Beginner's Guide to Online Apartment Searching

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So many apartment hunters go online each day to find the perfect rental, and there's no reason you can't be one of them. If you need to look for an apartment and want to try using the Internet to help with your search, you might wonder what you need to do, if there are pitfalls to avoid, or even how to get started. Below is what you need to know to conduct an effective online apartment search.

Know What You Want

Using the Internet should make your search more effective and convenient, but it's not magic. You still need to start your search already having determined what you're looking for in an apartment. This way, you can proceed to use apartment-search Web sites to find exactly what you want. For example, many apartment hunters need to answer the following questions before they're ready to begin looking for an apartment:

Search Parameters

If you're like most apartment hunters, you probably have things you need and things you want in an apartment. Managing your search parameters will ensure that every apartment has everything you need—and possibly more—while avoiding the bother of having to sift through too many listings. So, what should you select when it comes to search parameters?

Start by selecting all your "musts." If you get tons of search results, you'll need a way to reduce the list. Here's where your "wants" come in. Prioritize what you want and check off one or more of them to limit the results. For example, add on-site storage and parking to your parameters.

Mapping Features

One benefit of searching for an apartment on the Internet is that you can use the address data to see exactly where a building is on a map. This is especially helpful if you're not familiar with all the street names in a neighborhood, or you're searching in a wide area of a town or city.

Many apartment-search Web sites automatically map addresses for you. For example, when you look at a listing for a particular apartment, the Web site uses the address data to show you where it's located on a map. Or, if you've selected, say, 14 apartments that might interest you, the Web site could plot them all on a single map, so you can see where they are relative to each other as well as important locations, such as where you work or where your children will go to school.

Beware of Scams

Don't let the ease or fun of looking for an apartment over the Internet cause you to lower your guard. Just because you use a reputable apartment-search Web site doesn't mean you can't get scammed by unscrupulous landlords—or even people posing as landlords—who get their listings onto these sites. If something feels wrong with a listing, the application process feels rushed, or the whole experience with a particular apartment just seems too good to be true, it may be wise not to pursue that listing.