The Do’s and Don’ts of a Long Distance Apartment Hunt
So you’re moving to a new city, one nowhere near where you currently live, and you need to find an apartment. What to do? Last year, Alissa covered moving to New York on short notice, and Katherine covered her needs for moving long distance to LA. Also, Alissa gave some general tips in 2006 that are still useful.
As for me, I’ve done this twice, and here are my list of Do’s and Don’ts:
- Network, Network, Network. I found my first apartment in New York while living in Minneapolis (I never even went to New York) by telling any- and everyone that I needed a share of an apartment in NYC. Email, phone, facebook, everything. It ended up that my sister’s friend’s boss had an opening and, because of the recommendation, I was able to get the place sight-unseen. You’d be surprised – use social media, talk to everyone and something very well may turn up.
- Know the timeline for the city you’re moving to. If you’re moving to New York City, apartments aren’t on the market until a month or less before the move-in date. If you fly out two months before to look at places, you’ll have nothing to see. Conversely, many college towns put apartments on the market three or even five or six months before the move-in date, so if you flew out a month in advance, there’d be nothing left. So go online and look at the listings in the area you’re going to move, and figure out what the proper lead time is.
- Research Neighborhoods. You should get a sense of what the different areas are like, where you might like to live, and why. Go online, read the local papers, and look through brokers’ and real estate agents’ websites – they’ll give you a taste for what each neighborhood is like. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few, do some more research through Wikipedia, through the local social media and the to-do sections of the local newspaper. Also, if you’re worried about crime, most city police departments will provide crime statistics for each neighborhood. Check out the PD’s website – that way you can see how safe your choice might be.
- Make sure the commute is doable. Likely you’re moving long distance to go to school or to start a new job. In either case, no matter what neighborhood you choose to live in, make sure that you’ll be able to get to work (or school) easily, either via car or public transit. Nothing stinks more than moving into a new place only to realize you’re going to be miserable until you can move somewhere closer to work.
- Fly out to hunt, if you can afford it. Nothing beats being there and seeing the apartments, meeting the potential roommates, and walking through neighborhoods. But keep in mind that one weekend is short period of time, so if you are planning to fly out, make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row before you get there. That means: showings already set up, neighborhoods in mind, your research already done, and your paperwork ready.
- Find a short-term sublet. If you can’t fly out to look around, or you’re unsure of where you want to live even after your visit, try taking a one- to three-month sublet so that you can get your feet on the ground – you can use that as a home base for a proper apartment search once you arrive.
- DON’T: Feel like you HAVE to fly out to get an apartment. While it will make it easier, flying out is expensive – and you’ll need a place to stay while you hunt. If your work is not paying for the move, if you don’t know anybody with whom to crash, and you don’t have spare cash, try your best to do things remotely. Some people will be quite accommodating and, if you do your research, you’ll be okay. Also, you can always refer to the last step of the do’s – take a sublet sight-unseen so your commitment is low, and go from there.
- DON’T: Sign anything before you thoroughly research the management company. This is just a good idea in general. Use the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and renters’ message boards. Also, many cities have lists of bad or absentee landlords. For example, here is (one of) New York City’s list of bad landlords. A bad landlord can bring a world of pain to your existence, so avoid one at all costs.
- DON’T: Ignore the feeling that something is fishy, especially if you’re doing your search remotely. In other words, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid it, or find someone who is willing to vet the place personally – like a friend or relative who lives where you’re moving and would be willing to check out the apartment. After all, better to be patient than find yourself in a bad situation.
- DON’T: Panic. Easier said than done, but take a deep breath and realize that tens of thousands of people move cross-country every year. If you have a plan and you’re patient and you stick to it, there’s no reason you can’t make a successful move yourself.