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On The Hunt: How to Organize your Rental Search and Avoid Information Overload

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[Image via Shutterstock]

Last time we looked at what you want in an apartment, now I'm going to show you how to find an apartment which fit those criteria. Hint: it's not all Craigslist.

One thing that has been indispensable is a spreadsheet of all the houses you are scheduled to visit. I made a grid with the addresses across the top and my deal breakers and nice to haves along the side. It helps keep me honest that before I even look at a rental, that I need to have all of my must haves confirmed. Then when I go to the open house or meet with the listing agent, I can cross off things on our nice-to-have list and I'm already to start comparing this apartment to the rest. If you're really spreadsheet-averse, email me and I'll send you a blank one that you can print out and go analog.

Here are two old school methods you should keep in mind:

First, you have friends! With apartments! Probably in the neighborhood you like. Ask them to put out a feeler to their landlord. He or she may know of an apartment coming on the market soon and will let someone who already has a connection to the building come and look at it first.

Second, you have eyes! On your face! And you're probably walking around the neighborhood you like. So look for "for rent" signs. Yes, it's old school, but I know of at least one apartment I looked at recently where the landlord had his friend put it on Craigslist for him because he hadn't heard anything after posting a sign. I could have been first! But instead I had to contend with thirty others at the open house.

Now let's get to Craigslist. There a few cool tools out there if you're not finding it easy to search on Craigslist, and will be especially helpful if you're a more visual person.
Padmapper and Lovely are similar tools in the housingmaps tradition which plot out Craigslist postings onto a map. One word of warning; sometimes addresses aren't correct or posters don't include them, so always go back to craigslist and make sure you haven't missed anything. Both give the option to send yourself alerts and mark listings as favorites. I use Padmapper more just because I started there, but I think Lovely's interface is slicker.

The other Craigslist tool I have started using is MapCraigs, but I don't use it for apartment listings. I use it for parking. Yes, even I can been taken in by a listing that doesn't have all my must haves, so I use this map of the parking listings to see if there is parking available nearby. Sneaky.

The last thing I did with regard to Craigslist is post in the "housing wanted" section. So far I've gotten one great rental lead but in Glen Park, a few leads about subleases (which would be helpful if we had a date that we needed to move out) and one fairly annoying email about how I should buy a house in Fruitvale. So nothing yet, but it only took a few minutes and might be worth it if your karma is good.

Using these online and offline tools, you should be able to find some potential rentals. What do you think, of experienced apartment dwellers? Any other tips for how to track down an ready and waiting rental? Next time we'll look at what you prepare for an open house, and later, what to do once you get there.
· On the Hunt: How to Prepare Yourself for the Perfect Rental [Curbed SF]
· Padmapper
· Lovely
· HousingMaps
· MapCraigs