Conducting your apartment hunt online: a guide to the most popular rental websites


Tyler McCormick

Looking for an apartment in New York City is hard, and any brave soul that has ever attempted to find one can attest to that. For college students, price is a huge factor in finding an apartment, as well as location and nearby transportation. In the age of the Internet, apartment hunting can be done virtually, for the most part, with the help of websites like,,, and Since each website is competing against one another to garner the most online traffic, they all offer specific features that allow potential residents to find their dream homes.

Photo by Naomi Hébert on Unsplash
Photo by Naomi Hébert on Unsplash

Anyone that has looked for an apartment has most likely checked out Craigslist. Craigslist stands out from the rest because it can be used nationwide. When looking for an apartment though, it can be a helpful tool to use as a starting point, but that is the only thing it should be used as in New York: a starting point. Craigslist offers the most refined search out of all the websites mentioned in this article. Apartment hunters can look at the website and choose from a range of prices, the number of miles they’d like to be away from a certain zip code, whether or not a building is pet-friendly, square footage, and availability dates. From there, apartments that match the description appear on screen, along with a pinpoint location on a map for neighborhood reference. This is where things go downhill.

Since individuals, who don’t necessarily have to have any credentials, can list their apartments for rent, information regarding the apartment can be scarce, ranging anywhere from a couple of paragraphs to a measly sentence or two. Listers usually leave a contact email or number, but it is rare that they give much more information.

Tip: Since Craigslist has such a great refining search tool, I would suggest utilizing it and finding a building or area that you like. After that, I would plug in that building or area into a site with more credentials and go from there.
Joelle Prisco, a junior at Pace University, says, “I don’t trust Craigslist as much as I do other sites. Ads on Craigslist can be scary, and many of my friends have had bad experiences with it. I would recommend Trulia.”

Trulia is a more credible site for finding apartments that also offers an extensive search that allows users to look for apartments in a certain area. As expected, the website gives information about the apartment, such as a lengthy description, building amenities, and how many days the apartments have been on the market.

The best feature that Trulia offers is a “What’s Near” chart that shows exact distances from stores and restaurants such as Starbucks, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and airports. However, Trulia lacks when it comes to information regarding nearby trains. While some listings do mention the apartment being close to public transportation in the description, the info is vague. Another downfall to Trulia is that in order to refine a search, users must create an account with a valid email address, leading to a cluttered email inbox and spam.

Tip: Trulia is a great site, but seems to be geared towards a person who is out of college. While the “What’s Near” tab is nice, it is not necessarily pertinent information to know the distance of the nearest Starbucks, when there is a Starbucks in Pace University’s cafeteria that can be used with the meal plan dollars. Instead, it is more important to see where the nearest subway stations are, to ensure that you are within a reasonable distance from school.
Trulia might be more beneficial to Kiana Cessac, who looks for convenience in a new apartment, saying, “Location is important to me because it can become tiring when it’s a trek just to get to the nearest CVS.”

Zillow is another competitor in online real estate. Zillow has the most complex website out of the four that are being compared in this article, which has its pros and cons. While the website covers more data, the intensive design makes it more difficult for users to navigate.

The crowning point of Zillow is its thorough descriptions of their listed apartments, which features amenities, laundry information, pet allowance, nearby parking garages, and even includes a satellite view of the building for insight as to what is nearby. To appeal to those with children, Zillow lists nearby schools, along with school rankings and facts.

Tip: Zillow can be convenient for the satellite map tool, but it puts a lot of emphasis on nearby school districts, which isn’t useful to most college students. Zillow is more than likely made with families in mind.
Leslie Quarnaccio, a real estate agent in the tri-state area, says, “As an agent, I post listings on Zillow because most of my contacts are people in the workforce with families who are looking to make a home in or near New York.”

StreetEasy, which has a lot in common with Zillow, is by far the most user-friendly and simple to use. Not only does it list bedrooms on apartment listings, but also gives amounts of rooms total and number of bathrooms. StreetEasy also describes each apartment in detail with information on amenities, price history, apartment features, and distances from nearby schools and districts. For the frequent commuter, StreetEasy states the exact transportation lines that are within walking distance to the apartment, including the specific distance of the subway entrance.

StreetEasy has also made contacting the real estate agent easier. With an available interactive planner, people can see when an apartment is having an open house. If the times can’t be worked into a busy schedule, agent information is available, and the agent can be reached directly through the website. Their response will be sent back via email.

Tip: StreetEasy is probably the best bet for a college student who is looking for an apartment. The information about nearby subway and bus stops makes this stand out for the college commuter. Listing the number of rooms is a great feature for those who are looking to block off a room with a flex wall. Not only do flex walls allow more friends to live with you, but it will also cut rent costs significantly per person!
Annie Klootwyk, a student at New York Law School, said, “I used StreetEasy to find my apartment mainly because it was the only website that I had heard of before. I found the apartment that I live in now on there, and I would use it again if I ever need to find another place [to live].”
Kenneth Hopkins, a junior at Pace University, said, “I use StreetEasy to search for all of my potential housing options. It’s so much easier having all the listings on one site and being able to see pictures and floor plans of each apartment from the comfort of my own home is very convenient for me!”

Apartment rental website features, rated. Graph by Tyler McCormick.
Apartment rental website features, rated. Graph by Tyler McCormick.

Hunting for apartments is a stressful process. Finding a location and place that fits one’s needs may seem nearly impossible, but the use of online domains is drastically changing the game. Unfortunately for potential renters, finding the apartment is the easy part. The real challenge is dealing with the leasing office of whichever listing you may decide to go with, but that’s a story for some other time.