Lovely review: Hassle-free apartment hunting

Next, tap the alarm clock with a plus sign icon at the top-right corner of the app. Lovely will ask you to pick a particular area on the map to confine your results, which is outlined with a rectangle. You can zoom in on the map, but you can't zoom out farther than roughly a four-by-five mile search area. In a small region like San Francisco or Manhattan, it's easy to fit a large neighborhood in those search parameters, but in a bigger city, such as Los Angeles, you might not be able to fit your desired area into one single alert, which is disappointing.

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Each listing gets its own page with photos and a description. You can send an e-mail to the landlord, and include your Renter Card (right), which gives some background on your job and income. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Once you select your map area, you can name the alert. One of mine is called "Cheap and bigger," which looks for one-plus bedroom residences in San Francisco's western Sunset neighborhood for less than $1,800 per month. I get at least one new notification per day for that alert, but my "Dream SoMa Apartment" alert (same criteria as "Cheap and bigger," but in a much more expensive part of town) has yet to return any results. While creating a new alert, you can also opt to accept invitations from landlords who post a new listing that meet your desires. I didn't receive any invitations while reviewing Lovely, but I like the idea of this feature.

I greatly appreciated that Lovely sent me alerts for new opportunities in real-time. Once I got the notification, I could quickly view the listing and decide if I wanted to respond to it immediately, flag it as a favorite to view later, or skip it all together. Lovely's goal with these alerts is to help you stay on top of hot new rentals and reply as quickly as possible, instead of waiting until you get home after work to respond. The thinking is, that in competitive markets like San Francisco and New York, the faster you reach out to the landlord, the better chance you have of getting a response. The only issue I had with this feature is that I'd often get duplicate alerts for the same listing after I'd already viewed it once.

Sealing the deal
A major selling point of Lovely is that it helps streamline the application process. That's not to say you won't need to fill out applications, provide bank statements, or pay for a background check, but most of the information you need to get the rental process started, including e-mails and phone numbers, is available in the app. Additionally, Lovely tracks correspondence between you and the landlord to help everyone stay on the same page.

If a listing has an e-mail address, you can send a prewritten e-mail response to the property manager. The e-mail is a canned response created by Lovely, but you can tweak each message to reflect your writing style or ask specific questions. Unfortunately, you cannot change the basic response and save it in the app. You can also choose to send your Renter Card, a digital dossier with your contact information, income, job title, move-in date, number of cohabitants, and pet information, with the e-mail.

You can expand your Renter Card details on Lovely's Web site to add landlord references and other personal details. Lovely says that including a Renter Card triples response rates for its users, because landlords can view some of the information they need to decide if you're the right tenant.

Pay your rent
The latest version of Lovely, released in February, gives you the extremely helpful option to pay your rent to your landlord automatically, whether you found your apartment on Lovely or not. In the app, there's a section to manage your rent payments, but to use it, you'll first need to set up your payments on Lovely's Web site from your phone or computer. To get started, you need enter your rent amount, landlord details, and bank account information. Once you submit your request to Lovely, the company sends an e-mail to your landlord, asking them to accept it.

If you're landlord isn't already on Lovely, he or she will just need to sign up for a free Lovely Pro account to accept rent payments. I did a bit of testing on both the renter and landlord side and can say that the process to create a new account and manage payments is dead simple, which will make it easy to convince your landlord to do it.

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You can now automatically pay your rent with Lovely. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Once your landlord accepts your request and enters his or her bank information (so Lovely can deposit the money into their account), the company verifies that all the details are correct, which can take a day or so. When the process is complete, Lovely will automatically collect rent from your bank account on the first of each month, and transfer it to your landlord. You don't even have to lift a finger.

Given that my current landlord has specific instructions on how to pay my rent, I couldn't test out this feature to get a feel how well it works with real money at stake. That said, the convenience of automatically paying my rent without writing a check or going to the bank is very appealing and I'd definitely use it if I could. For your own piece of mind, Lovely says it uses bank-level encryption for the payments, and doesn't even share your bank information with your landlord, to keeps things secure.

Few things are more frustrating than looking for a new apartment, but Lovely makes the process less taxing. The app offers a few advantages over the traditional methods of hunting for an new place to live, mostly notably that it screens listings that meet your needs for you, so you don't need to spend tons of time searching on your own.

In my own personal hunt, I found myself checking Lovely far more often than other rental sites, such as Craigslist and Apartment List. Not only was it convenient to always have a fresh list of quality rentals in my pocket, I also found it hard to beat the app's slick design and useful communication tools. If you're looking to rent in a competitive market and need to find as many places as possible that meet your needs, your best bet is to use Lovely in conjunction with Craigslist and other classifieds services. However, for less competitive locations, I could see Lovely giving you all the listings you'd need to find a new place.

What you'll pay

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