It's a Renter's World on the Internet
We decided to survey the Internet landscape and see what some of these sites offer for renters like you.
When Zillow launched in 2006 at the height of the housing boom it was all about homeowners. By the end of 2009, however, Zillow added rentals in an effort to compete for the growing rental demand. (You can't accuse them on not being responsive to a changing market).
For each listing, Zillow gives all the standard features: apartment stats, property information supplied by the landlord, and the ability to home in on a certain neighborhood and price range. But it also offers helpful neighborhood information, history of the property, lot size, etc. Zillow's rental listings resemble its housing listings, so if you thought Zillow pages were too busy, you won't find any less clutter here. Zillow's popular "Zestimate" tool doesn't apply to rentals, but the site does provide a "walkability" score. One handy feature: The site tells you how many people have looked at each listing in the current month and overall. Because you want to know about your competition, right?
Main site color: sky blue. (After all, you spend a lot of time looking at these sites!)
The last part of the new greeting on the site says it all, "- Now with Rentals!" The former home-buying site has embraced rentals. Overall, it is pretty easy and standard to navigate. As with Zillow, it offers a lot of information, but it's arguable how much is actually useful to most renters (like 2009 state property taxes).
Trulia includes an interesting feature that allows visitors to compare renting and home buying. Since a large number of people searching for housing are open to both renting or owning, this can be helpful in decision-making. On the main page, Trulia asks if you want to compare renting or buying, so you don't have to search for this feature either. Also noteworthy: Each listing is pulled up with its Google Maps picture so you can see what it really looks like.
Main site color: kelly green.
As the name indicates, this site is dedicated to renters. Founded in 1999, it's one of the earlier rental sites. While it offers renters a variety of properties, Rent.com provides limited information compared to its peers. It offers moving-cost information with each listing, so you can apply for quotes right there, as you can do at other sites. But it doesn't offer basic features -- such as local statistics, neighborhood information, or comparisons to other listings -- that have become standard in this website category.
Rent.com does have some nice perks: In many cases, renters get a $100 prepaid Visa card for renting a selected listing from the site. (Before you start thinking kickbacks, it's because of the Rent.com advertising model -- some listings pay an advertising fee if the unit is rented through the website.)
Main site color: beige.
Apartments.com is focused on apartments in mostly large scale, corporate-type buildings with many units. Of all the rental sites we looked at, this one has the most limited amount of properties and information; it does not compare properties, give apartment information other than what's provided by renting companies, or supply many listing results (a search in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles generated just three results.)
But if you're looking to move and rent, the site's Moving Center has good information on leasing, roommates, insurance and other topics. It even has results from its study into love and renting -- for example, 20% of respondents are dating someone they met in their building. Not exactly need-to-know info, but fun nonetheless.
Main site color: Olive Green.
This site is user-friendly and easy to navigate, offering the standard property data and comps; however, as of last week they are partners with Trulia.com so expect overlap. It also yields many results and different types of properties. For each listing, you'll get property info as well as a neighborhood map and a brief write-up on the neighborhood. And when you put in your apartment requests, the site organizes your results by 'exact match' and 'close match.' Forrent.com also offers standard moving-cost quotes, credit report information and other resources.
Main site color: navy blue.