Apartment hunting meets social networking

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As the Web gets more social, online prop­erty rental companies are optimizing their listings with social components.

Online rental site MyNewPlace just added the Facebook Connect functionality to its Web site, so its users now can post prop­erty listings on their Facebook page. Ide­ally, users will do this to get feedback on prospective apartment rentals from their friends and, in doing so, spread the word.

More than 3 million people use MyNew­Place monthly and, according to internal research by the company, more than a third of its visitors already use Facebook.

“The decision of where you are going to live is one of the most social decisions of your life, so it is natural to leverage your social graph to get advice,” said Mark Moran, VP of marketing and business development at MyNewPlace.com. “There is also a level of viral exposure to… friends, and maybe one or two of these people are also in the market for an apartment.”

The idea is that users will first ask for friends' advice on an apartment. Then, for those who find an apartment, the next phase might be looking for a roommate to share it. And finally, MyNewPlace.com expects that users will post about their new place once they move in.

Because users can interact with these properties even before contacting the rental agency, property owners can benefit.

“There is a better qualification of the users, because they have vetted the prop­erty before they have e-mailed about it,” Moran said. “It helps us drive better qual­ity leads.”

For RentWiki.com, a new online rental search site, it is all about giving users the tools to socialize with the neighbors online before moving in. The new site lets apartment hunters investigate not only the property, but the neighboring community as well, through social networking features tied to the property listings. Users can ask potential neighbors about apartment pric­es, transportation, entertainment, local parks and other services.

“Yesterday renters had to go find people who lived in the neighborhood to find out about it, but now they can combine all of this information in one place online,” said Robert Turnbull, co-founder/president of RentWiki.com. “For renters, this really helps determine if the property is in the right place for them, and for the industry, it is about getting a better lead. If a renter has already checked out the neighborhood, then they are more likely to know if it is a good fit.”

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