Web site offers comprehensive look at apartments for rent

Web site offers comprehensive look at apartments for rent

CHAMPAIGN – Kevin Chang has developed a new way to find apartments on the Web, using University of Illinois research into how to conduct "deeper" Web searches.

The result is Cazoodle, a Web site that provides comprehensive listings of apartments in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas – including Champaign-Urbana.

Unlike Google searches that direct users to individual apartment owners' Web sites, Cazoodle combs those sites to get information about the properties and combine it at one place.

For example, a Cazoodle search for apartments in Champaign-Urbana will yield listings from multiple sources, including local sites for Royse & Brinkmeyer, Bankier, Ramshaw Real Estate and Barr Real Estate as well as broader listing sites such as www.apartmentfinder.com, www.apartmentlinks.com and www.uloop.com.

Plus, users can narrow their searches by specifying location, a rent range, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and how recently the listing was posted. They can even search for specific terms in listings such as "bay window" or "dishwasher."

So far, searches are available for 11 metropolitan areas: New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle and Champaign-Urbana. Coming soon are Atlanta, Phoenix, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

Chang, an associate professor of computer science at the UI, started the company in 2006 with seven graduate students. Today, the company employs 13, including five in Champaign, six in Taiwan and two in Vietnam.

The name Cazoodle has fanciful origins. Chang, who came to the UI from Stanford harboring entrepreneurial ambitions, said he wanted the company to have two Os in its name, like Google and Yahoo. He wanted people to think of Google's search capabilities and Yahoo's vertical integration.

One person suggested "Caboodle," as in "kit and caboodle," meaning "everything." But Chang liked the "zoo" connotation, reflecting a menagerie of animals. That resulted in "Cazoodle."

For now, Craigslist is one of the most popular tools for apartment searchers. But Chang said Craigslist is online classified advertising, not a search engine per se.

Cazoodle is working to add apartment searches for more communities, with the goal of adding a new city a week. It's also working to incorporate new features, such as an apartment's distance from mass transit lines and from familiar landmarks such as the Siebel Center for Computer Science.

The company has tried a variety of techniques to market Cazoodle, including reaching out to bloggers, advertising on Google and having developers maintain their own blog.

It's also looking for other searchable items beyond apartments – for instance, jobs, hotels, garage sales, comparative shopping and upcoming community events. Cazoodle is particularly keen on specialized data "beyond the current attention of Google," Chang said.

Chang sees Cazoodle's technology as "connecting people through information" and "building a digital community."

"We are flexible in form as long as we create value to people," he said.

Getting to know Cazoodle Inc.

Business: Provides software and Internet services for Web searches, integration and data mining, with the goal of "deepening" searches on the Web. Its first application is an apartment search tool.

Location: Suite 122 in EnterpriseWorks, 60 Hazelwood Drive, C.

Employees: 13 in Champaign, Taiwan and Vietnam.

President: Kevin C. Chang, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Illinois.

Founded: 2006 by Chang and seven UI graduate students.

Web site: www.cazoodle.com

Phone: 217-864-8378

How it works

1) Go to www.cazoodle.com.

2) Select 'Chambana' or click on Champaign-Urbana's location on the U.S. map.

3) Earlier this month, the site had listings of 692 sites in the Champaign-Urbana area. You can narrow your search by:

— City. Choose Champaign, Urbana, Savoy or 'any.'

— Rent range. You can specify a minimum and maximum.

— Number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

— How recent the posting. For example, the last day, the last two weeks or anytime.

— Special features. For example, garbage disposal or fireplace.

Suppose you specify a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment renting for $400 to $600 a month anywhere in the Champaign-Urbana area with a listing posted sometime in the last two weeks. Run the search, and you'll find 129 listings, with 25 of them showing at any one time, with an adjacent Google map identifying their locations.

Narrow that search by specifying "fireplace," and you'll get two listings – one at 1000 Baytowne Drive in Champaign and the other at Stonegate Village on West Springfield Avenue.