So—you're searching for an apartment on Craigslist. You click on "housing" and enter your search criteria: min bedrooms, max price, X miles from your zip code of choice, only show ads with pictures—GO! Aaaaaand you've already made a huge mistake.
Not only did I do an annual housing hunt every five years while living in Brooklyn (I'm now in L.A.), I also worked as a real estate agent in Brooklyn for two years. I know the deal. My single biggest piece of advice to you while searching for apartments: always search for and call about listings WITHOUT PICTURES.
Almost every renter immediately disregards a listing without pictures, assuming the apartment must be trash or "a scam." As an agent, I would bend over backwards just to include a shot of the front door, because the difference in response volume to an ad with a single nonsense picture versus an ad with none was exponential. People. Want. To See. The Apartment.
So why pursue ads without pics? Yes, three times out of four, it probably does mean the unit is a tiny piece of infested crap. But, occasionally, such ads lead you to the Holy Grail: A landlord who is not great at business. Someone who isn't savvy enough to know that they need pictures in their ad is probably also clueless about how much money they can get for their unit (or, for whatever reason, just might not care about getting the max value for their real estate.) And, when you do find these diamonds in the rough, you're likely to have less competition since so many other apartment hunters dismissed the ad almost immediately.
The last apartment I rented in the city was a three-bed in Boerum Hill. I found it through a picture-free ad. I got it for $3,250 a month (no-fee) in June 2013. If I had been in charge of listing the unit myself, I'd have started by asking $4,500. My roommates and I were the first to view the unit (limited competition) and signed immediately. This was less than a week after we missed out by 30 minutes on a four-bed in Cobble Hill for $3,800 (again, ad sans pics.) Just to put this in perspective for you non-Brooklynites, the average rent for a three bedroom is $4,797—and $5,923 in Boerum Hill and $5,848 in Cobble Hill.
Of course, this strategy can't guarantee you will find that rare steal of a place with a gem of a landlord. Sadly, such apartments are few and far between. Like most New Yorkers, you may become overwhelmed with your search after two weeks and end up renting a barbed wire cage on Staten Island for $5,900 a month and a 15 percent broker fee because, deep down, you feel it's what you deserve. But, if you want the best chance at finding a great apartment at a price that doesn't make you cry yourself to sleep while screaming "WHY DID I LEAVE OMAHA?" into your pillow—call about the ads without pictures. This tip also goes for renting in cities that aren't NYC (Omaha included.)