How to Find Apartments Online

Finding apartments for rent can be challenging, particularly if you live in a tight housing market.

At first glance, the process can seem confusing and overwhelming. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that will make the process easier no matter where you live.

You can find homes for rent by driving around the neighborhood, but using online resources can save you time and frustration. The internet is a great tool to locate the perfect apartment or house that is within your budget. Learn about tips for finding new housing in the information below.

How to Find a New Place

Tackling the steps for finding apartments or houses for rent one at a time can reduce the stress of the process. It can also help you make clear, informed and smart decisions. The process of finding new housing can be broken down into a few key steps:

  1. Determine what you need, want and can comfortably afford.
  2. Review local pricing and contract standards.
  3. Use local apartment listings and search tools to narrow down your options.
  4. Visit a handful of prospective properties with a checklist and questions.
  5. Select the best option and begin the contracting or leasing process.

These steps apply whether you are looking for an apartment, a house or any other type of rental property. While there is never any guarantee you will find exactly what you hope for, following these steps maximizes your ability to make good housing choices.

How to Determine Which Type of Rental Home You Need

Before you begin looking for homes for rent, it is important to take stock of your personal, employment and financial situations. Asking yourself a few key questions up front can set you up for success in the rest of the apartment hunting process. These questions include:

  • Who will live at your apartment with you? Do you just need room for one or do you need space for a growing family? Do you want roommates or do you prefer to live alone?
  • What do you absolutely need in your apartment? Do you or others in your family have health issues or disabling conditions that need to be accommodated? Do you have pets? Do you need to be close to family, health care providers, transportation centers or work? Make a list of non-negotiable must-have features for your new space.
  • What would you like in a new apartment? Is there a particular neighborhood you would like to live in? Are there amenities, such as laundry facilities, garage space or access to a yard, that you strongly desire in prospective rental homes? Make a list of these features and rank them from most important to least important. While you are unlikely to find a space that offers everything you need and want, itemized and prioritized lists will make it easier to compare and evaluate potential homes.
  • What is your budget like? Housing experts and federal housing program guidelines advise that you dedicate no more than 30 percent of your after-tax household budget for rent. Look at your monthly income and the monthly incomes of any other members of your household who you expect to contribute to rent. Calculate what 30 percent of that total works out to and use that number as your top-end limit for monthly rent payments. Remember to consider utility costs, renter’s insurance and other add-ons when evaluating pricing, as these can add up quickly and you want the total cost for all housing-related expenses to stay within that 30 percent total figure.

Once you have answered these questions, take a moment to write down any other considerations that may factor into your decision-making process when seeking an apt for rent. Examples include:

  • Do you plan to stay at your new place long, or do you expect to move again soon for work or personal reasons?
  • What is your tolerance for noise? Are you comfortable living near airports, highways or other potentially loud infrastructure?
  • Do you prefer to engage with landlords in person or via electronic means such as email?

Finally, if you can, then review some basic statistics about housing in your area. Is the local housing market especially tight? What is the average rent for studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments? This kind of information can help you evaluate the properties you encounter more objectively.

How to Use Apartment Finder Websites

Apartment finder websites are one of the simplest and most convenient ways to find places available for rent. These websites come in several varieties:

  • Local listings clearinghouses that post all kinds of housing for sale or rent, such as Zillow.
  • Non-specific classified sites that include housing as one category of many, such as Craigslist.
  • Local housing authority listings that focus on affordable housing and public housing assistance program qualified apartments, condos and houses.

Clearinghouse sites often have the most user-friendly interfaces. They typically allow you to narrow your searches by:

  • Geography or ZIP code.
  • Apartment size (measured by square footage or number of bedrooms).
  • Amenities (e.g. laundry facilities, type of flooring, parking options).
  • Monthly rent (usually presented as in several distinct pricing ranges).

More advanced sites may offer additional screening options for your convenience. These sites can be particularly helpful if you have more than one critical feature on your “must have” list.

General classified sites can be more time-consuming to use and typically carry a somewhat higher level of risk than listing clearinghouses. This is because anyone can list a property on a classified site with little more than an email address and a few minutes’ effort.

While clearinghouse sites are more likely to feature apartment complexes or condos, general classified sites may produce more results for cheap apartments for let by private landlords. You may also find single rooms for rent and other flexible, non-traditional rental options on classified sites.

These listings can be an excellent way to find inexpensive housing, but you should take extra precautions when reviewing the property and lease terms for your own protection. This is because private rental properties tend to have less legal oversight than apartment complexes, so there is less guarantee that everything has been constructed, maintained and handled correctly.

Finally, while many apartment hunters overlook local housing authority listings entirely, they can be an excellent resource. Apartments homes for rent on these lists are thoroughly pre-screened, ensuring that they are safe, sanitary and managed by open and cooperative landlords. They are also generally among the most affordable options in any given region. You can access these lists simply by calling or emailing your local housing agency or authority and requesting a copy.

Learn About the Pros and Cons of Different Apartment Websites

You may have more success if you search through multiple apartment websites instead of relying on one in particular. While most sites will post the same listings, some realtors or owners may post more information on one site than another. You may consider using the following sites for apartment listings:

  • Apartments.com – This is one of the most frequently used apartment sites because it shows listings across the country. You may specify a rent minimum and maximum, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and apply various other filters to their searches. However, you may not go below a certain maximum on the rental cost, which means you may not find the best bargains on this site.
  • Zillow – As with Apartments.com, Zillow allows users to set a minimum and maximum for their rent prices and use a map to find apartment listings in ideal locations. You may enter a ZIP code into the search engine to search by town. In addition, the site now allows you to fill out one application that may be submitted to multiple listings.
  • Craigslist – This site often features many apartments for rent by owner because homeowners do not have to pay a fee to post their listings. However, some realtors post listings on Craigslist as well due to the free advertising. Note that fraudulent postings are more prevalent on this site. Be sure to report listings that seem fake. You may also set up a separate email account to respond to listings if you do not want to give strangers your main email address.
  • HotPads – This is one of the apartment finder websites acquired by Zillow. HotPads has a user-friendly template and allows you to search an interactive map based on price, amenities, area and more. You may also enter your work location to see how long your daily commute will be from any given apartment.