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Online apartment hunting

Posted by Rona Fischman July 20, 2012 01:54 PM

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Back this week is Matthew Boyes-Watson and Raleigh Werner -- the co-founders of RentPrefs, to give their take on the pros and cons of on-line rental searches.

There are dozens of online tools available to renters who are looking for apartments in Boston. The key to choosing and using these tools is to understand what each one does.

There are four primary types of online services that help renters find and landlords fill apartments. We’ll go in order of oldest (most archaic) to newest.

1. Brokerage Websites

Brokerage websites pull information directly from a brokerage’s apartment database.

Pros: Updated frequently. Unlikely to be have false information.

Cons: These websites only reflect individual particular brokerage’s inventory. If you wanted to search through all the available apartments in Boston, you would have to go to all the brokerages websites and search through their listings individually!

2. Online Classifieds Boards

Online classifieds boards are simple and straightforward: free space to post basic advertisements about available apartments.

Craigslist is the primary online classifieds posting board where realtors and landlords place ads for available apartments. The best practice for keeping ads visible on Craigslist is to post constantly. Each time an ad is posted, it goes to the top, so the more ads, the more often they are at or near the top.

Pros: Craigslist is apartment listing Mecca. There are few landlords or realtors who do not post ads here, so the volume of listings is massive.

Cons: This system favors quantity versus ad quality, sacrificing information for existence. Often, ads with appealing titles contain little information, prompting the renter to call, regardless of if the title description was accurate or not.

3. Listings Aggregators Listing aggregators are the apartment rental market’s natural next step in online search tools, collecting and compiling available listings from classifieds boards and placing them into a centralized, searchable database. is an apartment listing aggregator that scrapes information from multiple online classifieds sites and compiles them into one user-experience. The result is as comprehensive a database of apartments as listings sites can provide (which, unfortunately, is not very extensive).

Pros: More apartment listings, detailed matchmaking and ergonomic user interface make listings aggregators the easiest way to search for apartments whose ads fit your preferences.

Cons: These sites lose value from their reliance on classifieds. As discussed above, online listings are riddled with incorrect information, which transfers over to listings aggregators.

4. Apartment Matchmaking Services
Apartment matchmaking services are the new kids on the block. The purpose of these services is to match people with apartments based on first-party information and begin handling and digitizing some of the paperwork involved (applications, lease forms, etc.).

RentPrefs is Boston’s first apartment matchmaking service, connecting renters and landlords through automated matching of renters’ housing preferences with apartments taken directly from property owners, as opposed to apartment ads." Tools like PadMapper or simply scrape data from apartment ads on a single search basis, where RentPrefs continues to search and update renters' accounts as apartments come on and off the market. We think this makes RentPerfs the first real service (as opposed to a tool) in the market.

RentPrefs will build out new features, such as peer-to-peer visual reviews and digitized paperwork organization, to facilitate a fast, fun rental experience from search to signing. By sourcing with realtors and landlords directly, RentPrefs continues to build the most transparent and accurate database of apartments across Boston.

Pros: the user experience with tenancy creators offer more detailed information, like 3rd-party testimonials and standardized, online paperwork.

Cons: Tenancy creators are still in their infancy. It will take time for these services to build up a comprehensive inventory of apartments and peer-reviews.

Does this “new kid on the block” idea have a chance? What do they need to do well to make a go of this? I can see it being valuable for newcomers to get neighborhood reviews and reviews of bigger buildings and landlords. Can rental searching and social media marry and live happily ever after?
Also, adding standard paperwork would help both landlords and tenants. I see this as a good move. What do you think?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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