5 How-To’s Every First Time Apartment Hunter Should Know

1. How to Research a Neighborhood

Neighborhoods are important, but choosing the best one has a lot to do with your personality and finances, and it’s hard to truly know until you move whether you’ve made the right choice. Growing to love a city takes nine months to a year, so as long as you make a decent neighborhood choice, you’ll be okay, and you can always adjust later, if you’re planning to stay long-term.

That said, some research is definitely in order. If the new city is within a few hours’ drive of where you currently live, going there is best. Also, if you have friends who already live there, you can ask their advice and/or hang out with them when you visit the city. That’s a great start.

If you’re worried about crime, most cities’ police departments have statistics on their website, and if you do even cursory research, it’s unlikely that you’d wind up in a truly dangerous neighborhood, particularly if you’re wary of renting red flags (see below).

Online research of neighborhoods can also be helpful.  Start by checking out all the local magazine and newspaper websites.  They often do an annual review of the various neighborhoods, including rent levels and all kinds of other useful information.  However, aside from the very biggest of cities (like New York City, where we have a listing of good sites), there’s often not all that much evocative reporting on each neighborhood’s atmospherics. For that you have to simply go and see for yourself.

2. How to Spot Red Flags About an Apartment

Having a bad landlord is a huge headache and can make or break a living experience. So, always vet the management company. Larger companies will have listings on Yelp (and other ratings sites), as well as with the Better Business Bureau. Not every entry needs to be positive, but if you see nothing but complaints, and the BBB gives them a poor rating, stay away. Also, some major cities have listings of absentee management companies, as well as statistics for the number of complaints filed against each management company. Check those lists, too. And read up on our brief guide on how to avoid getting scammed.  All told, your interactions with the management company/landlord, should be easy, smooth and congenial. Therefore, if something seems off, it probably is.

If you’re thinking of renting from an individual landlord, who only has a few units – i.e., a person, rather than a company – make sure you are comfortable with him or her. If he or she seems too intrusive or controlling, has strange demands, or demands regular access to your apartment when you aren’t there, stay away. As I always say, trust your instinct and keep looking.

If you’re shown an apartment and there are things that are wrong with it, and you’re told will be fixed “later,” don’t trust that. In such a case, “later” usually means “never,” unless you got the promise in writing.

If possible, try to talk with people who already live in the building (and talk with them when the landlord isn’t around). They’ll usually give you an inkling of what it’s really like, but keep in mind that people will often be polite and positive about where they live, so a guarded, “Oh, it’s okay,” with a few complaints usually means their experience is more negative than neutral.

Finally, be wary of construction nearby. This has nothing to do with the management company, but you don’t want to live across the street from a building site. Trust me. A jackhammer will wake you up at 7:00 am every morning.

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Author My First Apartment

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Alex has rented in Minneapolis, Queens, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. He can kill rodents and roaches when required, and loves picture-hanging projects. If you're ever in town, give him a shout.

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Comments (3)

  1. delilahhen3

    Great article! I’ve been looking around for apartments in Austin. And I’ve definitely considered the management. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Senior Living Massachusetts

    Maybe one of the most important thing to know when you are getting your first apartment is how to budget your money. Being in college does not give you the liberty to splurge all your money on the first week of your apartment life. Make sure that you are able to stretch your budget. Cut back as much as possible to test first how you will get along in the first weeks.

  3. Megan Yancey

    Awesome post. These are some really helpful tips when searching for a new apartment, especially to research the management company on Yelp, or another similar site. I had a nightmare landlord situation, and it definitely could have been avoided by a little extra research and effort on my part. Great tips.