“Bait & switch” is an illegal tactic prohibited by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in which a real estate agent baits a renter by advertising a suspiciously cheap apartment with the sole intention of persuading renters who inquire about the listing to use their services to switch them to find a more expensive apartment. This tactic is false advertising if the agent cannot provide the original advertisement.
A tell-tale sign of a bait & switch is a listing that is “too-good-to-be-true,” usually with a combination of the following:
- Rent that is much lower than the average rent for the neighborhood
- An ideal location
- The apartment is in excellent or perfect condition
- The apartment has more bedrooms or bathrooms than what its price point would usually get you
- Advertised as a “No-Fee” listing
Essentially, the agent does whatever they can do to advertise the apartment so that it incentives renters to reach out. Once someone inquires about the listing, the agent will inform them that the listing is no longer available but that they have other listings that are just as good. The agent then shows the gullible renter several other apartments at a higher price oint and may eventually convince the renter to lease a completely different unit. Many times, an agent who tries to bait and switch will schedule a showing with the renter, have them show up at the appointment, and only then inform them that the unit is no longer available. The renter feels pressured to continue looking at apartments and justifies the search by the fact that they already came out to view something.
Note that many agents who work with many listings may still have an inactive listing on their profile once the unit rents. If the agent informs the renter of this situation but goes on to show them comparable units at a similar price point and size, this is not baiting and switching.
How to avoid bait & switch listings
You can use the following tips to avoid a bait and switch scenario:
- Compare a too-good-to-be-true listing across listings on multiple apartment listing site and agencies.
- Research the market before looking for apartments. When you know the average price point of an apartment size you’re looking for in the neighborhood they want to live in, you will be able to quickly tell if a unit is too cheap for the area.
- Instead of heading to the agent’s office or the apartment directly, you can inquire about a specific listing’s availability. If an agent informs you that the listing no longer available, you are then less pressured to view other apartments and have more time to make a decision.
If you believe you are a victim of a bait and switch situation, you can do the following:
- Alert the site where they first found the apartment listing. Apartment listing sites do not tolerate bait & switch tactics and will likely investigate the situation and ban the agent who first posted the apartment. You can reach out to email@example.com if you inquired about a listing on RentHop. Additionally, you can also scroll to the bottom of the listing and click on “report this listing here”
- Cease communication with the agent and do not work with them to find an apartment. If you are uncomfortable with the person you are working with, plenty of other reputable and trustworthy agents will help you find an apartment.