Perhaps the only thing more difficult than finding a decent rental to live in is finding the perfect house to purchase.
Fortunately, one of the many things the Internet has actually helped to make easier is this process. And in our economy, when we're likely to take that job offer, no matter where in the country it is, that's a good thing.
Some apps and sites are city-specific, others are pretty national in scope. Here's a look at 7 of the most innovative or interesting we've come across:
Trulia: It's a site, it's an app. And it bills itself as somewhat of a Google for the real estate on the web (my words, not theirs). A "real estate search engine," you can search anywhere in the U.S. for housing to buy or rent (rental search is relatively new to the site), check out the crime maps to make sure you're not moving into a neighborhood rife with b&e, or check out the heat maps to see where housing is most--or least--expensive. There are tools for agents/brokers/Realtors as well, and it has a mobile (iPhone and iPad) app that lays out all the most popular features of the site in an optimized format.
Homethinking: This is for home buying, not renting, but it's a pretty good site that reviews real estate agents and brokers. It has customer reviews, their sales history, If you're looking to move to North Dakota, though, you're out of luck, as that's the only one of the 50 states not on their search list. Washington, D.C., however, is. You can also research mortgage lenders and compare neighborhoods.
BrickUnderground: This one's a bit different, as it focuses exclusively on the New York City market. But that's a pretty unique market, as it's extremely heavy on the rentals and has a daunting system of brokers that often seems the only way to find something halfway decent. That is, of course, only if you find a good broker. That's where BrickUnderground comes in, with its Renter Referral program, which is a matchmaker of sorts between would-be tenant and broker. Add to that solid articles about New York City apartment living and survival kits, and you've got a solid new contender in the space.
BidRent: There are so many sites you can go to find rentals on that it can become overwhelming. Making it worse, Apartments.com, Rent.com, Craigslist, Move and the others have some different rentals and some the same. Plowing through each to find what you're looking for can be a huge timesuck. RentCompare pulls from more than a dozen rental sites to compare them all. It's from the same people who created SearchBoth.com, which allows you to compare search results from two search engines at the same time, side-by-side. The only real downside is that you have to set up a free account to use the comparison tool.
Review My Landlord: A word of caution here: This site is pretty much brand new, so it remains to be seen if it has staying power. Based on the fact that other sites alive not that long ago that did similar things, such as Pick-A-Landlord.com, are now gone, it may be a difficult vertical because of liability issues. We'll see. But the ability to review and rate your landlord is a powerful tool. Most landlords are pretty responsible, but many of have had a landlord we wished we would have been warned about ahead of time.
My Apartment Map: This site pulls together data from all sorts of spots, including Craigslist and Google Maps and weeds through it all to present all the data in a really attractive format. Their technology has been fine-tuned to purge spam and duplicate listings and has specific search functions for college students, military families and pet owners, which may be its most attractive feature. Landlords also can list their properties for rent directly onto the site and those who offer Section 8 or other subsidized housing can qualify for free listings.
Roomster: The site strives to eliminate the middleman, by connecting people who have rooms to let and people who want to rent them, directly. What separates the site from the pack, however, is that you can also find a roommate through the site. Maybe you have somewhere to live already, but need to find a roomie. Or maybe you can't even fathom looking for somewhere to live without someone to help pay the rent. It incorporates an instant message system into the process and allows users to show interest in a property so landlords or owners can find the users to pursue.
There are many other excellent sites and applications in the real estate vertical, and this list is by no means meant to be comprehensive. In fact, I wanted to include some newer, little-known sites to give a broader view of what's available. This list can get you started, however, and help ease the pain of the housing search, whether you're buying or renting.
Please share your favorites in the comments.