5 Apps for Successful and Anti-Stressful Apartment Hunting

Full House Houses

We had a challenge ahead of us.

Find an apartment. In the Bay Area. Within our budget. In a week. That we’ll call home for the next few years of our lives.


Finding a place in one of the most, if not THE most competitive places currently on planet Earth was pretty nerve-wracking. Awareness of how tough it might be had forced us to lower our expectations and gather a bunch of tools so we could find our most ideal new home.

We had a list of apartment wants and needs. A bucket list, if you will. Our first day was spent just driving around neighborhoods to get a sense of where is best for us. We met with some locals we know and got some tips. The rest of the week we concentrated on finding specific properties in those areas and then set up appointments.

We stayed positive and tried to make it fun. We made sure we weren’t talking about apartment hunting all the time and took time to just chill, explore and not freak out.

We knew our new apartment sanctuary was out there. We just had to find it.

These awesome apps were essential to our apartment search.

1. Lovely
Lovely is indeed lovely. You can set up alerts on areas you’re most interested in, so you’ll be alerted right when new properties show up. (Super crucial for the competitive Bay Area market.) There’s an extra thing where you can set up an application with info like income, credit score, move-in date, pets, references and even order a credit report. This is great because if you find a place you like you can show it to the landlord right away and, if they like you, you look like you have your shit together and are more likely to get a place. I believe listings are pulled in through Craigslist but also maybe some other places.

2. Trulia
What’s nice about Trulia is that it gives you an idea of the crime levels in the area and what kind of restaurants, shops and banks are in the area. You can save your favorites. You can email the lister directly through the app which is convenient.

3. PadMapper
Organizes Craigslist housing in a better map layout; although I think Lovely is even better. You can save favorite places. Most data appears to get pulled from Craigslist.

4. Apartment List
This app features mainly apartment communities, not private listings. Since we loved living in DC within an apartment community (found friends much quicker living in a built-in community) our first aim was to look for a community, as opposed to a privately owned home or flat. This option is generally more expensive but you get more amenities (gym, business center, front desk for accepting packages) so if you use and appreciate these amenities it’s worth it.

5. Craigslist
Because the San Francisco Bay Area is hugely competitive, there are lots of housing scams on Craigslist so look out for those. If someone asks you for money or to apply before you even see a place and the place is listed at a rental rate way lower than any other home in the area, you probably have a scam. Still, plenty of good places are listed on Craigslist so definitely don’t discount it. Just be aware of this and don’t get scammed. The CL app isn’t the best for apartment map search – Lovely works better for this.

So what’s the best apartment search app?
In the end, Lovely is how we came across our new awesome apartment. We really didn’t start using Lovely until later in our search and we may have had an easier time had we started searching with it from the beginning. Oh well. Now YOU can learn from our mistakes wisdom.

But really… using ALL of these apps simultaneously was necessary to figuring out where we wanted to plant ourselves for the next few years.

Zillow can also be good if you want to look into more specific nerdy things about a particular property like property taxes, what it’s worth, what utilities cost, what schools are there, etc. Zillow is not the best for apartment searching though. We found that the advertised rental prices (low) were often not matching up with what the actual rental price was (high). It wasted a good amount of our time because we’d get enamored with a place, contact to set up something, then find out it’s way out of our budget. Fix it, Zillow!

Our new place is a 2-bdrm, 1 bath “penthouse” (haha top floor of a 3 level) apartment in the Oakland area with palm treed views off our balcony in a small building that’s privately owned. Our new landlord is also originally from Wisconsin and we think that’s pretty neat. Can’t wait!

Questions? Comments? Chat with me on Twitter @barbariancases