Even in the best of times, meeting strangers to select an affordable place to live can be difficult. You never know if, at best, your potential landlord or roommate will be a scammer, or at worst, a murderer. Throw a pandemic into the mix, and you have the added risk of catching COVID-19, even with a mask.
(It’s also difficult to truly socially distance when someone is giving you a tour of a tiny apartment. For now, Zoom and Facetime tours will have to suffice.)
Meanwhile, Facebook groups dedicated to finding housing in specific cities, often targeting niche audiences, are helping anxious home seekers on a budget.
How to Find Housing on Facebook
I experienced the stress of finding a new place to live during the pandemic. As anyone on a budget who lives in a major city can tell you, finding a new place to live also means finding multiple roommates with whom you can comfortably share space.
I am very happy with my current place in Washington, DC, which I share with two roommates. I found it through the Facebook group DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland Housing, Sublets, and Roommates. With more than 61,000 members, it is one of the biggest groups of its kind in the area. I spoke to its founder, Carson Sweezy, a chef and business owner.
Sweezy started the group in 2015 after noticing the D.C. area lacked a housing group on Facebook. He was inspired by the housing groups commonly used by college students to find roommates and leases without the hassle and expense of using a broker.
“Housing is a community resource. I don’t think we should have to rely on brokers or leasing offices to find housing but rather through our networks,” he said.
For finding an ideal home, as well as roommates, he suggests looking at it a bit like applying for a job. This means presenting yourself and your background along with what you’re looking for in a living situation.
The lack of interference from an agent or broker is a draw for finding housing on Facebook. Not only does it save you money, but the process is also casual enough that when you have questions or concerns, you can directly message your potential roommate or landlord.
In essence, Facebook has become a middle ground between the rigidness of sites like Zillow, and the unpredictable Wild West of Craigslist.
Benefits of Using Facebook to Find Housing
With Facebook groups, you can easily find housing that fits your specific life. There are groups dedicated to finding housing for Muslims, Asian-Americans and even vegans. These aren’t meant to be exclusionary, but a tool to find like-minded roommates that share your values and customs.
For some, finding appropriate housing can be a matter of safety as well. I spoke to Arami Tessa, a health care navigation professional, about the group he founded called Queer Housing Boston.
Tessa started the group about five years ago to give queer people an outlet to find a home where they can be their uninhibited selves.
The consequences of living in a non-LGBT-friendly place, he said, “can be as extreme as violence, or as much as not wanting to change yourself and be your full self in your home. There is power in having a living space that is queer-centric. There’s an assumption that there’s safety.”
The ongoing pandemic has affected how Tessa runs the group.
“(The LGBT) community is hurting a lot. We are disproportionately homeless anyway, and the pandemic has made it worse. This is especially true for queer people who are also brown or disabled,” he said. “As a moderator, I did make a concrete change when Covid hit. Pre-Covid I was very strict about only housing posts, and now I am open to fundraising requests from community members and resource sharing.”
The bigger the city, the more diverse and numerous the housing groups. If you don’t see any specific groups for your city, Facebook Marketplace is also a good bet.
Whiteville, N.C., is the tenth least-populated city in America, with a whopping 5,340 residents. Still, Facebook Marketplace shows there are dozens of nice homes available to rent. It’s all a matter of looking in the right place and trusting your gut.
Tips for Using Facebook to Find Housing
- Don’t give your personal number right away. Facebook messaging is a good way to tell if someone is the real deal, without the risk of giving away personal info.
- Make sure to get a feel of how your potential roommates are handling the pandemic. If they are ignoring social distancing and never wear a mask, it is a sign to perhaps look elsewhere. At the same time, if they are going to shame you for ever leaving the house, that may be another display of a bad fit.
- It is always a good practice to do a reverse image search on images of your potential home. I have personally done this, and found what I thought was an apartment in DC, was actually in Seattle at three times the cost. If nothing comes up, the pictures are probably legit.
- Be realistic. Look up the average cost of living in the neighborhood you desire. If you find the perfect place but the rent is less than half of what your neighbors are paying, it is either a fake listing or there is a major catch. A good tool to use is the Zillow Rent Zestimate, which gives the estimated cost of the property that you’re interested in. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Olivia Smith is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.