About a month ago, I started my job with USAdvantagePlans, which was awesome not just for the job itself but for the adventure that accompanies moving to a new city. What wasn’t so fun was scrambling to find an apartment within a short amount of time. Plus, it’s apparently “frowned upon” to sleep under your desk when the office is closed. To each his own.
Being Particular Doesn’t Help
Okay so it’s time for a reality check: I’m particular about where I live. After an exhaustive two month search with no apartment in sight, a friend complained that I was too picky. This is probably true. Aesthetics, amenities and overall awesomeness are important in any place that I live. After all, this is where I’ll go to unwind and relax each day; my personal space of zen that allows me to recharge and create the wonderful content that our readers probably enjoy. So, it has to be just right.
Obviously, lowering your expectations can significantly speed up the apartment search. I’ve even had to make some adjustments to my definition of acceptable living. Plus, just because an apartment doesn’t have a particular feature or amenity doesn’t mean it should be ruled out of it offers something in it’s place. For example, one of the apartments I looked at did not have central air, but was in an excellent location.
So, it’s important to know the things you’re looking for an apartment that are true I-cannot-live-without-this amenities or features and those that you’d be willing to give on if other conditions were right (e.g. more expensive rent but with a pool or free Internet).
What To Watch Out For
The Internet is one of those things that’s both terrible and incredible at the same time. Most people will start their apartment search online, which eventually will yield some great results. However, you’re also likely to discover a lot of spammers and, in general, places that you don’t want to live. Here’s a good starting list of things you want to look out for:
1. Places That Don’t Have Photos
If you’re smart enough to have posted something on the Internet you are probably capable of operation a digital camera and uploading photos of an apartment. As a rule of thumb, I never view properties without photos because it usually means the landlord is either hiding something or misrepresenting the apartment in some way. Also, remember that your time is valuable — don’t commit to seeing an apartment unless you already have a good feeling about it.
2. Slow or Bad Communication
If you’re in contact with a landlord and you tend to get hit-or-miss or, well, just plain unhelpful answers to your questions then you may be wary about renting. If you’ve chosen to rent then you already know how important it is to have a good landlord since you’re essentially at their mercy if your air conditioning conks out or toilet starts to leak.
If you’ve already found it a hassle to communicate or get answers from the landlord then might indicate how helpful (or not) they’ll be once you’ve signed a lease.
3. Neighborhood and Walk Score
One easy way to narrow down the apartment hunt, especially in a new city, is to get a feeling of overall neighborhoods. If you know people in the area you’re moving too they can probably clue you into places and areas that you want (and those you should stay away from).
Another really helpful tool is Walk Score, which rates the overall “walkability” of a neighborhood based on what’s around you. It isn’t so much a measure of quality, but if you’re looking for proximity to shops and restaurants then it’s a great place to start.
Apartment hunting on the Internet will expose you to a slew of bizarre and inexplicable Internet spammers. So, for example, if you’re not Craigslist and see an unbelievable deal for an incredible apartment there’s a good chance it’s too good to be true. Ads from spammers will often be filled with generic photos that are reused again and again. Also look for random characters and words that just don’t make sense.
Five Great Way To Find An Apartment
Craigslist has pretty much replaced the traditional newspaper and is go too option for apartments off the beaten track. As you may know, Craigslist is free and doesn’t even require an account to post ads. This is great since it really doesn’t take much for owners of smaller properties (e.g. basement or house apartments) to post an ad.So, unlike some of the other options here, Craigslist is a good way to find that gem of an apartment that may not be in a huge complex.
However, this also means that Craiglist is filled with scammers and other unscrupulous types. As I mentioned above, be wary of listings that are too good to be true. Equally important is to not visit any listing that isn’t real. The majority of the time you should be able to find something on the Internet that lets you know a potential property isn’t some sort of scam. Plus it goes without saying you should, generally, take someone with you. Safety in numbers and all that jazz.
Another really helpful tool when apartment hunting is PadMapper. PadMapper is a Google Maps powered aggregator for apartment listings; basically it scours a few different apartment website and puts them all together one one simple map like interface.
Now, I like PadMapper for a few different reasons. First, instead of going to 15 different websites to see apartment listing for one area, I can use Padmapper and search just once. Second, PadMapper has options for filtering out results based on what you’re looking for — so you can specify the cost of rent, number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Finally, PadMapper has a handy option for e-mail alerts — so you can be alerted when a new apartment meets your search criteria.
3. Walk Around
For all the search options available online, I’ve still discovered some great apartments from walking around the neighborhoods that I wanted to live in. Keep your eye out for sale signs and, if you’re feeling really saucy, don’t be afraid to talk to people on the street. Obviously this option depends on your comfort level and how “acceptable” it is to talk with strangers on the street.
Of course I’m not sure why you’d want to live in a neighborhood of snotty people, but that’s probably a discussion for another day.
Self admittedly, there are a ton of different apartment sites on the Internet, and I’m not saying that Zillow is the end all, be all of apartment sites but I think it offers the most options for finding apartments that you’d actually want to live in. Now, unlike Craigslist, Zillow is better for finding large apartment complexes, townhouses and condos.
Zillow’s setup is similar to PadMapper, but instead of using Google Maps Zillow has its own internal mapping system and listings. One thing that’s really helpful (and not an option on Google Maps) is its neighborhood listing, which is fantastic for getting a lay of the land in a new place.
Zillow has a ton of options for filters — even letting you specify the home type (e.g. Condo/Apartment or Single Family Home). Zillow also has some of the best real estate apps for iPhone, iPad and Android devices, letting you search for apartments on the go.
5. Apartment Books
As much as I love technology the ol’ method of printing things on paper also can be a good way to find apartments. Chances are if you’ve walked in any hotel or restaurant in the past week you’ve seen the plethora of different apartment guides and advertisements. If you’re already in the market for an apartment complex and want to quickly learn about the best deals these guides are excellent.
Because these guides are created with the express purpose of advertising different apartments, they often have “specials” for getting your first month’s rent free.
Did I miss out on your favorite way to search for apartments? Leave it in the comments below or let us know on Facebook.