Search Beyond Craigslist

When Meredith Pringle, 25, moved to D.C. from Chicago, she used a real estate agent, at no charge, from the website Urban Igloo to help with her apartment hunt.

When Tanya Gupta, 42, began hunting for an apartment in Washington, D.C., she didn’t limit herself to Craigslist.

Gupta, a Virginia resident, is in the market for a two-bedroom spot in Adams Morgan or Penn Quarter. And she’s got a very well-defined strategy for finding her dream place.

In addition to obsessively checking the online bulletin board Craigslist for new listings, she scours neighborhoods on foot, contacting building managers when she finds an apartment she likes. She’s also downloaded a handful of helpful apps to her iPhone, which she relies on when she’s out and about.

Gupta’s multipronged approach might sound like overkill. But anyone who’s actually tried to find a perfect pad knows Washington’s finicky housing market demands constant vigilance, grit and a bit of luck. That’s why it pays to employ a variety of hunting approaches.

“Craigslist was helpful, but there are some people that advertise there that just sort of want you to go to their website,” she says. “The apps are good because they offer a lot of different functionality.”

Two of her favorites, PadMapper and LiveLovely, let you search for apartments at your price point in a specific area and send you alerts when new spots become available.

Smartphone apps are especially important when you’re out hunting for apartments. “The market is so competitive,” says Sol Garger, the project manager for Trulia’s rental app. “If you find a great spot but wait [to contact the owner] until you get home, good chance it’ll be gone.”

That’s why Trulia, which tracks housing trends nationwide, created the Trulia Rentals app. It alerts users to rentals that have gone on the market in the past 24 hours. It also keeps track of your neighborhood preferences and rental needs. (Are you looking for a studio? Want a pool? The app has you covered.)

“We want to be a one-stop shop,” Garger says.

You don’t, however, have to have a smartphone to get digital help when apartment-hunting. If you have your heart set on a particular neighborhood or have specific requirements for your future apartment, consider signing up for an email list.

Kesher Israel, a synagogue in Georgetown, runs a Housing listserve, an email list that sends alerts about available housing to anyone who is signed up. The listings are geared toward Orthodox Jews looking for housing within walking distance of a synagogue and a kosher kitchen, but anyone can sign up.

“If people know of housing opening up or if someone was looking for a roommate or an apartment, it’s an easy way to share,” says Shoshana Danon-Perkins, an administrator at Kesher Israel.

Looking to live in a particular neighborhood? Sign up for that neighborhood’s email lists and check out the neighborhood’s blogs. Residents often note vacant properties in both places.

There are also websites that help people with certain needs find an apartment, including sites for animal owners (Peoplewithpets.com) and those with disabilities (Disability.gov/housing).

Interns should check out the Washington Intern Student Housing website or the summer housing pages at local universities. The University of Maryland and American University are good places to start.

If you’re moving to the area from another city, an agent who can act as an ally is a good option.

Meredith Pringle, 25, was moving to Washington from Chicago and could spend only one weekend in the city. She hunted online but struggled to connect with landlords.

“With Craigslist and those other websites, you never know who you’ll hear back from,” she says.

Then she stumbled on Urban Igloo, which offers prospective renters an agent to help them search. It’s free (landlords pay a fee to get listed).

Pringle was able to tell an agent her price range and her desire to live near George Washington University, where she attends graduate school. The agent made appointments ahead of time, and when Pringle was in town, she swung by. She settled on a junior one-bedroom in Logan Circle.

It’s a neighborhood she never would have considered without Urban Igloo’s advice, but she loves her apartment.

“I’m never moving,” she says.

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