Newspaper classifieds still work. Start by checking out the major daily newspapers and the free weekly papers in your city. The big dailies have extensive real estate listing sections on Sundays. Try to get hold of their apartment-hunting bonanza earlier in the week. (Sometimes you can purchase it as early as Thursday.) By Sunday the best listings are usually gone. The free weekly ads tend to skew younger, so you should check their rentals and roommates classifieds too. Also, scan bulletin boards in supermarkets and laundromats in the neighborhood you’re looking at.
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Building superintendents and doormen know who’s moving out, so hit the pavement and chat up the staff in buildings you’re interested in. Judicious tipping will improve your odds. You can also contact landlords directly, if you have a building picked out.
Craigslist is the mother lode, especially now that it has expanded to include most cities. Start with the Craigslist and then go to the daily and weekly newspaper sites. Also, check out the many city-dot-coms (Chicago.com, etc.) that are full of real estate advertisements. Or you can just type “rental apartments in xxx” in any search engine and many sites will pop up.
Final Check Before the Lease
You think you’ve found your dream apartment. Now Google the address. If the search does not turn up anything interesting (criminal activity, fines for potentially life-threatening safety violations,) go see the apartment one more time. Make sure everything works: run the water in every faucet, flush the toilet, light the stove burners and the oven and test the electrical outlets. (See Dale Y the Maintenance Guy’s complete checklist here.)
Then check the building. If it’s possible, talk to some of the tenants and find out if the elevators work and if there are problems with roaches or rats or unstable neighbors. Visit the laundry room and tour the basement. If you don’t see any red flags (water damage, mouse droppings, piles of garbage), it looks like you’ve found yourself an apartment!
For more apartment hunting tips check the Lowdown.