Research Portal

July 1, 2022

Toward a Cross-Platform Framework: Assessing the Comprehensiveness of Online Rental Listings

Costa, Ana; Sass, Victoria; Kennedy, Ian; Roy, Roshni; Walter, Rebecca J.; Acolin, Arthur; Crowder, Kyle; Hess, Chris; Ramiller, Alex; Chasins, Sarah. (2021). Toward a Cross-Platform Framework: Assessing the Comprehensiveness of Online Rental Listings. Cityscape, 23(2), 327 – 339.


Research on rental housing markets in the United States has traditionally relied on national or local housing surveys. Those sources lack temporal and spatial specificity, limiting their use for tracking short-term changes in local markets. As rental housing ads have transitioned to digital spaces, a growing body of literature has utilized web scraping to analyze listing practices and variations in rental market dynamics. Those studies have primarily relied on one platform, Craigslist, as a source of data. Despite Craigslist's popularity, the authors contend that rental listings from various websites, rather than from individual ones, provide a more comprehensive picture. Using a mixed-methods approach to study listings across various platforms in five metropolitan areas, this article demonstrates considerable variation in both the types of rental units advertised and the features provided across those platforms. The article begins with an account of the birth and consolidation of online rental platforms and emergent characteristics of several selected websites, including the criteria for posting, search parameters, search results priority, and first-page search results. Visualizations are used to compare features such as the 40th percentile of rent, rent distribution, and bedroom size based on scraped data from six online platforms (Padmapper, , Trulia, Zillow, Craigslist, and GoSection8), 2020 Fair Market Rents, and 2019 American Community Survey data. The analyses indicate that online listing platforms target different audiences and offer distinct information on units within those market segments, resulting in markedly different estimates of local rental costs and unit size distribution depending on the platform.