Today’s guest blogger, Doug, reminds us that there are more ways to find an apartment than clicking on Craigslist.
FINDING AN APARTMENT WITHOUT USING THE INTERNET by Doug
The internet is the world’s greatest research tool. In case you haven’t heard, man, there’s a lot of information over there. And, clearly, we love the internet as much as we love talking about apartments. The fact remains, though, that there are plenty of gaps in the web, still more than a few things that the internet, in its vast wisdom, cannot provide. When you’re apartment-hunting, don’t forget the non-digital methods, which can often provide better context, more complete information, or a more personal connection to your potential landlord. Here are few offline methods to find that elusive apartment of your dreams.
If you’re looking for a place in a specific neighborhood, hitting the pavement and exploring the area yourself gives you the benefit of an immediate filter when you spot a “For Rent” sign: you can see exactly where the building is located within the context of that neighborhood.
I can vouch for the effectiveness of the strategy: it’s how I found an apartment where I lived happily for five years. The building had an absolutely perfect location—close to everything, quiet block, friendly neighbors. And because I knew that at the outset, I didn’t care that the building itself was … What’s that word? Ugly. If I’d just seen an ad, I probably wouldn’t have given the place a second glance, but knowing the full context, I couldn’t wait to sign the lease.
2. Ask your immediate network of family, friends, and colleagues
No one knows your needs and personality—and, ahem, financial situation—better than those closest to you. Spread the word among family, friends, and colleagues that you’re looking for a place. Chances are good that you’re only one degree of separation from someone looking to rent out a unit.
One friend of mine, a college instructor, learned that a colleague was taking a year-long sabbatical abroad and looking for someone take over his place for the year—the perfect opportunity for my friend.
An added benefit of using your immediate network is that you have an informal but highly personal reference right off the bat. Both you and your potential landlord will be more at ease, more trusting, because of the direct connection.
3. Don’t forget your extended network and friends-of-friends
Don’t let your friends and family be a dead-end for your information-gathering—ask them to spread the word to their own networks, too. And don’t be afraid to mention it in passing to your own acquaintances, like your rec-league sports team or your book club. Obviously, you don’t want to be overbearing—no megaphones, please—but it can’t hurt to casually mention, “Hey, I’m looking for a place to live, so if you happen to hear of anything, please pass it along.” If the request is friendly and low-key, people are often happy to help.
You’d be surprised by the magic that can happen with the second or third or sixth link down the line.
If you’ve always thought it would be cool to live in a specific building, or if there’s a management company that you know has a good reputation and a variety of properties, find a phone number and give them a call to check out what’s available. It’s possible that there’s something that has just come up and hasn’t been shown or even advertised yet. Being proactive has many rewards, especially when apartment-hunting.
5. Look for ads in coffee shops or other neighborhood gathering grounds
This works best in tandem with #1. As you’re exploring your soon-to-be neighborhood, stop by coffee shops, grocery stores, libraries, community centers, or any other places that may have one of those bulletin boards cluttered with ads and announcements. Many small-scale landlords—like people who have a basement unit in their own house or who own just one rental property—will try to keep things local and low-key when looking for tenants. When you reply to the ad, be sure to mention where you saw it; this will establish some common ground and show that you’re someone genuinely interested in living in this specific community.
6. Put up your own ad
Again, this is only practical if you know the neighborhood where you want to live. But once you’ve established that, make up your own eye-pleasing, charmingly-written ad and place it in the sorts of places you’d be likely to patronize. Clearly state how many bedrooms you’re looking for and if you have a preference for housing type, such as apartment or duplex. If you don’t smoke, state that (don’t lie, obviously). Also consider adding a one-sentence, truthful biographical statement to make your ad more personal, more tangible. Like: “Friendly, quiet grad student” or “downtown office worker.” For your own safety, DO NOT include a photo of yourself or your last name.
7. Use the local newspapers, including community newsletters
When I asked various friends how they had found apartments, I was surprised to hear that several had turned to newspaper classifieds. Remember those things? Printed on actual paper, in tiny type, in a section buried behind the comics? Yes, they still exist.
Go purchase a city daily or, even better, find a community newspaper for the neighborhood where you want to live (big city daily classifieds are likely available online, community newspapers’ ads probably aren’t).
Alternatively, place your own ad—again, you’ll be able to focus your approach more if you turn to the community newspapers and the cost is often very affordable. This is how my parents found an apartment when they decided they wanted to live in a small town in Scotland. They ran an ad beginning, “American couple seeks flat to let.” It worked.
8. Relocation guides and city magazines
If you’re moving to a new city, this is a great place to start your search. In many major cities, there are hard-copy relocation guides that you can order from local publishers or organizations like the chamber of commerce. Two examples are the Greater Seattle InfoGuide, and the Phoenix Relocation Guide. These are all-purpose guides for newcomers, with sections on the weather, local attractions, and other details about day-to-day life in the place. So the apartment-hunting chapter may, like the other sections, be fairly small, with limited information (aside from ads) on specific apartment-hunting resources. And because these guides are typically published just once a year, they probably won’t have any listings of specific properties.
On the upside, though, these guides will often include information about the specific character of various neighborhoods, perhaps even—as in the case of the Seattle guide—great background information, like a list of typical rental prices and general local information, ordinances, or trends that affect renters.
Most big cities also have at least one or two locally-focused lifestyle magazines. Many publish newcomers’ guides or feature this information—or other all-purpose city living information—in an annual feature story tucked into a seemingly-random issue. If you can figure out the name of that local magazine, call the customer service number and see if someone can help you track down the latest issue with an article for residents new to the city.
Doug Mack is a writer based in Minneapolis and the author of the travel memoir Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day: One Man, Eight Countries, One Vintage Travel Guide (Perigee Books/Penguin). Visit his web site at www.douglasmack.net or find him on Twitter @douglasmack.