baird & Warner is a third-party realtor. Such a SHOCK! (not really) that a direct management agent (Invsco) quotes *under* that of a subcontracted brokerage (Baird & Warner) that is undoubtedly listing via that oh-so-exclusive MLS. And I thought you were here to warn renters that rental “listing services” are bogus because they’re given higher rates than contacting landlords directly. Baird & Warner is now exempt from that?

And yet, here your only example is that Invsco’s domu listing is at a lower rate than a sub-contracted, for-commission realtor’s (Baird) one means that now domu is bogus?

Come on, Joe. Domu does an EXCELLENT job. Your hypocrisy is showing — and *how*.

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Joe Zekas August 10, 2011 at 1:24 AM

boiztwn,

You don’t understand much about this business, and you don’t pay attention very well.

I gave Streeterville as an example – where PPM is not active, and most of the landlords have online availability info and pricing. Our list that includes Streeterville has been viewed, as of this writing, 1,193 times and the map has been viewed 2,464 times since they went live at the end of April. I could care less how many people see ads on bicycles or buses, but I do pay close attention to how many people find our targeted, relevant content through Google search and it’s a healthy number.

Baird & Warner and American Invsco are both exclusive listing brokers for the two units – 1106 and 1206 – in question. That puts them in a radically different category with regard to these listings than rental services.

domu attributed an exclusive listing (Baird & Warner’s) to the wrong broker (American Invsco) and got the price wrong! That’s a serious screw-up on domu’s part, and the erroneous info is still live at domu. We import MLS data into our ad management systems for major brokers throughout the country, including a number of Chicago’s largest, and have done so for a number of years. I can assure you it isn’t easy to screw this up as domu has.

Before you charge hypocrisy you should grasp the basics of what you’re spouting off about. You’ve failed to do that.

Despite your bizarre assertion, there’s nothing exclusive about access to MLS-listed rentals. Jane and Joe Blow can find them on almost every real estate brokerage site – and find far more of them than they can at domu, and not be misled by domu’s “Contact landlord” link. domu only has access to those listings because it’s part of a real estate brokerage operation. You do understand that, don’t you?

By the way, as such a passionate advocate of domu, you should note that it doesn’t capitalize its name – or respect its readers by capitalizing anything else.

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boiztwn August 11, 2011 at 12:04 AM

Domu (and I will always capitalize if it is the first word of a sentence) does not “attribute” anything than what they — an advertising agency — is given, Joe. I said this. It’s not an ad agency’s mission to police listings in the rental market. Prices change, availabilities change, some flagrantly list prices well under what offered to be “searchable” and then up-sell after the fact.

Have you yet to read the disclaimer?

“this apartment listing is provided courtesy of midwest real estate data, llc.
information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. any use of search facilities of data on this website, other than by a consumer seeking to rent an apartment, is strictly prohibited.”

None of this — none of it! — is domu’s fault (look! — not the start of the sentence, so I did not capitalize it). The system puts out only what is put into it. We’ve had this dance before: you continuously argue that you should ONLY work either directly with a landlord, or with a licensed broker (MLS included!) to find a rental in the city.

Here’re the facts: you cannot FIND every direct landlord in this city without a database. And you CANNOT use the MLS if you’re Joe Blow. Arguing that you can somehow learn every brokerage in the business and search their particular listings is a ridiculous time-sink and so out of line with this market.

I pointed out to you before that people will forever and always use “bedbug” agencies because they want to be driven around for a day and not do the legwork. I also said the MLS is a waste of time since most rentals IN the MLS are out of the price range of the majority of renters.

Your panacea is that people should spend hours upon hours of laborious research searching for El Dorado, while warning them to avoid [now, given your domu crusade] ANY rental ad agency AND locator firms. And, at the same time, you whistle that landlords should get on board with video. HOW does a renter find such video? Magic? It certainly isn’t from a direct landlord’s 1980′s “FOR RENT” sign.

So then what do we have? This. Some “Domu [I capitalized it for you] is not turning it out in Streeterville!” mess. Chicago does not live and breathe Streeterville. The near-north side and lakefront communities are utilizing it as a great tool and resource compared to other listing alternatives.

But for you to say “connect directly with a landlord/management agent OR a licensed broker with access to the MLS!” and then dump on domu is moronic.

Again, a simple breakdown:

1. Most rental properties are not on the MLS, lux excepted.
2. Domu by and large connects prospective tenants directly to landlords.

This tempest in a teapot of yours is absolutely ridiculous, Joe.

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Joe Zekas August 11, 2011 at 12:21 AM

boiztwn,

I read the disclaimer, and unlike you I understood it. The simple fact is that MRED did not provide the data that domu displayed. domu screwed it up by mixing one broker’s listing with another’s. Period. Simple. Anyone who has even the dimmest understand of this situation – which excludes you – understands that. The mistake indicates a failure in domu’s database import or update routines – either that or domu for reasons that are hard to fathom manually entered the erroneous data. I’ve built systems that have imported and updated data from major MLS systems around the country for over 15 years and know whereof I speak.

domu is operated by a broker – that’s how it has the right to display most of its listings, which derive from the MLS. And that’s why it associates the disclaimer with MLS-listed rentals. Note the bottom right of a domu page: domu is an affiliate of schatz realty, LLC

domu is not an “ad agency” as almost the entire world understands that term.

You can access all MLS-listed rentals at any single major brokerage site. Try it at one of our clients: Coldwell Banker, Koenig & Strey or Prudential Rubloff. You’ll find far more MLS rental listings there than you will at domu. Those listings are often more affordable than non-MLS listings, which is why they’ve been renting so quickly of late.

Go to Apartments.com. You’ll find far more property rentals there than you will at domu – far, far more.

domu by and large connects tenants to the brokers who have the MLS listings it displays – that’s where most of domu’s listings come from.

domu’s “contact landlord” links are misleading – most of the time they link to the broker who has a listing, and occasionally they link to a bedbug.

You’re in way above your pay grade in this discussion, and know not whereof you speak.

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boiztwn August 11, 2011 at 12:40 AM

Joe, the rental market far exceeds the MLS or even domu. I’m really sick of this debate, and can see why — domino after domino — other industry types swear off commenting on your site because of your personal crusades. Jealousy of domu and a blanket of superiority are not cute, and it isn’t your color. There’ll be no burning at the stake for your firebrand crusade — you ain’t Joan of Arc.

So here goes.

I will reiterate that YOU WILL NOT FIND AFFORDABLE RENTALS ON THE MLS. I’m usually not an all-caps kind of guy, but I will “scream” it one last time. If you have a lot of coin and are looking for something fantastic, then the MLS and a personal broker may be for you. This is exactly why the Loop/Streeterville market is so weird and wonky. But, again, Chicago is not just downtown.

I’ve told you many, many times you’ve reapportioned this blog from a sales/brokerage one (GO MLS!) into a rental one because that’s where the consistent money is. The rental market — and by the rental market I do not mean the big towers that can’t sell condos that now offer rentals — is incredibly, incredibly different from a sales market. Domu is doing great things for rentals.

So while you search for Godot, I’ll leave you with this: domu has given me fantastic clients and renters throughout the spring and summer, and I’ve rented many apartments through them. Casual feedback? Clients loved the site but wish there were “more places listed” — I always agree since competition is good.

Ironic, no? If only there were more ~$2,400/mo 1 bedroom places in Streeterville.

And with that, like many other of your commenters, I’m out. Enjoy “zero replies” into infinity because someone has a contrarian, yet informed, opinion.

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Joe Zekas August 11, 2011 at 12:44 AM

As you know, boiztwn, I welcome the departure of ignorant anonymice with undisclosed agendas.

Anyone who’s tempted to listen to boiztwn’s scream should do this simple exercise: go to one of the sites I linked and search rentals in, for example, Logan Square or Avondale. You’ll find more listings than you will at domu, and a number of them will be at a lower price point than anything on domu.

boiztwn either hasn’t done his homework or is a liar.

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boiztwn August 12, 2011 at 12:04 AM

I’m only commenting since you edit-expanded your reply from the original (yes, people — anything after the paragraph with ending with “agendas” was edited in).

The day Yo!Chicago starts pushing Avondale is the day I will concede domu — or any ad agency (lol apartments.com) — is deficient.

Domu also lets you search rentals in Hegewisch. Nothing to be found there, either — must be a bait and switch! Are you going to now slake the online thirst for rentals in Avondale and Hegewisch? Or are you going to continually focus on the Lakefront — just as most advertising firms do? The mind boggles.

+1 to anyone who knew Avondale.
+25 to anyone who knew Hegewisch.

And minus everything to your ridiculous quest for El Dorado, Joe. This blog might have some integrity if you didn’t edit your comments after you posted them, and are comping ad agencies listings on AVOLDALE compared to Lakeview.

Have a fab weekend. A video in store for Market Days?

Reply

Joe Zekas August 12, 2011 at 12:45 AM

Any edit was done within a minute after posting, boiztwn.

If you look through YoChicago you’ll see my standing practice has been to use the word ADDED whenever there’s been an edit more than a minute or two after posting,which is typically a rare occasion.

For the record, Apartments.com is not an “ad agency.” I am one, so I know what the phrase means, as does everyone else in the business.

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