Competition to help apartment seekers find places to live is heating up online, and that's good news for Bay Area consumers who face one of the most competitive housing markets in the nation.

While dominated by giants like Zillow, Trulia and ApartmentGuide, the space has been joined by newcomers, including several based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

One thing that hasn't changed is the popularity of another San Francisco-based search site -- the venerable Craigslist, which is a powerhouse in many markets despite its rudimentary interface, limited geographic search abilities and complaints about scams.

Derrick Polk, an Oakland art teacher, has been scouring the city for a one-bedroom apartment or loft using his Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone and a variety of apps and websites.

"I'm using ApartmentList, Craigslist -- pretty much all the sites," he said. "I like them, they're a help, and they're better than going to the property management websites, where there are only a few listings."

Polk has found that the sheer number of listings isn't necessarily a sign of excellence. The best sites present the freshest, most reliable information, he said.

"Craigslist can be helpful, but then it's kind of hard," he said. "You'll see open houses, and you show up and there's not an open house."

The new services are adding features that make it easier to find the apartment of your dreams, and a few help you apply and lease it online.

Here's a look at some of the newer mobile apps and websites that offer original resources for apartment-hunting.


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ApartmentList

Launched in 2011 at a TechCrunch conference by two veterans of the investment banking industry, this site claims to be the fastest growing of its kind in the U.S., with more than 3 million monthly renters using it across the U.S.

Searches can be narrowed for landlords who accept pets, have onsite or in-unit laundries, dishwashers, parking, pools, gyms and so on. A search for one-bedroom apartments in Berkeley turned up 99 units in 53 buildings, but it cast a wide net, listing all apartments within five miles, including some in Richmond, Alameda, El Cerrito and Emeryville.

Illustration by Dave Johnson/Staff
Illustration by Dave Johnson/Staff

Based in San Francisco, with 80 employees and $21 million in venture funding, ApartmentList gets listings from large property management companies, brokers and rental listings aggregators across the U.S., as well as its own listings which it curates by hand.

Co-founder and CEO John Kobs said he wants to build "an end-to-end marketplace" where users will be able to submit an application, sign a lease and pay their rent through ApartmentList.

Lovely

Through a collaboration with credit rating agency Experian, this San Francisco-based startup makes it possible to submit an application for an apartment on the spot by using your smartphone to email your resume, credit report and other required information to the manager or landlord.

Lovely has been around since 2011, launching its iOS app in 2012 and an Android app in December. It was acquired for $13 million in April by RentPath, a rental search holding company owned by a private equity fund.

On a desktop, Lovely has nice display, producing maps with large dots denoting listings in neighborhoods with numbers indicating the quantity of listings. Each dot opens a list of apartments with photos and rental information. The information includes how long the apartment had been posted, with orange dots indicating listings that were "fresh yesterday." Many dots were blue, indicating no fresh listings and included some that were two weeks old, an eon in today's competitive market. Lovely will send you daily alerts on new listings.

To receive alerts, users create an account with their name, address, photo, LinkedIn profile, income, credit score, and their employer -- the same sorts of things landlords want to see when choosing tenants. "Our job is not to pick winners and losers, but to give renters and landlords tool they need," said CEO Blake Pierson.

RentalRoost

The Pleasanton-based brainchild of two founders steeped in big data, RentalRoost dives deep into U.S. Census tract information and hundreds of other databases, using a proprietary algorithm that scores locations for lifestyle factors. The site produces profiles of neighborhoods so you can see if you'd like to live there.

In a search for Oakland apartment listings, RentalRoost delivered a map with bubbles and numbers representing how many apartments were found in a particular neighborhood. Click on the bubble for more information. A search in a section of East San Jose produced scores for walkability, schools, transit, kid-friendliness and fine dining. New listings are emailed to you.

By month's end, it hopes to have almost 1 million rentals to search, with close to 1.5 million nationwide for sale listings in the near future.

"In our next phase, for any address in the U.S. we'll be able to tell you information about the house, the schools, the neighborhood and the lifestyle of the neighborhood," co-founder Vikram Raghavan said.

While these new services are innovative and useful, don't forget the industry leaders like Zillow, Trulia, Rent.com and ApartmentGuide.

Zillow and Trulia show the newest listings first, with notes that say when the listing was posted. They both rely on their own massive collection of listings, but also use Rent.com and ApartmentGuide as sources.

ApartmentGuide is adding a neat feature: Floor plans of properties. Also, after you submit a query, ApartmentGuide suggests other apartments to check out. In a search for Berkeley apartments, the Avalon Berkeley popped up as a suggestion. I sent a message using the app and got a call back in about an hour.

Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419 Follow him on Twitter.com/petecarey

online apartment hunting tools

ApartmentList -Apartment listings now, with plans to build an "end-to-end" service to help you apply and sign a lease.
Lovely - An apartment tool that you can use to submit an application on the spot from your phone.
RentalRoost - Search for apartments in neighborhoods that suit your lifestyle.
Craigslist - Still strong after 20 years, has massive numbers of listings but beware of scams and outdated posts.
Zillow - Its fresh listings draw 15 million unique monthly visitors, according to ComScore.
Trulia - Focuses on the mobile experience with a top-ranked app.
ApartmentGuide - A popular site owned by RentPath, which is owned by private equity group TPG.