Vik Paruchuri, who runs a data science tutorial company called Dataquest, was concerned. Moving with his girlfriend from Boston to the Bay Area, how would they find an apartment in one of the most difficult, expensive housing markets in the country? Maybe, Paruchuri thought, he could apply his technical expertise. He decided to build a program and, in the process, write a tutorial about it on his website as a sort of testimonial for his work. After just a week, they found an apartment in Pac Heights for below median rent and signed a lease.
Four months later, Paruchuri tells SFist "it's been great, we love the city, we love where we live here." But while he's convinced that they found the place thanks to his code, I'm not so sure. Instead, I'd suggest that the couple succeeded in the same way anyone else does: Through a combination of factors including luck, perseverance, and having enough money and the right credentials to get, and then pay, for an apartment.
We read that landlords hold open houses, and that you have to bring all of your paperwork to the open house and be willing to put down a deposit immediately to even be considered. We started exhaustively researching the process, and figured out that a lot of finding an apartment comes down to timing. Some landlords want to hold an open house no matter what, but for others, being one of the first people to see the apartment usually means that you can get it. You need to find the listing, quickly figure out if it meets your criteria, then call the landlord to arrange a showing to have a shot.
To give him that shot, Paruchuri built bots on Slack, the messaging app, that would send the couple listings as they met certain criteria on Craigslist. (He includes the entirety of his code for your perusal.) Those were neighborhood, price, and so on — just things listed on Craigslist.
But those in the apartment hunting game probably know that Craigslist's alert feature will email you listings based on criteria you set, in real time, as they're posted. And frankly, there's little that's different about the complicated, reinvented wheel that Paruchuri put together. When I chatted with him on the phone, he did note that "A couple of people have said you could do this a simpler way," and when I asked what differentiated his bots from existing alerts, he said "I don't know how Craigslist email alerts work... I didn't spend hours researching what's out there, I just made something that works."
Paruchuri says that being the first person to see what's now his apartment was important."The code was really critical," he tells me, "and if that hadn't happened, we wouldn't have had real time listings." However, another user with a Craigslist alert or just perusing the site would be able to see it at the same time, and hell, maybe even get to the spot faster with an Uber or better timing and luck.
I wish Paruchuri had hacked the housing search process! But I don't think that can be done. Often, for example, landing cheaper rent means moving in to an established apartment with roommates who have been there for some time. You can't write some code to get along with them or meet their requirements or to get the right word-of-mouth tips.
Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is, to those who might have seen Paruchuri's technical know-how in his tutorial and thought "cool!" I'l try that!" Go for it, it sounds like good practice and it can't hurt. But if you thought to yourself "I can't do that, how am I going to find housing?" don't despair, either.
Previously: New Startup Turns Renting Apartments Into eBay-Like Bidding War