Craigslist Quandaries: How modern convenience can turn subletting into a plain old chore

I’d never used Craigslist before. Not for anything, not even for missed connections. But then I had to find shelter afar, and no resource was better suited to my task than the online juggernaut. Buying and selling on Craigslist: I have now been on both sides, and experienced the vagaries and vicissitudes inhering in each experience.

This is not supposed to be some extended meditation in an idle moment, let alone some fanciful extrapolation of deep insight into the human condition as expressed by technological innovation. Rather, Craigslist is a system of simple truths, none more basic than the fact that people are flaky.

The days of print classifieds, as quaint as they seem now, enforced a certain amount of economy on would-be sellers, who had to find a way to list their wares and properties as succinctly–and as cheaply, in the pay-by-the-word days–as possible. What’s more, selling things took more forethought, in that people had to be ready to sell things far in advance of an actual date of exchange.

Craigslist has basically broken the last barrier–financial (dis)incentive–protecting us from the worst economic effects of sloth and irresponsibility. A typical Craigslist search for housing, especially if you are living in a different city, involves emailing every seller who is offering anything even remotely within your price range as soon as you think you might be interested. Seventy-five percent of sellers will not reply at all. Another twenty-four percent will make you aware of extenuating circumstances that basically disqualify you from living with them. For example, one Brooklyn apartment was available on weekdays only. The last one percent may be willing to talk, and a fraction will actually offer you a place and a financial arrangement that makes sense. Then they will not take your phone calls or answer your emails attempting to finalize the deal for weeks at a time.

Selling is not much better. Everyone has very specific demands for using your space, and they want to make it as financially sensible as possible, while you just want to get your apartment off your hands without sinking more money into it. When you finally get close to dumping your space, your chosen lessee will not take your phone calls or answer your emails attempting to finalize the deal for weeks at a time.

Renting–especially subletting–from afar is not easy. Apartment-hunting is a personal affair, and what’s more, subletters have very specific demands for the amount of time they will need to use a place. Still, Craigslist could make it just a little easier. Like requiring ads that read like this:

$500/mo. One bedroom in a three-bedroom apartment, June 15-August 31.
Dishwasher, stocked kitchen, washer/dryer in unit.
Female only.
No smoking.
No pets.
Close to X, Y, Z subways and #1, 2, 3 buses.
Map and pics attached.

Instead of this actual sample:
“i’m renting my apartment for the summer. it’s in new york. email for details.”