If 3taps data holds, Lovely could be a good bet for finding your new apartment

It’s been a contentious issue between startup developers and classifieds behemoth Craigslist as to whether smaller companies can aggregate that oh-so-valuable real estate data or whether Craigslist has rights to the information listed there. But while the legal battle between Craigslist and its competitors continues, companies like Lovely show just how useful a Craigslist-improvement could be.

LiveLovely apartment rental app screenshotLovely is a real estate rental listing company based in San Francisco that went nationwide this fall. It has an agreement with 3taps, the company locked in a legal battle with Craigslist over the ownership of that real estate data, but Lovely also works with landlords and property management companies to independently list available items and aggregate similar postings from across the web. And not surprisingly, compared to the antiquated Craigslist website, it’s well, pretty lovely to use. The company is launching a new iPhone app Wednesday that’s just one of many features modern renters demand.

Like many San Francisco residents, I eventually found my apartment in the city through Craiglist and a lot of luck. But in thinking about the problems with Craigslist — not being able to save listings, not being able to search by map or location, not being able to effectively sort by price or type of apartment — Lovely provides an excellent contrast, and I wish I’d had it available when I moved in May.

The site has all of these features Craigslist lacks and more, allowing users to sort their favorite listings, set alerts on properties they’re interested in, and contact landlords with a basic renter’s bio. Lovely looks most similar to Padmapper, since both sites begin with a map and let users narrow down their search by price and rental type. But the Lovely interface feels a little more modern than Padmapper, and when searching apartments in my neighborhood, it seemed Lovely had far more complete data than Padmapper did.

But if 3taps loses its legal battle with Craigslist and can’t provide that data anymore, could Lovely still prove useful? CEO and founder Blake Pierson said he thinks it can, since they’re working to create direct relationships with landlords and software companies that work with property management groups to post listings.

“Obviously they’re sorting stuff out,” Pierson said of 3taps and Craigslist, noting that 3taps data makes up about one third of data on the site. “But it varies city by city, and would have more of an effect in certain cities than others.”

The new iPhone  app was the most-requested feature from users so far, Pierson said. Lovely isn’t disclosing user numbers yet, but Pierson said he estimates the San Francisco renter market might include 15,000 to 25,000 people, and Lovely has reached about one quarter of those renters so far (in that they’ve checked out a Lovely listing in the city.) Lovely earns revenue from landlords who list their properties on the site that turn into transactions, when renters report that they’ve found their apartment through the site.

Lovely will also experiment with featured listings, but Pierson said he distinguishes the company from competitors like Trulia or Zillow, which rely more on traditional advertising. The company has backing from investors including Keith Rabois, Benjamin Ling, Walter Kortschak and Thomas Byrne.

Lovely screenshot apartment rentals