Home sweet home: Free apps for apartment hunting

Having recently been through the particular brand of torture that is apartment hunting in San Francisco, I was so very relieved to discover that other, smarter options exist beyond that tired old go-to, Craigslist. I will always love Craigslist for everything it has done for me, and the addition of a map view and photos in the search results list has only made the site even more useful. But I could do without all the gray hairs that incessant searches and countless lists of semi-complete listings have earned me.

The next time I uproot myself, I will turn to one (or more) of these handy apps built to aid the savvy apartment hunter. I can see it now: I'm strolling though my ideal neighborhood, looking at map of nearby listings, tapping to view photos of apartments in the area that fit my needs, emailing the landlord right there and then from the sidewalk, and viewing the perfect property a few minutes later. Highly rated apps like the ones below can make that experience possible. Now, if only there was an app to simplify the application process…

HotPads — Android, iOS

It's more than a clever name that makes HotPads worth a look. It gives you a lot of control over your search terms and quickly shows you all the listings within your parameters on an easy-to-read map. You can enter a city or zip code or use your current GPS location, then enter your desired price range, number of bedrooms, and keywords. You can further narrow your search results by entering other factors such as whether dogs or cats are permitted, number of photos in the listing, and property type.

When you tap ‘search’, you’ll see each available listing clearly indicated on a map. When you click on a listing, you can see photos, pricing, a description of the listing, when it was last updated, and whether any other units are available in the building. From the same screen, you can tap to call, email the listing, or enter your information and send an inquiry about availability. You can also add the listing to your favorites for easy access the next time you open the app.

Lovely — iOS

With a very simple and streamlined design, Lovely certainly lives up to its name in terms of user experience. It doesn’t have GPS-based search, nor does it have as many search filters, but all the available fields are a bit easier to enter on the go. Set your price range by scrolling and selecting from a list of provided dollar amounts. In the bedrooms field you can select all that apply from a list up to 4+ bedrooms. Then you simply turn the ‘Dogs OK’, ‘Cats OK’, and ‘Has Photos’ buttons on or off, and tap ‘Search’.

The results are map-based, but rather than individual listings, properties are grouped within a radius of a few blocks. Tap on the grouping to bring up a summary of the individual listings with a photo, price range, and specific address or cross streets. Then you can delve deeper into each listing to scroll through photos and read the description and summary of amenities. Tapping ‘Email’ will bring up a pregenerated, friendly-sounding email signed by you, expressing your interest in the listing, and all you have to do is tap ‘Send.’

Trulia Rentals — Android, iOS

Super-smart and user-friendly, Trulia starts you off with a three-step tutorial that couldn’t be simpler: “Green for new rentals, Black for un-viewed rentals, Grey for viewed rentals.” Tap “Get Started,” and you immediately see a GPS-based map of color-coded listings near you, pinpointed by price. You can then opt to view as a list instead, or refine your search by price, property type, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and square footage. You can also draw a circle around the area on the map that you want to search, which is pretty cool. Search terms are entered via scrolling list or slide bar, which makes it quick—no typing necessary.

You can tap on a pin to see an address and photo, and tap again for more photos and details about that property, including nearby schools, restaurants, shopping, and other amenities. This app also features a pregenerated email on the very same screen, so with just one more tap you can contact the property. You can also save or share the listing from the same screen. Being able to visually recognize which listings you’ve already viewed and which are new with their easy color-coded system is a big convenience, especially if you save your search to revisit it often.

Zillow Rentals — Android, iOS

Very similar in interface to Trulia, even down to the drawing feature, Zillow offers a few additional search filter options that some users might find helpful, such as on-site parking and in-unit laundry, as well as the ability to enter keywords. Search results appear on the map with the approximate price, and tapping on a listing brings up a photo along with the address, exact price, and summary of the property (number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage), with a list view option also available.

An additional tap gives you all the rest of the information including additional photos, full descriptions, walk score, and the “Rent Zestimate,” which is Zillow’s estimated monthly rental price based on public data for similar properties. You can also contact the landlord with another click from this screen, but the pregenerated email is pretty lackluster. In general, the tablet or full online version of this app was more robust and impressive, but the mobile app gives you all the necessary basics and a few reasonable extra features. The option for a satellite map view seems unnecessary, however.

Rent.com — Android, iOS

Simultaneously slick and sneaky, Rent.com offers a great user interface with a lot of available search filters, but it also forces users to create an account to access any usable information. The map shows groups of listings in an entire area, which you can then tap to zoom in closer and closer until you get to the neighborhood and individual listing level. Unfortunately, it then becomes clear that the listings included are almost exclusively from large management companies and priced at the highest end of the market.

In a city like San Francisco, where rents are already sky-high, this really limits useful results. On the flip side, if you are in the market for a luxurious property with all the amenities or are brand new to the area and need to find something fast, this app does provide very complete information on the listings in its search results—in addition to a tempting $100 reward card if you sign a lease. It also offers handy features like the ability to take photos and notes and save them to the listing for future reference or for emailing with a tap.

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