Once I knew the neighborhood I wanted to live in, I started checking out apartments online. According to the latest research, more than 90 percent of all buyers start their search for a home online, and renters are no exception.

My roommate and I had written down some realty companies we saw when we were cruising around the neighborhood (See: Finding An Apartment: Your First Steps) so we checked out their listings first.

We also decided we didn’t want to commit to a realtor (and pay any fees) before we knew what kind of inventory was out there, so we decided to poke around online a bit first.

Here are my three best tips for looking online to find apartments/real estate agents:

1. Figure out your specifications, and transform them into search engine friendly terms.

A two bedroom, one bathroom apartment within a mile of the train station, complete with a dishwasher in the kitchen and dedicated parking becomes “2 BR 1 BA + dishwasher + train + AC + parking”—and you’re probably going to pare down even more from there.

By the end of the hunt “2BA 1 BA + train” ended up being my go-to search term.

2. Find local real estate agencies on bigger, more generic sites.

I started looking on Craigslist because everyone kept suggesting it to me and was surprised to discover there were actual real estate agents and realty companies posting on the site. I always thought Craigslist was for desperate roommates looking for subletters or sleazy scammers trying to sell you keys to an empty lot (I’ve heard of people get taken by that one more than once).

Interestingly enough, agents and companies posted listings there and included links back to their company sites. Very smart.

3. Use the big sites to see the big picture.

One of my favorite sites for the apartment search is Trulia.com. Although better known as a home buying/selling site, Trulia has a great section for renters. Easily my favorite apartment-searching feature, Trulia allows you to search for apartments within a Google Map. You zoom in to an area however close you want (city, neighborhood, street) and it shows you all of the properties listed for rent on their site.

While it’s great to work with a company and have them get to know you and what you want, when you’re starting out on the apartment search it’s good to see variety. You want to know what kind of prices are in the area and what the overall quality will be. From going on these bigger sites, I discovered there were huge variations of quality, size and amenities in my price range.

Eventually my roommate and I each picked a realty company that had several properties we were interested and we went from there. That’s when things got a bit rocky, but I’ll save that story for next week.

Come back next week for more from “Finding An Apartment”