Spread the Word
Start your search by telling everyone you know – that means at work, the gym, the corner coffee shop, extended family, grandma, the newsstand guy – what you are looking for. You’ll never know when someone’s cousin’s brother is moving out of a great apartment. Have your parents spread the word among their friends, too. Getting an apartment through a referral from a friend or a co-worker is the best way – you won’t have to pay a broker and you’ll get the real story without any hype.
While you are looking for a permanent place, the Holy Grail of short term solutions is an apartment/house sitting situation where you take over when someone temporarily leaves town. If you are especially lucky it will be a friend of the family who won’t even charge you or gives you a very discounted rate. Otherwise you’d probably just pay the actual rent and have to be out when owner returns. These rare deals tend to go by word of mouth, so it can definitely pay to spread the word.
If you are moving to a new city and don’t know much about it, going to a broker is your best bet. (That is, if you can afford one). A good broker will steer you to suitable neighborhoods where there are apartments in your price range. They should also know about apartments coming on the market before the public.
If you decide to use a broker, be prepared to pay a fee that is usually one month’s rent, but can be as much as 15% of your annual rent, or almost two months’ rent. This, combined with first month’s rent and security deposit, means that you’ll need to have enough cash to equal 3-4 months of rent before moving in. On the plus side, the broker does the legwork and makes it easier for you. If your budget doesn’t include broker fee, but covers high-end rent, you can go to new rental buildings and use their onsite rental agents or look for web sites that provide listings directly from landlords. You’ll save the broker’s fees, which is a nice chunk of change – it just tends to be slimmer pickings.
For more strategies check the Lowdown.