10 Best Tools for Finding an Apartment on the Cheap


Depending on where you live, finding a new apartment can be tough … or downright overwhelming. Seinfeld once joked that in New York, the obituaries section should be coupled with the property section in a newspaper, because that's pretty much the only way to find a decent place.

But wherever you live, you are going to need help, especially if it's a completely unknown area. What is the neighborhood like? How are the schools? Is the crime rate high? Is the rent too high? The following tools will help you get your foot in the door.

1. Craigslist

Do not underestimate the power of Craigslist. Started in 1996 by Craig Newmark, it was originally servicing only the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, it's global, and the "Housing" section still remains free for people to post and respond to listings. There are many subsections, including real estate for sale, vacation rentals, and even office/commercial storage. However, you will want to look into the following categories:

  • Apt/housing
  • Housing swap
  • Rooms/shared
  • Sublets/Temporary

Once you get into any of those sections, you can narrow down your search with a great list of tools. From basic parameters like price, bedrooms, bathrooms, and square footage, to more niche requirements like "X miles from zip," wheelchair access, and animals, you can quickly find just the place you're looking for. It is by far the most convenient free tool out there.

2. Apartment Finder

Long before the Internet was the go-to place for, well, everything, "Apartment Finder" magazine was the essential tool for finding your next abode. Started in 1981, it has won numerous industry awards and is now available in several formats, including the traditional magazine, the website, and the app. It also part of a network that includes Apartments.com, ApartmentHomeLiving, Move, and Doorsteps.

As it is a service focused on renting apartments, there are more slick tools here to help. You'll be able to explore the spaces using a 360-degree camera, and you'll get virtual walk-throughs, floor plans, a veritable smorgasbord of photos, and a lot of detailed information. The only downside is that you will not usually find properties from people just looking to rent out their homes. It costs money to advertise on this site, and that means it's populated by large apartment complexes. But if that's what you're looking for, and you need the extra security and benefits of a managed property with a pool and a gymnasium, this is just what you need.

3. Zillow

When Zillow first came onto the scene, it was primarily used as a tool to estimate your home's value (and real estate agents hated it because the information was always very hit or miss). Now, Zillow has become an excellent free resource for the apartment hunter. Not only does it have all the tools you'd expect to narrow down your search, but it offers advice on renting and house hunting, as well as important neighborhood information (essential if you know nothing about an area you're moving into), including school ratings. Again, it costs to list a rental property on this kind of site, so don't expect to find little hidden gems being offered by someone who has a second home.

4. Rentometer

Although it won't help you find the specific place you want to live in, it will help you research what you should (and should not) be paying for rent at any of the apartments you're checking out. If you find the home of your dreams, but aren't sure if the price is sky high, Rentometer will give you a temperature check of the area. You'll see the average and median prices, and also which percentile the apartment you're looking at falls in. At the very least, you want "reasonable" rent. Low is great. If you're in the red zone, negotiate or move on.

5. The Library

So your local library is not an app or a website, obviously, but it is filled with resources that can help anyone find their perfect apartment. It's a shame that more people don't take full advantage of the library; after all, we all pay for libraries with our taxes. Libraries have computers to access the many online tools listed in this article. They also have copies of a plethora of local and national newspapers, which contain classified ads for apartments and homes. If you find yourself in need of a place that contains many tools under one roof, the library is hard to beat.

6. HotPads

If you're looking for a tool that combines the great functionality of sites like Apartment Finder and Zillow, but also has the variety of smaller rentals offered by Craigslist, the HotPads is definitely for you. It has listings for most major cities in the U.S., and gives you a great set of criteria to help you get a list of excellent matches. Features like the "walk score" and neighborhood information, coupled with "hot listings" that show you which apartments are getting the most attention make HotPads one of the best tools for anyone looking to rent in a well-populated location.

7. Rent.com

Just like HotPads, Rent.com gives you great choice. You can find landlords who are renting out just one or two properties, or giant apartment complexes with hundreds of units in one place. You can sort by best match, price, rating, or alphabetically, and when you narrow it down to a few properties, you can check the availability and book a tour. Definitely sort by ratings, because some of apartments have quite a few skeletons in the closet.

8. PadMapper

If you want to imagine what an apartment hunting app crossed with a mapping tool would look like, check out PadMapper. From the get go, you are greeted with a map of the area you want to look at, which is immediately populated by all the available rentals. It's somewhat overwhelming at first, but by using the tools provided, you can quickly take pins off the map until you get it down to some manageable choices. Save your favorites, check out floor plans and photos, and indicate your interest in the property. One downside — it appears to only list apartments in large complexes.

9. Lovely

Great name. Great site. Lovely is known as being exceptionally easy to use, simple, and direct. And it really is a soup-to-nuts kind of setup. With Lovely, you cannot only find your ideal apartment from a vast array on the market, but also submit an application through the site. Plus, you can even pay your rent through the site itself! Of course, anything that sounds too good to be true often has a downside. With Lovely, it's scope. Right now, you're limited to the Midwest and the coasts, but as word spreads, so will the range of the site.

10. Zumper

What does the name mean? Who knows. But the site (and app) look great, are easy to use, and have a wealth of information. The first question you'll be asked is where you want to move. Type in the area, and you'll get an overview of the town or city, including any annual festivities or notable attractions. You can search on a map, or by the usual parameters (bedrooms, price, amenities, and so on). One excellent feature of Zumper is the way it seamlessly integrates with Experian, allowing you to safely and securely submit your credit report along with your application. Highly recommended.

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