When looking for an apartment, Craigslist can be your best friend. But despite the plethora of posts, the search process can be frustrating. You have to check the listings constantly so you don’t miss out on any posts—which means at least daily if you are looking to move to one of the big cities. You usually end up looking at some of the same exact posts because you forgot where you left off last time. And even when you are lucky enough to stumble across a decent space, you usually don’t get a quick response from the seller…if you hear back at all. So at the end of the day it leaves you with weak leads in a clutter of emails—and most importantly, nowhere to live.
I recently relocated to San Francisco and discovered a few Craigslist tricks in the process that helped ease and speed up the process. Using these simple tools made my search more efficient and less painful, allowing me to spend more time talking with legitimate sellers and lock-up a sweet pad in under a week. I think they can do the same for you.
Use PadMapper to Pick Your Hood
There are a few applications that plot Craigslist posts on a map and some do it better than others. While none worked for me as all-in-one solutions, I found that the map visualization was helpful to familiarize myself with the area. They helped give me a better idea of the average prices in certain neighborhoods and figure out how far I’d have to travel to get to work.
There are actually quite a few options to choose from—as you’ll find out if you just search Google for “Craigslist Maps” like I did. After experimenting with some of them, I recommend trying PadMapper by TopHat Monkey Software. PadMapper presents the posts on a Google Map and uses familiar markers to guide you through the search.
I recommend starting with a larger area and then narrowing it down to the neighborhoods that fit your style. But don’t be fooled by a few posts—make sure to keep your eyes on the map for a few days and always check out the surrounding posts.
Use RSS Feeds to Save Your Searches
Once you pick your neighborhood, I think its best to search the posts more carefully than a map view allows. But if you’re only an occasional Craigslist user like me, you probably visit the site each time you want to perform a search. You probably click the category and enter a description of what you’re looking for into the “search for” bar, and maybe fill in some of the more advanced fields to narrow down the results. And this may be sufficient if you’re just doing a quick, one-time search.
But if you are repeating searches (like when looking for an apartment), repeat no more. Using RSS feeds provides a great solution for repeat searching, making them really useful for apartment hunting because you have to check back for new posts often. Rather than searching the Craigslist site each time, you can easily and quickly set up multiple searches and track them simultaneously through an RSS reader. For those of you who didn’t know this was possible, take a second to scroll to the bottom of any Craigslist search and check out the RSS button:
To use the search-based RSS feeds, all you need to do is copy the RSS link into any RSS reader (try Google Reader if you don’t already have a favorite). Aggregating a few of these searches should give you a nice platform to monitor new posts all in one place. Here is what my subscription feed looked like:
As you can see, I used RSS feeds to monitor apartments in different neighborhoods and across price levels. It only took a few minutes to set up and meant I never had to use the (painfully boring) Craigslist interface. This also allowed me to keep track of which posts I already read, receive updates on mobile reader platforms, as well as keep an eye on my favorites without using bookmarks.
While particularly handy for apartment searching, the RSS feed trick can also be used to track any other type of search. So next time you are considering buying a new flat-screen or looking for some work, why not set up a RSS feed to make sure you get the best deal or snag a side job?
Use Boomerang to Time your Inquiries, Follow Up, and Organize the Details
When you find a post that meets your standards, first make sure to mark it as a favorite in your RSS reader and then contact the seller as you normally would. Usually this means sending a simple email that expresses your interest in the post and provides your contact information. But to increase your response rate, I suggest using Boomerang for Gmail as a response tracker. Boomerang helps you remember which sellers respond to your inquiries and prompts you to follow up with those that don’t.
If you do receive a quick response, the seller’s message will appear in your inbox like it normally would. But if a seller fails to respond within a set time period (1 day, for example), Boomerang will place the message at the top of your inbox to remind you to follow up with another quick message. I found that a follow up message can trigger a quicker response because it places your message on top of the other emails that the seller may have received since your first email. The sellers inbox might be overwhelmingly full if everyone sent two…but at least it’s not your inbox, right?
You can also use Boomerang’s “Send Later” button to time the arrival of your email inquiries. For example, if you are Craigslisting late at night, your inquiries would normally arrive with suspicious timestamps and might get lost in the other emails that the seller may receive the next morning. The “Send Later” function allows you to schedule emails to be sent at more appropriate times–like 8AM the next morning.
And when you finally hear back from someone, you can use Boomerang to organize your inbox and manage the details. For example, when the seller tells you when you can come check out the place, you can use Boomerang to remove the message from your inbox until you actually need the address and directions. When you do need it, Boomerang will place the message at the top of your inbox, marked as unread, distinct from other arrangements you might have made.
Get your Fix
So there you have it, a few quick tricks to make your Craigslist search at least slightly less painful. With any luck, you’ll have somewhere to live in no time. If not, just keep your eyes on those RSS feeds and be persistent in following up.
Now go and get your Craigslist fix!