If you’re trying to find the perfect office rental for your business, you may have looked through the Craiglist office space listings.
As North America’s go-to classified ads website, Craigslist allows one to buy and sell everything from jobs to houses to gig tickets. It is often used by realtors as another avenue to reach potential tenants. But success on this online space for CRE professionals appears to be patchy, at best.
However, the real issue for commercial tenants isn’t finding the perfect rental property. It’s finding a reputable Craigslist office space listing. One recent survey estimates that 25% of rental listings on Craigslist are actually frauds.
How safe is Craigslist when you want to find office space to rent? It’s impossible to say. While the vast majority of users are honest individuals, here are some common Craiglist office space scams to be aware of:
1. The Cloned Listing
Here, information from a legitimate rental advert is copied and pasted onto Craigslist. The only difference is the price, which probably looks like an unrealistically good deal.
Apply your common sense here. Craigslist office space offered at a much-reduced rate should set alarm bells ringing for you.
Here are some indicators that you’re looking at a cloned listing:
- The “realtor” does not show you the interior of the property when you meet up – only the exterior.
- They want you to transfer funds in advance, usually by wire transfer, PayPal or another similar means.
- The listing is vague and does not match similar properties in the region. The photographs may still contain watermarks, look out of focus or inconsistent with the actual property. Tip: you can now right-click on any online image and select “Search Google for image” to see if a photo has been used elsewhere.
2. The Illegal Sublet
This is similar to the cloned listing but now the con artist has access to the property. They may, for example, have rented the unit on a short-term basis, broken in or obtained access through other unscrupulous means.
- You see signs of a break-in, such as broken doors, locks or windows.
- The realtor wants you to pay by wire transfer, PayPal or a similar means.
- The realtor doesn’t perform any background checks on you.
- Conversely, the realtor wants excessive information on you. In this case, they could be trying to steal your identity.
3. The Fake Database
In another sophisticated Craigslist office space scam, a fake real estate agency is set up and you have to pay an upfront and/or monthly fee to gain access to a database of commercial rental properties.
After you pay up, the database is filled with fake or expired listings. However, you soon discover you can’t get a refund and, to make matters worse, you can’t unsubscribe from the regular monthly payments.
This is a difficult scam to spot. However, if the price of access to the database is very low, warning bells should ring.
How to Protect Yourself
Craigslist is a great space to quickly find a commercial rental. But you’ll still need to apply due diligence and review and negotiate the terms of your lease. You may also want to ask for some legal or professional help before you commit to a lease.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you stay safe on Craigslist:
Verify the listing is accurate: A quick Google or LinkedIn search should reveal whether a realtor is credible. You should also be able to find details of the rental on other sites – it’s rare that a professional realtor will only use Craigslist to reach out to tenants.
Contact the owner: You should also contact the building owner or superintendent to check the property details. Avoid listings that do not have contact details, images or a link to a business website.
Don’t give away sensitive data or make a digital payment: We recommend consulting a lawyer before signing a contract or exchanging money with a realtor. Also, do not provide sensitive information, such as your credit card information.
Negotiate: Make sure you have a clear understanding of the terms of the lease and exactly what you’re committing to. Again, we would recommend consulting a lawyer or a licensed commercial real estate broker to check your lease before you sign on the dotted line.
Check the owner’s details: Verify who owns the property by completing an online search of municipal records. Your county’s assessor’s site will allow you to search for an address and find out who owns it.
In a similar vein, if you want to sign up to a property database you’ve found on Craigslist, research the names of the owner and the company before signing up. You could also see if anyone has filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
Or just do a quick Google search on the company’s name and owner’s name, including the word “scam.”
The commercial real estate sector is a complex landscape. Many tenants decide to work with a broker to help them search for their perfect commercial rental, negotiate the terms of the lease and ensure the validity of the transaction.
A reputable broker will make money by charging a fee to the landlord, so the service is free to you. Remember, never pay a broker upfront either.
Also, remember that Craigslist is usually a safe space to operate. As long as you use your common sense and remain wary of anything that looks too good to be true, Craigslist office space listings are another useful tool to help you find a commercial property rental.