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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Tech Industry

Will weary apartment hunters find luck on eBay?

Hot housing markets in the San Francisco Bay Area and around metro Boston are prompting a real estate company to auction off apartment units on the giant auction site.

Hot housing markets in the San Francisco Bay Area and around metro Boston have prompted a real estate company to auction off apartment units on eBay.

Englewood, Colo.-based Archstone Communities has listed two units, one in Waltham, Mass., and one in Pleasanton, Calif. The listings, which did not have any bids as of Friday afternoon, are part of an experiment to see how customers will react, company representatives said.

"The customer is using the Internet more and more to find apartments," said Stephanie Hrubala, Eastern region marketing manager at Archstone. "That's where we think the market is headed. We don't have some goal to reach. We're just testing it."

The listings on eBay are among the first online auctions for apartment rentals. Blanche Evans, editor of Dallas-based Realty Times, said she was unaware of any previous rental auctions, but she said the listings on eBay could be the start of a new trend.

"We will definitely see more of it as word gets around," Evans said. "This is low-cost advertising. It's not even a fraction of what a classified ad is in a local newspaper."

eBay representatives did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Archstone started the bidding on the Waltham, Mass. apartment, which is a furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit, at $4,700. So far, despite more than 400 page views, the apartment has not received any bids. However, several people have emailed Archstone about the apartment, said Tammy January, who manages the complex where the apartment is located.

January said that the complex, which has 324 units, is 100 percent occupied other than the available apartment. Rents in the complex normally range from $1,795 to $3,095 for unfurnished units.

Meanwhile, bidding on the Pleasanton, Calif., apartment, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom unfurnished unit, starts at $2,491. Two bids were placed on the unit but were later retracted because the bidders said they believed the property was for sale, not for rent.

Managers for the California complex did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

The apartment listings on eBay come as the housing markets in both areas have gone through the roof, fueled by the technology boom.

Vacancy rates, usually considered healthy at about 5 percent, are below 1.4 percent in both the Boston and San Francisco areas, according to Carrolton, Texas-based M/PF Research. In the last year, rents have jumped 21 percent in Boston and 26 percent in San Francisco.

The listings also come as eBay has stepped up its real estate listings. In August, the San Jose, Calif.-based online auction company launched a new real estate section and signed a deal with ZipRealty.com to bulk up its real estate listings. In contrast to the latest listings, however, the deal with ZipRealty involved property for sale.

And unlike ZipRealty, Archstone has not signed any kind of formal deal with eBay to list properties online. Instead, the company, which owns more than 230 different apartment properties nationwide, is testing out eBay as an advertising platform.

"We're not going to put 50 percent of our apartments online," Hrubala said. But she added, "There's nothing set in stone about what the future is."

An apartment listing may turn out to be less popular on eBay than Pez dispensers or Beanie Babies. eBay lacks the in-depth rental content that a consumer would find on sites like Rent.net or Apartments.com. And eBay is not yet drawing the listings or the customers that potential renters can find on those sites.

"eBay's going to have a little bit of challenge," Evans said.