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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

105: Bait and Switch Apt Pricing

Howdy! I recently came across an r/Frugal reddit post describing an incident of apartment pricing bait and switch, reminding me of my experience a couple of years back. Other commenters replied with their own stories, indicating that this is becoming the unfortunate norm.

After a long list of issues with my apartment complex in Austin TX, I was looking to rent a place in San Antonio. Searching Trulia postings, I found a few places with good pictures and reasonable prices. In my message requesting viewings, I was clear about what size place I wanted (2 bedroom because my husband needs an office) at what price I could afford (aiming for $1100). I received confirmation emails approving the appointments. None of the emails mentioned issues with what I was looking for. Day of, my husband drove for over 2 hours to check them out. They knew we were coming from Austin. First place wouldn't let us see the apartment. The manager explained he could only show us the model flat, with a very different layout and inaccessible closets (meaning we weren't allowed to see them). They were using the model flat as an office and for storage. There were multiple dead cockroaches visible in the spaces we could see. The receptionists of the next 2 apartment complexes announced the day of, when we arrived, that the apartments we wanted to see weren't available, and those that were cost ~$300 more than we had said we could pay per month. Ultimately, the trip was a bust. I reported the experiences to Trulia, not that anything came of it.

We gave up on looking for a place in San Antonio, unwilling to make the trip out again to view other probable bait & switch apartments. The next place was an hour away but they offered remote viewing. It was a risk, but I asked a lot of questions during the appointment, and the price was as listed on Trulia. It was under construction. The tour guide was frank that the place used to basically be a "crack den," but that it was being completely renovated. I had him assure me the place would be pristine, all construction complete, by our move in date. This was while my husband was at work, so he left it to me to make the final call. Because the man was honest, when the others blatantly misled us, I agreed to sign the lease. I won't claim there have been zero issues, but they kept the word regarding the state of the place at move-in, and maintenance has been on top of any necessary repairs within a timely fashion.

Some apartment complex ads don't list accurate pricing. Some list apartments that have been filled. Much isn't up-to-date. When I complained directly to those telling me different information than had been featured online, regarding apartment availability and pricing, the employees blamed third party contractors for posting misinformation. I don't know if that's true and I don't care. The result is the same. We were on the road for four hours, wasting how much money on gas, to look at places that weren't available or were significantly out of budget.

I've complained to Trulia about the issues with their app and website. Posting should be specific to the unit. The pricing and square footage should never be a range, and companies misrepresenting any information, need to be removed from the app. Ditto for Zillow. Right now, these apps feel like a tool for unscrupulous corporate landlords to waste renters' time. I'm also irritated that Trulia removed the crime maps. When I'm unable to view the neighborhood in person, like when I moved to Austin from Philadelphia, those maps serve a pretty obvious purpose. They could limit the parameters to violent, as opposed to property crime, but they should bring that map back.

Anyway, call ahead to confirm with the potential landlord that the details are correct on Trulia/Zillow before driving out. There is no accountability on their end, so you've got to put in the legwork, unfortunately. Here's hoping the housing market crashes and more folks can buy houses. Or, better yet, politicians actually break up the real estate monopolies. Imagine if private landlords couldn't own more than three properties total, and corporations couldn't bid on a property unless no private home buyers were interested. Imagine if rent couldn't be raised more than the amount of property tax increased per year. It shouldn't take a rent strike to force change. Thanks for stopping by. I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!

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