Which Apartment Listing Websites are the Most Accessible?

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Accessibility is a word with multiple meanings. To the layman it refers to how easy it is for someone to get in or out of a location or new concept. Within web design it refers to adjustments made to the design and code of a website to make it useful for visitors with disabilities. Not everyone who visits a website is equally capable of seeing, hearing, moving their hands or reading.

There are several different guidelines published by international web development authorities that can be used to rate the accessibility of websites and individual pages within those sites. The two primary options are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by W3C and Section 508 of the US Workforce Rehabilitation Act. The former list is voluntary. The latter is mandatory for all US federal websites. Both can also be used as metrics for gauging the accessibility of civilian websites, including apartment search sites.

You may have never considered what it’s like to interact with websites when you have a disability. Some of the common problems faced by these users are described in detail on the W3C’s change log for their newer WCAG version 2.1.

Today I’m going to use the Web Accessibilty Evaluation Tool (WAVE) browser extension by WebAIM, which reveals accessibility problems, to analyze seven different popular apartment listing websites. WAVE looks at a site’s code and compares it against the slightly dated version 2.0 of the WCAG and against the Section 508 guidelines. While it doesn’t provide a score, it does provide a summary of important errors, less important alerts, along with the number of adjustments that are in place to improve accessibility.

Here are some of the things that WAVE looks for:

  • Alt text that can be used by screen readers to explain images via screen reader technology.
  • Subtitles, pause/stop and volume controls for videos.
  • Simplified and organized layouts, including proper use of headings and lists.
  • Text with a color contrast of 7:1, which can be resized up to 200% without loss of clarity or content.
  • Text blocks should be no wider than 80 characters, properly spaced.
  • Text should be text, not an image of text.
  • Every link, button and other site interaction should be possible with only a keyboard.
  • No strobe effects.
  • No empty or uninformative links. (e.g., fully linking “For more information click here” or only linking the word “here.”)
  • Properly indicate errors in forms.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list, but it does give you some idea of the sort of things that could throw an error if missing during our review.

For each of these sites, I checked the homepage, a search results page and a listing detail page. I also checked the RentConfident site and the federal Census.gov as points of comparison. For my search term I used “Chicago, IL” with the exception of the Census, where I used “Illinois” for a more robust selection of search results. Listing detail pages were chosen at random. In the case of map based sites I visited listing detail pages directly if possible rather than using the result popups over the map, although I could not find a mapless detail page on Hotpads. For the census site I used the Illinois QuickFacts page as a substitute for listing details. For the RentConfident results I used our blog search results page, and for our detail page I used our sample Signature report, one of the heaviest pages we’ve got.

I should also note that I used the desktop version of all of these sites. There are separate guidelines for mobile sites and apps that go beyond the scope of this article, such as rotation control, zoom control, and far more concessions for those with fine motor disabilities.

In the table below, the column we’ve called “HTML5/ARIA” refers to parts of the underlying code that have been included as a concession for disabled visitors.

Site Problems Concessions Ratio
Errors Contrast
Errors
Alerts Total Structure
Elements
HTML5/ARIA Total Prob. : Conc.
Apartments.com
Main 44 100 31 175 69 32 101
Search 897 130 157 1184 158 154 312
Detail 64 125 124 313 191 69 260
Totals 1005 355 312 1672 418 255 673 2.5 : 1
Craigslist Chicago
Main 6 2 3 11 67 12 79
Search 22 127 133 282 16 318 334
Detail 1 4 5 10 8 25 33
Totals 29 133 141 303 91 355 446 1 : 1.5
Hotpads
Main 33 94 8 135 76 3 79
Search 143 139 32 314 49 51 100
Detail 99 77 17 193 30 52 82
Totals 275 310 57 642 155 106 261 2.45 : 1
Padmapper
Main 1 70 1 72 4 4 8
Search 12 173 3 188 2 460 462
Detail 51 71 8 130 19 129 148
Totals 64 314 12 390 25 593 618 1 : 1.6
Realtor.com
Main 15 33 81 129 78 118 196
Search 89 142 161 392 169 64 233
Detail 54 24 203 281 156 135 291
Totals 158 199 445 802 403 317 720 1.1 : 1
Zillow
Main 4 9 89 102 64 19 83
Search 137 123 94 354 146 136 282
Detail 14 42 92 148 88 215 303
Totals 155 174 275 604 298 370 668 1 : 1.1
Zumper
Main 16 37 8 61 23 87 110
Search 15 74 5 94 63 74 137
Detail 10 112 14 136 24 136 160
Totals 41 223 27 291 110 297 407 1 : 1.4
Census.gov
Main 11 16 50 77 17 27 44
Search 10 64 85 159 16 49 65
Detail 89 54 19 162 74 82 156
Totals 110 134 154 398 107 158 265 1.5 : 1
RentConfident
Main 14 22 4 40 18 12 30
Search 11 21 100 132 23 43 66
Detail 12 10 19 41 66 106 172
Totals 37 53 123 213 107 161 268 1 : 1.3

Analysis

We went into this with the thought that some sites would be considerably more accessible than others, and also the thought that no site would be perfectly accessible. We were proven correct on both counts. Even the Census site, which as a federal government site must adhere to the Section 508 guidelines, was found to be lacking with one of the weaker error to concession ratios.

We were quite pleased that RentConfident came out with the lowest number of total errors and one of the better error to concession ratios, but given that even our own site had some pretty glaring errors we’re not exactly covered in glory here. (We’ll work on it.)

Search result pages were the main stumbling block for most of these sites. It’s easy to understand why this could occur, given how many moving parts are involved in the common map-based layout used by most of them. Color contrast was another big problem, and one that the good folks who work in web design graphics departments must confront daily. High contrast sites just don’t look all that pretty. Fortunately there are browser addons that can help those with trouble seeing low contrast text to adjust the colors of a website independently, but it is of course far more pleasant to be able to browse the web without such tools regardless of your eyesight.

Apartments.com had a shockingly high number of errors across the board, especially when compared with some of the other options. However when viewed strictly from the perspective of error to concession ratio, Hotpads was almost as bad. They might have had fewer errors, but they’re simply doing nothing at all to help offset them.

In terms of raw errors, we were surprised to see the graphic-heavy Zumper actually holding its own against the notoriously bland Craigslist, proving that it is possible to make a visually appealing site without sacrificing too much in terms of accessibility.

Of course, all the objective scoring in the world cannot compare with the actual experience of browsing through apartment listings with a disability. Map-based listing sites with all their tiny pins can be torture for someone who cannot use a mouse or someone lacking in visual acuity. Comparing Zillow’s pale purple map pins, Apartments.com’s dark green pins and Hotpads’ orange pins with the mindset of someone with these limitations made it very clear to us that the user experience for the disabled can vary greatly even across sites with almost identical interfaces. Craigslist and Realtor.com win the day on the map front by offering optional maps but defaulting to text or image based search results.

None of the sites we visited used videos prominently so they were all mostly spared from the animation-related guidelines.

Overall, for apartment hunters with disabilities we recommend the current versions of Padmapper, Zumper or Craigslist, not only for their comparatively low number of errors but also for the efforts they’re making to increase the accessibility of their sites. Congrats to all three companies and thank you for going the extra mile.

If you find this topic of interest, maybe you can try out WAVE yourself on a few sites that you visit regularly and see how they stack up. Let me know in the comments if you find any superstars or completely inaccessible sites.

RentConfident is a Chicago startup that provides renters with the in-depth information they need to choose safe apartments. Help us reach more renters! Like, Share and Retweet us!

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Licensing of Leasing Agents Across the United States

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Most states have a couple of different licensing tiers for real estate agents. In most cases there’s a license for sales agents and a separate one for their managing brokers. These two license tiers require different amounts of pre-licensing education and continuing education to obtain and maintain, with the managers understandably needing more training than their subordinates.

In Illinois we have a two additional tiers at the bottom of the totem pole for leasing agents and leasing agent students. Today we’ll be looking at the requirements for these rental-only licenses and comparing them against the licensing requirements for those who perform similar roles in other states across the country. Continue reading Licensing of Leasing Agents Across the United States

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Twitter’s Opinion of Chicago Apartment Hunting

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In February of 2016 I ran an article where I searched through Twitter to see the adjectives that people used to describe their landlords. As it’s been a while I figured it might be good to go back and see what Twitter has to say about another topic. I’ve actually had this geographically restricted search running for a while now, sitting in my Tweetdeck and building up. The Chicago area Twitterverse has quite a lot to say about apartment hunting, and most of it isn’t good.

Here are the adjectives that were used in posts that mentioned apartment hunting over the course of roughly twelve months, filtered to exclude posts from property managers, agents and landlords.

Appearing Multiple Times
Stressful (5 times)
Difficult (Twice)
Frustrating (Twice)
My least favorite part about living in Chicago (Twice)
Overwhelming (Twice)
The worst (Twice) Continue reading Twitter’s Opinion of Chicago Apartment Hunting

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Condemned to Repeat? Chicago’s New Five Year Housing Plan: 2019-2023

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This is part two of our analysis of Chicago’s new five year housing plan covering 2019 through 2023. You should probably start with part one, which ran last week. We’ve already assessed how well the city achieved its goals over the past five years. Now we’re going to use what we learned to analyze the new plan. As with our prior article we will be focusing on the plan for the rental market only, ignoring initiatives that support only single family homes. Continue reading Condemned to Repeat? Chicago’s New Five Year Housing Plan: 2019-2023

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Accountability Check: Chicago’s 2014-2018 Housing Plan

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In our January newsletter I said that we were going to cover the city’s new five year housing plan for 2019-2023, which was approved by the city council towards the end of last year. In last week’s article (which you guys seemed to like, thanks!) I said that we would be covering it today, and we are to an extent, but not directly. We’ll cover it directly next week. Because as I reviewed it, it became apparent that it is a promise and a plan, and like any promise its worth depends on the reputation of the person who makes it.

There are certain times when promises and proposals are so exciting that we don’t think about how trustworthy the source might be. When someone proposes marriage, we’re often swept off our feet with relief and joy without thinking about how many times our partner has been divorced. When a landlord offers us an apartment after getting denied a few times by others, we might leap to accept it without reading the lease.

The new five year plan was breathlessly covered by media outlets, mostly because of its leap from introduction to approval by the city council in less than a month. As it has been approved we will look at it. But my personal motto is “remember where you came from.”

This is not the first five year plan for housing that Chicago has had. It is the sixth consecutive five year plan, which means we’re now entering our 26th straight year of municipal five year housing plans. So first let’s take a look at how Chicago did in keeping its promises from the old one, which was in effect from January 2014 through December 2018. Continue reading Accountability Check: Chicago’s 2014-2018 Housing Plan

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.