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A handful of startups have emerged in recent years to help users find their next home. But with the economy and the housing market struggling, not everyone is looking to buy. That’s why Zillow, which already leads the pack of housing search startups, added support for rentals last fall.

Now Trulia is launching its own rental service, and is apparently making a bigger commitment to renters than its more popular competitor. Zillow’s version was pitched less as a full-featured rental site and more as an option for homeowners and homebuyers who weren’t sure whether they wanted to buy/sell or rent. Hence the complete lack of rental listings in San Francisco, at least, when the service launched. Trulia, on the other hand, is meant to be a real competitor to established rental sites like and Craigslist, and is already populated with listings from a number of data sources.

Heather Fernandez, the San Francisco company’s vice president of marketing, said most existing rental sites look like they’re “trapped in 1999.” So Trulia is bringing the same better-looking, more customizable, Web 2.0 approach that it already has in homebuying to the rental market. It doesn’t just give you a list of properties in a neighborhood but lets you plot them on a map, search by keywords, and narrow your results based on distance from a specific location.

Trulia is launching the service with a number of informative pages such as “10 questions to ask a building manager when touring a rental” (which is probably good at attracting links and search engine clicks, too). It’s also allowing users to rate each property based on the area’s schools, night life, safety, and more, with a plan to share that data with users on a building, block, or neighborhood level.

One part of the apartment search process (at least, one that I’m very familiar with) that Trulia doesn’t cover yet is the roommate search. If that’s something users want, Fernandez said the company can probably add it later through Trulia Voices, the existing forum feature.

Trulia receives 6.7 million unique monthly visitors, Fernandez said. The company has raised a total of $33 million.

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