For all of its faults and frustrations, Craigslist is still the place many of us go for tickets, jobs, furniture and especially apartments. After the jump you'll find some tips on making the most of your online apartment search:
1. Know what you want. In this post, I talked about having a Must Have, Nice to Have, Gravy list. Have yours at the ready (for neighborhood and apartment) before attempting a search.
2. Your budget is a range. Having a set number that you can spend on housing is important for your finances and your search. But on Craigslist, some apartments come with all, some or no utilities included in the rent. Make use of the rent range search option. If you live in a city with a seasonal rental market like Boston, you can search a bit higher than you're willing to spend if you're moving in the off-season. Landlords don't want empty apartments in the winter and may negotiate.
3. Get specific. Doing a general search for 2 bedrooms in the South End is going to give you too many pages and too much information. It is much better to be as specific as possible and do multiple searches than to try to find your way through the weeds. Try searching "2BR, South End, hardwood, heat included, cats" instead. The results are easier to manage. Not finding any gems? Switch up your search terms, try another neighborhood on your list, edit your budget.
3b. Quotation marks are your friend. Spammers got you down? Add ( -"Suzie Spammer" ) to your search terms, and voila! Less noise. This is also useful if you don't want a ( -cozy ) or ( -"walk up" ) apartment. Once upon a time, you could just search in the "apartments by owner" section, but if a realty or management company owns the property, they can post in By Owner.
4. Set up alerts. Now that you have these hardworking search terms, let Craigslist come to you. Set up email alerts or your RSS feed to receive new listings that fit your qualifiers (the RSS button is in the bottom right corner of the search results). Use this tip after you move in to make sure you get that perfect sofa before anyone else.
5. Still overwhelmed? Hire an agent. Don't work with one of those spammers-- use my tips for finding a real estate agent, as they generally apply to rental agents as well. Hiring an agent is like hiring movers-- sure, it's going to cost you some cash, but you save in time and aggravation.
What are your tips for navigating Craigslist?
Image credit: xkcd, licensed for use under Creative Commons.