Apartment Hunting in the Age of the Smart Phone

I remember my first GPS unit; it was a great black box permanently suction-cupped to the dash of my car. I was always amazed when it managed to figure out where I was by way of those magic satellites somewhere way up in the sky. Fast-forward ten years later and the slim little smart phone in my pocket not only knows where I am, it has tons of helpful apps that suggest things based on my location. Sometimes GPS technology can seem more than just a little bit magical.

Location service apps like Yelp, which suggests a nearby restaurant or doctor or tells you where to find the nearest supermarket, have grown wildly popular in recently years. And now, location service apps have broken into the real estate rentals market with new apps like PadMapper. Ever ended up in a lovely neighborhood and wished you could find out exactly what apartments or homes were available for rent, without going home and searching from your computer? Now it’s as easy as taking out your iPhone or Android. It also gave me plenty of information when I was out looking for garage door experts in San Bernardino county. I wanted to find out more about some of these apps, so I took them for a test-drive in Fremont, near the office.


Padmapper (iPhone/Android, free)

Open up Padmapper and you can see your location represented by a purple pin. Surrounding you are rentals–sometimes hundreds of them–represented by red pins. Once you view a listing by touching the red pin, it turns gray so you can keep track. Many of the listings have photos and extensive descriptions.

The Padmapper app is fed by listings from Craigslist, SeattleRentals.com, and other sites, and also features an address search box in case you’d like to search more traditionally. A variety of filters are available as well–if you’re looking for a place that takes dogs and has four bathrooms, it will only show you red pins for homes and apartments matching those criteria. A list view and Favorites list are also available to help you with your search.


 Zillow (iPhone/Android, free)
Zillow works much like Padmapper, but lists both rentals and homes for sale. It also has the added bonus of a hybrid view option, which allows you to see the aerial photos of a neighborhood with the street names superimposed (like Google Earth). The List view sorts available properties by how many days they’ve been listed with Zillow, and includes a thumbnail photograph to showcase each home. There is also a Share feature, allowing you to post to Facebook, Twitter, or to e-mail the listing. Bus routes and local merchants are also visible on Zillow’s hybrid map view.
Trulia (iPhone/Android, free)
Trulia offers the features of Padmapper and Zillow, with the added option of registering for a free account. Once you log in, the My Trulia tab keeps track of the properties you’ve viewed and the searches you’ve made, making it fast and easy to revisit your favorites during your search. Trulia also shows open houses in your area, although this feature is restricted to homes for sale.

All of these apps were easy and fun to use. The great thing about apps like Padmapper is the way they humanize the search for a place to live. When I first moved to Seattle, the sheer number and variety of neighborhoods was so daunting it rendered Craigslist virtually meaningless–I didn’t know about the beautiful old homes in Queen Anne or the gorgeous drawbridge in Fremont. It wasn’t until I toured the neighborhoods that it all started to come together–and then I was able to conduct my search there, while I was still in the heart of the neighborhoods I loved. If you have an apartment or home for lease, Padmapper allows potential tenants walking by to see photos of the inside and learn more information before they’ve even contacted you, without jotting down a phone number off of a soggy flier or knocking on your door–and all with a few quick taps on their phone.