Finding an apartment with Craigslist can be a pain, but I’ve found a way to make it a little easier on myself this time around. Google Reader.
If you don’t already use Google Reader, it is an RSS feed aggregator, which takes all of the update streams from your favorite sites and manages them in an easy to navigate list. With Google Reader, you can keep track of items that you have read and items that you like. This is where Reader is an indispensable tool for apartment hunting. I will show you how to use Google Reader to get up to the minute results for your search and how to edit your feed with new search terms after the jump.
Craigslist is an ugly mess. Also, it is incredible slow to go through every listing hoping to find something good. One thing Craigslist is doing right, however, is including RSS feeds for just about anything.
Here are the steps to get better apartment results with Craigslist :
1. Set up your search
This part is easy because you’re probably already doing it. The key thing to note here is that Craigslist allows for excluding keywords. More often than not, you’re going to find that you’re not looking for something specific but there are places you’d like to avoid. An important thing to note is that excluding the biggest neighborhoods is a bad idea. For example, here in Pittsburgh we have a neighborhood called Oakland and I have no interest living in Oakland, but it is a major hub of the city. Because of this, a lot of listings will include “Drive to Oakland” or “5 miles from Oakland, Downtown, Etc.” to drive home what is normally a good selling point.
Also, and this is mostly a personal preference, I don’t look at listings without images. So it is going to save you some time to check that.
2. Grab the feed
Now this is where you may be in unfamiliar territory. To get constant updates from this search, you will need to grab the RSS feed and subscribe to it in Google Reader or your preferred RSS aggregator. If you are using Firefox or another browser that supports RSS, this will be easy. There will be an icon in your address bar that will give you the option to subscribe to the feed.
In my screenshot, I have an additional option to “Add” the feed to delicious. You should only see the option to Subscribe. If your browser doesn’t have the RSS icon (Chrome doesn’t, but it can be installed with an extension), you can use the “RSS” link at the bottom of your search page. After clicking Subscribe, Firefox will let you choose where to subscribe. Choose Google, click subscribe, and on the next screen choose “Add to Google Reader”.
3. Read the feed
You will now have a constantly updated feed of new postings that match your criteria. You can move through the list marking items read, marking favorites with a star, or sharing apartment listings with friends. You don’t need me for this part, although I may be able to give you some tips for Google Reader-fu. But that is another article.
4. Edit the feed
So, you’ve had the feed a few days now and you realize that “this apartment complex posts a lot, and I am NOT interested.” This is my main reason for writing this article, because it’s not too obvious how to avoid these listings without creating an entire new feed and going through steps 1 & 2 again and trying to remember the places you’re already excluding.
To edit the feed, first go into the upper right corner of Google Reader and select “show details”
Next click on the Feed URL that appears in the new menu. In Firefox, this will take you to the feed subscription page with a special URL saying that it is an RSS feed. To get back your original search, simply remove the text “&format=rss” from the URL and hit enter.
This will take you back to your original search page and allow you to modify it in any way that you please before adding the new subscription to your RSS aggregator (repeat step 2, and unsubscribe from your old feed).
I’ve also found that it is useful to use more than one feed if you find yourself having a preference for a certain neighborhood. I get about 5-6 neighborhood specific results and 75-100 general results a day. Having a general feed and a neighborhood specific feed ensures that you won’t miss anything, because the “good” neighborhood results will be evident in their own feed and the “bad” neighborhood results will still be available to you.