It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

When Craigslist Beat the Toronto Star Classifieds

The Setup

As my friends and regular readers of this blog will know, I’m getting hitched in September and had to vacate my lovely Queen and Spadina house for someplace a little more suitable for two. The house was great, but a tad too expensive for just two people; the rent situation would be made worse by the fact that Wendy won’t even be eligible to work here for a few months. A couple of people suggested sharing the house with roommates. This is not a good idea — a married couple living with roommates is a good setup for a sitcom, but probably a disaster waiting to happen in real life.

Since my landlords J. and B. live in London (England, not Ontario), it would have been difficult for them to advertise the house and show it to potential tenants. They offered me a nice sum of money — enough to cover the expense of hiring professionals to move me to my new place — to act as their agent. I was given the additional responsibility of not only publicizing the place, but also to screen candidates for suitability based on J. and B’s criteria and my understanding of the house and the neighbourhood based on 6 years of living there and being part of the community.

After talking it over with J., we decided to use two different advertising media:

The Ads

Here’s an approximation of the Toronto Star Classfied ad:

QUEEN & SPADINA: 3 Bed, hi-end bi-level 2 bath a/c garage hrdwd floors laundry $2100/mo call 416-948-6447

It’s the black hole of advertising: so dense that not even information can escape!

J. suggested that we spend a little extra money and pay for flourishes like the border and the white-on-black headline in order to stand out on the page. Seeing as the idea had some merit to it and we weren’t spending my money, I ordered these extras.

The ad got a total of 20 responses, leading to about a dozen viewings, which in turn led to 2 recommendations. Near the end of the week-long ad run, I was called and emailed twice each by an automated reminder system reminding me to book another week if I needed to.

The ad ran for one week in both the paper as well as the web site and cost $520.66.

Here’s what the Craigslist ad looked like:

$2100 / 3br – Great 3 bed 2 bath place near downtown (Queen and Spadina)

This place is takes up the first floor and basement of a historic brick house in the Queen Spadina area. It’s gorgeous, unusual, was featured on the “Love By Design” television show and you can roll out bed and land in Chinatown or Queen Street West!

The first floor features:

  • Large living room and with bay window and dining room. Both have hardwood floors, high ceilings and exposed brick walls
  • Kitchen with stove, oven, microwave, dishwasher, fridge
  • Full bath with mirror walls
  • Large master bedroom with hardwood floor, an all-glass wall facing south and door leading to back deck

Photo: Joey deVilla's living room at his Queen/Spadina place, facing north.

The basement features:

  • One large bedroom with two large closets and a built-in shelf, carpeted
  • One small bedroom with one closet and natural shelf, carpeted. Currently contains a Murphy bed which the owner is willing to sell
  • Large full bathroom with large sink and washer and dryer
  • Storage crawlspace

The house also has a back patio which leads to a garage shared with the upper unit. The current tenant in the upper unit does not have a car.

Photo: Joey deVilla's living room at his Queen/Spadina place, facing south.

Want to see more photos? Take a look here.

Rent is $2100/month and water is included — you pay for Hydro and gas. Available July 15th, although you might be able to move in some stuff sooner.

Call Joey at (416) 948-6447 for details.

Sullivan at Spadina   google map   yahoo map

  • this is in or around Queen and Spadina
  • — it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

This conveys considerably more information about the place: its features, what it looks like, a bit of the history and it links to even more information.

In the same week-long period that the Star Classifieds ad ran, this adgarnered 55 responses. Since the ad was free, I ran it longer and it produced more than 85 responses, which was when I stopped counting.

In the three-week period during which the ad ran, it cost me $0.00. Nuthin’. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Honkis de konkis. In the words of my fiancee’s people: bubkes.


In the case of finding tenants for my old place, which is considerably closer to the city core (here’s a map showing a route from the old place to the heart of the financial district), Craigslist proved to be the better choice. It provided practically infinitely more space than the Star classified, provided an anonymized link to my email address and was free. Not only did it yield considerably more respondents; it also landed more suitable ones too: working professionals used to downtown living, who looked as though they’d take good care of the place. The Star ad drew in a larger proportion of people from the deep burbs who had that sort of attitude that the burbs was where one lived and downtown was a grittier kind of mall or playground where you could shop, get drunk, act like an idiot and start fights.

The winning candidate was someone who’d seen the Craigslist listing, not the Star classified. You should keep in mind that there are many circumstances in which the Star classifieds will beat Craigslist. As my housemate Rob and I have observed in our respective apartment-hunts, the farther from the city core you look, the better the Star‘s selection becomes. In the neighbourhood where I was looking (here’s a map showing a route from the new place to the heart of the financial district), the selection of places was much better in the Star than in Craigslist. I found my current place through the Star classifieds.

(Point of information: I also found the old place through the Star classfieds, but that was back in 1999. Internet use wasn’t as common as it is now, and Craigslist was still largely limited to they Bay Area then.)

For the purpose of finding tenants for my old place, Craigslist soundly beat the Toronto Star classifieds. It yielded considerably more candidates and was infinitely cheaper. Well done, Craigslist; I salute you with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!

18 replies on “When Craigslist Beat the Toronto Star Classifieds”

But would the experience in Toronto also hold fast in smaller cities? Good observations.


I found my apartment with viewit, but found excellent roommates with craigslist. Found more people that shared common interests and personality with craigslist. Star is a scattershot, craigslist was a proper advertisement. Wouldn’t hesitate to use it again.

I think the experience will vary depending on circumstances such as:

  • The effectiveness of the local newspaper. The odds are that the newspaper’s classifieds section will be stronger if it’s not part of a chain and running a lot of syndicated material, but instead has a strong local feel.
  • The concentration of university/college/community college students in the area. These are the typical Craigslist “early adopters”.

I’ve heard recommendatiosn for ViewIt as well. In the end, J. the landlord and I decided that we’d take one for-pay avenue and one free avenue, and the for-pay avenue he chose was the Star.

AdsToronto is going to beat CraigsList soon for online classifieds in Toronto. They have a cute site and is focused only in Toronto. They have a great marketing campaign and even their job category is free now.

Well, it comes down to, who reads what.
People who generally only read Star Classifieds aren’t on craigslist.

People who use craiglist are also using the paper also.

The older the generation, the higher the tendency to not to use the internet. Its demographics, and factual!!

I think, the smartest strategy (depending on the time constraints you have to rent/sell) you should always cover both bases, to reduce risk.

I have just had different responses for both.
My car didn’t sell in craigslist but sold in the Star.
I have rented out a few rental units faster on craigslist then the star (But rented the more pricier ones quicker on the star).

In the end it depends on the demographic, the market and the particular offering at the time.

So – why not just to both? Have we gotten that cheap?

@John Hancock: I don’t think it’s a matter of being cheap so much as being cost-effective. Given two advertising mediums, where one is cheaper but highly-read by your target demographic and where the other is more expensive and not as highly-read by your target demographic, go with the former.

If the situation were such that the cheap medium has less reach into the target demographic and the more expensive one have a greater reach, then yes, the latter is the better choice.

In the end, this story was about my particular case, which was that Craigslist was the better-performing advertising vehicle. It’s not about being cheap, it’s about getting the most bang for my buck.

I think you might find this site useful It is a great site for finding a great housing arrangement, I have had personal great success with this company. It’s one of the top residential and commercial property sites.

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