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How to search for a Boston-area apartment

These 12 sites provide prospective tenants with ways to filter one of the nation’s most competitive and expensive rental markets, coronavirus or not

The exteriors of three apartment buildings, each shorter than the last, with a lot of blue sky visible behind. Shutterstock

Even before the novel coronavirus pandemic made it that much tougher to rent here, the Boston area was already one of the nation’s most expensive and competitive apartment markets. Making sense of it can therefore be a bit overwhelming as can any initial search for that perfect—or at least habitable—rental in a desired neighborhood.

These 12 sites can help prospective tenants filter through listings and hopefully find that next lease. None are comprehensive, and many rely on landlords or brokers paying to list on the sites; but they are each very good on-ramps into the market in that they show what sorts of apartments are available where at what prices and with what amenities.

So, whether you’re looking for a spacious spread in a luxury building or simply a place to sleep in between classes or work, start with these.


Abodo

Abodo has snazzy region-wide filtering features such as “near campus,” “fitness center,” and “pool” as well as the more utilitarian filters such as price range and number of bedrooms. Abodo also covers both new-development rentals and older apartments listed individually. There also apps for both iPads and Androids.

RENTCafe

Many of RENTCafe’s listings come via property managers, so it can skew toward newer apartment complexes—which can often mean the more expensive listings in the Boston area at a given time. But the site does provide a tool for divining your rental budget. And there’s a cool feature that allows users to search for listings within a radius of a map point.

Zumper

Zumper relies on landlord or property manager listings. That said, it’s quick and to the point, and will provide reams of listings in given ZIP codes or neighborhoods. Users can also filter fairly fast by not only standard things such as number of bedrooms or whether a building allows pets but by “senior living,” “income-restricted,” and “Section 8” (referring to the federal rent voucher program). So Zumper is a good place to look for affordable rentals. There are also Zumper apps for iPads and Androids.

Zillow

Founded way back in 2011, Zillow is one of the oldest online apartment listings sites. It too is quick and to the point—and can be overwhelming without its filters. There is a lot to choose from in a Zillow ZIP code or neighborhood search. Luckily, there are those filters. The site also provides a fast rental budget calculator. And, yes, there’s an app for that.

HotPads

A Zillow-owned property, HotPads has all the bells and whistles that Zillow itself has—though a much more user-friendly and direct homepage as well as a helpful feature called simply “If you like [fill in the blank with the neighborhood or city you were just searching].” This feature lists other areas you might try based on your most recent search. There are HotPads apps for iPad and Android.

Trulia

Another Zillow-owned site, Trulia is sort of a clone of its parent. But what makes it worth using is its 35-plus filters that include more mundane things prospective renters might not consider, including whether an apartment has a balcony or other outdoor space or whether there’s a microwave or other appliances.

Craigslist

The wizened granddaddy of online apartment searches in the Boston area—its first local listings posted in 2000, four years before the founding of Facebook—Craigslist is still worth checking out for a no-frills, low-filter romp through available apartments of varying quality. Users can also hunt for sublets or single rooms for rent; and they can post housing-wanted ads. There are Craigslist apps for iPads and Androids.

ApartmentList

The top half of ApartmentList’s homepage provides a quick avenue for filtering where prospective renters want to lease and what size apartment they’re looking for. The site also has a well of data and trend posts; and there’s an easy rent calculator. ApartmentList relies on landlord and property manager listings.

RentHop

RentHop is a particularly to-the-point listings search, with a quick rundown of availability right from its homepage, plus rundowns of the Boston region and its component parts. In other words, it’s both a quick entryway into the market and a quick way to filter through that market. Plus, RentHop’s listings cover both newer apartments and older ones. There’s an Android app and one for iPads.

Apartments.com

This site is positively Google-esque in its homepage—just a box in the upper half to start searching right away. Apartments.com does tend to lean on newer, more expensive listings, however, though it does include a snazzy “lifestyle” filter that weeds through listings to find apartments geared toward students or for the short-term or for those seeking corporate housing. There are Android and iPad apps too.

Boston Pads

Also presenting a simple initial interface, the locally based Boston Pads bills itself as possessing a real-time database of available homes for rent or sale in—well—the Boston region. The search box that pops up right away, too, allows for fast queries by Boston neighborhood or by municipality (Cambridge, Somerville, etc.). And there ways to search for specifics such as amenities, parking, and the permissibility of pets.

Rental Beast

Somerville-based Rental Beast bills itself as hosting the “most comprehensive database of rental listings” for multiple metros nationwide, including Boston. It does not charge landlords to list on the site, and for tenants includes a snazzy interface that quickly leads to ways to filter apartments by things such as price, neighborhood, and building features. There’s also a clever tool for searching by commute. Rental Beast itself reviews the veracity of many listings and will note that.