Countdown to Your First Apartment: 4 Steps to Conducting Your Search

If you’re looking to move into an apartment for the first time, you’re in luck: this is part two of our three-part series. Today’s topic is how to search for your place. Last week we talked about getting ready (i.e., budgeting, saving for moving costs, and credit scores) and next week we’ll have a discussion of what to do once you get approved for the place of your dreams.

For today, let’s count down the things you need to consider in your search.

1.) Decide on a city. For some, it’s obvious, but for others, especially those who are graduating college soon, there may be many possibilities. If your search is as wide as the U.S. itself, consider what activities you like, and what friends and family you have in each area of the country. I recently made a list of some of the best cities for recent college grads.

But, before you up and move cross-country, consider whether you’ll be comfortable moving to a strange place. For some, it’s a thrill, while for others, moving far from family and friends can be heartbreaking. So, seriously think on this before you choose a city, and if you do decide to move far from home, be sure to consult guest blogger Katie’s recommendations on how to make friends in a new city.

2.) Settle on a neighborhood. If you do decide to live far from where you’re currently located, remember that a long-distance hunt complicates things somewhat – Alissa has some tips on scouting neighborhoods long-distance. She points out that basic resources like Wikipedia, university grad student websites, and local newspapers can give you an idea of what neighborhood you’ll want to live in. Of course, whether you’re moving crosstown or cross-country, the best way to decide on a neighborhood is to visit. Also, ask friends who already live in the city what they think.

There’s also the issue of affordability. If you’ve read part one of this series, you know what your budget is – make sure you find a neighborhood within your budget. (After all, we’d all love to live in Greenwich Village, but unless you can drop $2.5k a month, it ain’t gonna happen.) A good way to determine the cost of a neighborhood is to simply get online and check out listings and get a sense of what an average studio or one bedroom runs. A good rule of thumb is that at least a third of the listings in your neighborhood of choice should be within your budget. If it’s any fewer than that, you’re going to have limited options. If it’s higher than that, great! You’ll have a wider selection of listings to choose from.

Finally, if you’re worried about safety, go to the neighborhood at night and see if you feel comfortable – also, most cities have crime statistics published on their Police Department’s website, so check those out as well. There’s no sense in moving to a place where you don’t feel comfortable.

3.) Get out there and start looking. The most obvious method to find listings is online. Our blogger Doug has a rundown of some of the best online apartment sites, and I recently reviewed (and recommended) the online apartment-hunting tool called Lovely. That said, don’t think online is the only way. Doug has eight ways to find an apartment without using the internet, which include networking, responding to For Rent signs, and cold-calling management companies that have appealing buildings.

When you’re on your hunt, make sure to be wary of red flags. If you know a particular landlord or management company is involved in poor practices, don’t even bother looking at their places. A bad landlord is a headache you need to avoid, so do your research early. Alissa has some tips on how to avoid getting scammed, while I gave more general information on how to vet a management company.  The basic takeaway: an hour of research can save you a year of trouble … and, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. When dealing with a potential landlord, you should feel comfortable – it should be a respectful, straightforward conversation.

4.) Put in an application. If you find a place within your budget, in a neighborhood you love, with a solid management company, by all means go for it! If you’ve followed our checklist from part one, you should know your credit score (and have a co-signer handy if necessary). Therefore, baring something unexpected, once you fill out an application, you’re in a good spot – you’re likely to get the place!

Next week, we’ll cover what you’ll need to do once you’re accepted.

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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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