I distinctly remember one apartment hunt that brought me to tears. After sifting through dozens of not-right rentals, and with our moving-out date looming, we thought we finally had the perfect place in the bag — only to have it given to another applicant at the last moment. If you’ve ever had to look for an apartment, you know the process can be nerve-racking; even more so if you are new to a city or are looking in a competitive market where hoards of people show up to every open house.
There may not be a way out of doing the legwork, but these 11 tips can help you get organized, set your priorities, search smart and stay focused every step of the way.
Narrow your search. Focus on a favorite neighborhood or two, but be smart about it. Balance things like charming shops and a vibrant community with factors like price and access to transportation. Narrowing your search to a specific area will help streamline the process, since you can easily hit multiple open houses in a single morning.
If you are just moving to a new city, there is no better way to learn about the neighborhoods than to spend some time walking around — so get out there and explore.
Identify your top three priorities. Make the budget one of your top three priorities; the other two could be anything important to you: great natural light, proximity to work or school, or a washer-dryer in the unit, for instance. If you are having trouble coming up with your top three, try listing everything you want and cross things off one by one until you are left with your most important priorities.
Keep track of multiple listings with a comparison checklist. When you are hitting half a dozen open houses in a single morning, they begin to run together. Keep pertinent info neatly sorted on a single checklist and snap a picture of each place to accompany it, if possible.
Have your ducks in a row. Be prepared to fill out application paperwork, plunk down a deposit or sign a lease before attending that first open house. Bring the information you need to fill out a standard rental application (contact info for employer, present and past landlords etc.), plus your checkbook.
Also consider printing out a copy of your credit report — some landlords will insist on running their own check, but simply having it to show can be reassuring and put your application ahead of others in a competitive market.
Uncover hidden costs. Know what you could potentially be taking on, beyond the rent, by asking key questions whenever you look at a new place. A few to consider:
- Are window treatments included?
- Which (if any) utilities are included?
- Is there a fee to use building amenities or for parking?
- Are there cable hook-ups where you want them, or will you need to have a new line put in?
Rely on your senses. Odd smells and noises you notice during a showing could end up being a major problem when you move in. Natural light, or a lack thereof, can make all the difference in the world, so try to attend a daytime open house rather than looking at the apartment after work.
Don’t be afraid to be a little nosy. Open the closets to get a realistic picture of the available storage space. Turn on the shower, run the water in the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and flush the toilet. Check under the sinks for signs of mold and critters — it’s a lot better to know now if there is a problem.
Combine methods for the most effective search. Search online via Craigslist and similar sites, or contact a local real estate agent who handles rentals — but don’t forget to hit the pavement, too.
Even today there are plenty of landlords who rely on a simple sign posted in the window, a scrap of paper tacked up in the local café or word of mouth to rent their units. So keep your eyes and ears open wherever you go.
Planning to stay a while? Negotiate! If you have excellent credit and a solid rental and work history, and you want a place to call home for many years to come, you may be in a position to negotiate a better deal. Finding excellent long-term tenants is the hardest part of being a landlord, so remember, you are a catch!
While it’s not likely any landlord would lower the rent, you could try negotiating for a longer lease to lock in your current rent, ask for improvements to be made (and paid for) before moving in or get permission to paint and make improvements on your own.
Measure key pieces of furniture … and check if they fit through the door. If you have not accumulated much furniture yet, or you don’t mind swapping a few things out, this may not be an issue. But if you do have a special piece, like a canopy bed, large sofa or piano, it would be heartbreaking to find out it won’t make it through the door after you’ve signed the lease. Bring a tape measure with you to each open house, and check doorway and stairwell measurements to be sure your beloved pieces will make it in.
Get everything in writing. So your landlord promised that the leaky sink would be fixed, you can paint the walls any color you want and your cat is allowed without a deposit? Get it in writing. Should you and your landlord ever get into a disagreement down the road, having documentation will be a lifesaver.