Apartment hunting is a lot like dating. At first, each new listing seems so charming and rife with possibilities, but more often than not, it turns out to be a little less attractive than the photos, and something smells funny. You have to know what you want and where to look for it, and that takes preparation and luck. I can't change your luck, but here are some great websites to help weed out the duds from your one true love.
PadMapper--This map-based app browses Craigslist and other rental listings visually by city or even by neighborhood. You can set specific search parameters and receive email alerts when new listings matching your criteria are posted. It's my favorite apartment search engine for its visual design and accessibility.
ApartmentList--A search engine that goes beyond the usual listings and map locations by asking questions about your lifestyle and personality to sort your results; it even tries to connect to your Facebook profile to learn more about you (creepy). It's definitely not the most practical way to search, but if you're overwhelmed by too many choices, it may help narrow the field.
RentoMeter--This dial style app uses your specifics to determine how your rent compares to other local properties. It has limited scope (there are other features besides location and number of bedrooms that determine price), but it's still a great tool, especially if you're unfamiliar with the area and want to avoid being overcharged.
WalkScore-- It rates your neighborhood based on amenities within walking distance and plots your nearest grocery stores, parks and coffee shops or anything else important to you. It will even estimate the length of your commute!
SchoolDigger--This is a fantastic, easy-to-use site that rates and compares everything school-related. It shows district boundaries and sorts by location, category or school details. It even links to home and apartment listings near each school.
ApartmentRatings--Your relationship with your landlord can determine your happiness in an apartment. Here's a database of apartment reviews by current and past residents. Search by building name or address to find ratings of maintenance, parking, staff, safety and other important things to consider before signing a lease. Surprisingly, it's one of the few sites I found to research a landlord or building owner.
RelocationEssentials--This informative site has everything you want to know about a community from demographics to crime rates to climate. It provides clear and thorough data. Check out the "Community Explorer" tool, which uses your interests to suggest neighborhoods that would be a good fit.
EveryBlock--A visual, continuously-updated site which allows you to follow a specific area and see a real-time feed of local news and information such as Yelp reviews, Flickr photos and media mentions. It's a great way to get the vibe of a certain neighborhood or city because it shows exactly what people are watching, eating, and talking about, so you can decide if it's for you.