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How an Artist Created Renter Resource the Listings Project

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Wednesday might be the least stressful morning of the week for New York City's legions of renters on the hunt for new apartments: it's the day the Listings Project shows up in subscribers' mailboxes. The Listings Project is a free e-mail list of available real estate, curated by artist Stephanie Diamond. Diamond, who grew up with an artist mother and a father who worked in real estate, began the Listings Project in 2003 and now describes it as an outgrowth of her work in social practice art, or art done within a community. More importantly for the people who use the Diamond's list, it often includes more affordable rental fare than what's available on other rental search sites. We chatted with Diamond?who lives in a Brooklyn apartment that she found via the list?about how she came to create the site and how it's evolved over the years. (Subscribe to the list here.)

Curbed: What inspired you to begin the Listings Project? When did it start?

Diamond: I began Listings Project in 2003. I was living in Queens and going to grad school and desperately wanted to move closer to grad school. So I e-mailed my artists friends to ask for a place and asked them to send along anything that they knew of. I found a great place and people continued to e-mail me....I think people thought that I was doing this on purpose or that I was gathering this information somewhere. My friends started to intentionally send me listings to forward.

My work as an artist has always been about connecting communities..and creating community. I don't know why people thought I would send stuff out, but when I look back at my work to that point, of course. I was always connecting people at that time as well. I think people thought, oh, this is an extension of what Stephanie does?.I didn't know how to separate my artists from my regular people on the list, so the list grew?Now there's almost 35,000 people worldwide using it. The whole world is represented there, but because I started it in New York, it remains New York heavy.

How do you vet the listings that come through?

I do not post brokers, and I do not post apartments with fees. Sometimes a broker will get on there or someone with a fee will get on there...maybe they don't know the rule. I e-mail them and ask if they know...often they don't respond, or they do and I take them off. I read every single listing, so there are certain things [that make it] very apparent that the listing is not a broker. Every apartment for rent, I personally contact, just to find out if they're broker-connected. Sometimes listings are too short...sometimes listings don't make sense, so I ask [submitters to fix them].

It's become my day job. It depends on the week and what kind of project I'm working on in conjunction with the list. Right now Listings Project is housed on my personal site...I'm working diligently on a separate Listings Project website. Listings Project will remain an e-mail, but there will be a new hub for information.

How is the Listings Project funded?

The list is free to receive, and if you post a listing, it's $20 for each posting, and the posting lasts for a week.

Do you have any particularly heartwarming or funny stories from your years running the list?

In response, Diamond sent along this message she received from a Listings Project renter:

August 2010, I was returning to the city from summer break with the goals of finding a shop and finding true love. I gave a friend a ride back to New York and on the way she said she would forward me the listings project. Next month I found a 3 car garage in Williamsburg and went to go see it. I ended up renting it, building a soundproof masonry band rock room inside it, building robot drummers in the shop outside it, and dating the girl who rented me the room. Now I live with her next to the shop and we are very happy together. My robots won 6 blue ribbons at Maker Faire at the hall of science. I am almost finished recording a full length album in the studio, IT IS ALL REALLY AWESOME! What do you do with all the stories people send you?

Right now there's a story featured on the top of Listings Project every week. I have definitely thought about different ways of doing them...maybe visit everybody and photograph their homes. I'm really open to what the possibilities can be. I right now am focusing on one project at a time with the list...so I always welcome collaborators. It is only me and my assistant twice a week.

How has the Listings Project changed over the years?

Listings Project has specific categories for listings...it started with artists, but there are also rooms for rent, rooms for sublet. All of those categories are an extension of what listers needed, and those categories have changed throughout the years. The latest category is desk space and [shared office space]. There's a lot of push in that direction, a lot of creative people, a lot of people who have stepped out of corporate who just need a desk. People are really flocking toward that.

Has the neighborhood composition of the listings you get changed over the years?

I would say Bushwick has become huge in the last few years...years ago, less people were posting there, I never went to visit a friend there. East Williamsburg has evolved. Red Hook has become a really booming area...Other areas I hear about are Astoria, [with] a lot coming through. Also Jersey City. Often areas on the periphery...of a subway or of Manhattan. Neighborhoods that are lower-income.

I actually have been experiencing a lot more higher-end listings on the list recently?Upper West Side, West Village. So people are not automatically going to Brooklyn.

Any general advice for renters as the market heats up again?

Pace yourself. Begin the search earlier than you think. I do believe in e-mailing your friends and seeing what they know, and using your own personal networks first, and then going to trusted sources. I completely understand going to many different sites...I'm not against working with brokers if you can afford it. It's important to make sure you trust and feel comfortable with them, and maybe get recommendations. I would say the same with roommates....Don't be afraid to have a roommate.
· Official site: Listings Project [stephaniediamond.com]
· All Renters Week 2012 coverage [Curbed]