How Far in Advance Should You Start Your Apartment Search?

Timing is everything in life, love, and . . . apartment hunting. Summer is the most popular apartment hunting season, especially for first apartments, but how long does finding a new apartment actually take?

Do you need to give yourself a week or a month to find a place you can call your own (or, you know, your own with 2 other people)?

The answer is that it really depends on what city you are looking at.

In Chicago, for instance, you should start looking anywhere from 4-6 weeks out. People plan better there and you’ll find a better deal.  That said, Chicago has a relatively high vacancy rate, so if you show up 2 weeks out, you’ll still be able to find a place – it may just not be as perfect.

New York, on the other hand, has a ridiculously low vacancy rate, hovering around 1%.

As a result, NYC landlords/current roommates hold all the cards. They can put up a place a two weeks out and know they can find someone to take it. So, places rarely start being listed more than 4 weeks out. In New York, the ideal is often finding a sublet for a month or two while you search for a permanent location. Alternatively, you could try to find a nice friend who would let you stay for 2-3 weeks while you search.

The best test as to how far out you should be looking is to check out Craigslist now and see when the listings are for.  If it’s late May, are the current listings for June or July?

If you’re feeling skittish, you can also try posting a housing wanted ad for your desired timing. Those work sometimes. . . and it could always be your lucky day! Otherwise, just try to take your apartment search with a big batch of patience. You’ll find a place, for sure. It just may not be on your ideal schedule.

Here’s a poll we did a couple of years ago (before hackers forced us to drop our polls!)  It told us that two thirds of  first apartment hunters found their place withing three weeks.  Let us know what’s been your experience.

How long did it take to find your first apartment?  
Less than 24 hours 8%
a couple of days 16%
one week 8%
two to three weeks 32%
four to six weeks  14%
more than six weeks 22%
   
Author My First Apartment
Alissa

Posted by

I've lived in apartments in 6 cities (including 2 foreign countries). Does that make me an expert? As of now, my ceiling isn't leaking and I don't have rodents (knock on wood) -- so I'm going to say yes . . . but ask me again tomorrow:) These days, I'm enjoying life Chicago style, but my years in Brooklyn are never far from my mind. P.S. By day I work at Cars.com, but these opinions are totally, 100% my own.

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Comments (4)

  1. RentJolt

    Hello all,

    Just wanted to make you aware of our new site, http://www.rentjolt.com, which provides a new way to rent in NYC.

    RentJolt is an apartment marketplace, which incentivizes current tenants to post information about their apartments months in advance of moving, and allows prospective tenants to browse listings up to eight months in advance, easing the pressure of last-minute scrambles. Current tenants can earn between $500-$1000 if their apartment rents through our site, and the fee for incoming tenants is 5.75%, considerably lower than the 12% average.

    Our goal is to create an information sharing platform where current and future tenants can interact months in advance without pressure.

    We would love for you to check out our site, and welcome any questions and feedback!

    – The RentJolt team

    Reply
  2. Sara

    I just did the apartment hunt in Chicago, and was able to find my ideal place in 5 days (while working full time). It’s not easy, but you certainly don’t need to look 4-6 weeks out if you’re in a hurry.

    Reply
    • Alissa Alissa

      Hi Sara,

      Thanks so much for adding your thoughts! Finding an apartment in less time is often possible if you’re in a pinch – I was writing from an ideal timeline perspective (often not possible in the world of Apt hunting!)
      ~Alissa

      Reply