The Pros and Cons of Apartment Hunting in the Winter

apartment huntingMost people don’t want to move in the winter and for good reason: it’s cold, the weather is unpredictable and there’s a glut of holidays and related travel that can make preparing difficult. But what if you have to move? How can you turn it to your advantage? Here are some things to think about:

There will be much less competition. Few people are on the hunt, so if you like a place, you’ll have an excellent shot at it. This also means you can take your time, and really consider a place before you fill out an application. In the winter, there’s room to negotiate – if your credit score is less than stellar, or you want to get some perks (free parking, for example), you may get a deal you could never get in the summer.

The prices should be lower. Landlords know that summer-time competition for individual units is steep, and so they charge a higher price. Which means that in the winter you could get the exact same place for a bit less.

But, there will be a much smaller selection. This is the downside – most people’s units are up for renewal in the late spring, summer or early fall. What you’ll see are places where someone broke their lease, or where it otherwise went on the market unexpectedly. You’re discount hunting. A good analogy would be Filene’s Basement. Not everything will be great, but with some savvy, you can find a heck of a deal. The key is patience.

Look at sublets. Some larger management companies don’t put units up in the winter months. Which means that it’s worth checking out the secondary market. Think sublets – if someone needs to move in December, and their management company tells them they need to honor their contract, then they’ll sublet. Often, sublets are advertised on craigslist, or on smaller apartment hunting websites, or on university websites. The advantage of a sublet is that you’ll be able to test a place out for a few months – and then you may get the option of renewing.

Look at renting a room in a house or a condo. Unlike management companies that rigorously plan when to go to market, individuals who decide to put a room up for rent do so for much more idiosyncratic reasons – and you may stumble into a good deal by taking on an unorthodox living situation. Comb your local newspaper listings.

Don’t forget shares. Particularly if you’re searching on your own, it can be hard to find a wholly unoccupied unit. So don’t be afraid to look into places where there are three or four people already living there, and one of them has to move out. This is a secondary market that’s frequently utilized in New York City, for example. The advantage is that you’ll save some money by sharing, there will already be common-area furniture and if you’re moving into a share, your commitment will be relatively low – if you don’t end up liking the place, you can probably move out after a few months, provided you find someone else to take your spot.

If you’re in a college town, take advantage. At the very least, most college students have a vacation from mid-December to mid-January, so if you need a place to crash while you hunt for your real place, consider taking a very cheap one-month sublet from a student who’s going home. Also, remember that college students generally fluctuate in their needs. For example, say a student unexpectedly gets approved to go abroad in the spring – well, if they live off-campus, there’s an open apartment. Look through student websites and newspapers to keep abreast of possible deals.

Continue all the normal apartment-searching techniques. This includes using the major apartment hunting apps  (like Lovely and Hotpads), networking and letting all your friends know you’re on the hunt. Also, if you have a neighborhood in mind, walk around and look for any “for rent” signs – especially in large cities, there are often several. Give them a call.

While searching for an apartment in the winter is harder, it’s not the end of the world. The same basic principles apply – you just need to hit the secondary market as hard as you can. And, once you find a place, try negotiating. Landlords know that good renters are hard to come by in the winter – you may have some leverage. So, get out there – and good luck!

And if we missed any steps that have brought you success, please share in comments below.

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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 (1)

  1. Avatar Caleb

    There is not much of a difference in searching for an apartment during the winter or any other months. There might not be as many vacancies during the winter but you can still find a nice apartment.