How Long Will It Take? Apartment Search Timeline

Last fall we estimated how much you’ll need to save up before you can move out. (Rule of thumb: If you save an amount equal to about 8-10% of your annual salary, you’ll be in good shape.) So by now you’ve been saving for 4-5 months, and you’re ready to make your move. But how long will it be before you’re actually set up in your new place? Here’s a timeline of the steps you’ll take.

Find out the searching lead time in your area. What do we mean by this? If you decide you’re in the market for an apartment today, it’s unlikely that there will be very many good-quality apartments available for move-in tomorrow. In other words, when would be a reasonable time for your move-in date? It depends on the area. In big cities like New York or San Francisco, expect that the majority of the market will be available for move-in within the month – sometimes really within a few days. On the other end of the spectrum, some college towns have lead times of two months or more. So, search the listings in your area and see when most places are available – your target move-in date should follow that timeline. (Note, if you’re moving from one apartment to another, check how far in advance you need to give notice that you’re not renewing; make sure your target move-in date is after that timeframe or else you’ll lose your security deposit or end up paying double rent.)

apartment search timelineActual searching. How long does actual searching for an apartment take? If it’s your very first time looking at apartments, we recommend going on at least two outings, where you look at least 2-3 apartments each time. Ideally, you should look at 8-10 apartments. This way, you’ll get a feel for what’s in your price range and what a deal looks like. If you go out looking on the weekend and maybe an evening or two after work, you can easily see plenty of places and make a decision within a week – and sometimes it can be done in one weekend, if you’ve done the prep-work.

Getting approved. Once you find an apartment you like, you have to prove your reliability and credit-worthiness to the landlord. Usually this involves a credit check and verification that you have steady income. Occasionally, you’ll also be required to furnish character references (people who can vouch that you’re a good person) and undergo a criminal background check. Expect this process to take anywhere from one to five business days.

Waiting for the move-in day. Once you’re approved, you’ll usually have at least a couple of weeks before it’s time to move. This lull is when you should schedule your movers (or contact friends and make sure they’re free to help on the day you want to move), buy (or find) boxes and packing tape and other packing essentials, start packing the things you don’t use on a daily basis and research what furniture, appliances and various apartment sundries (like toilet paper, Windex, etc) you’ll need for your first place.

Serious packing. Packing always takes longer than you think. And if you’re human, you’ll tend to put it off until the last possible moment. Do your best to avoid this. Instead, set aside some significant time a few days before your move and get most of your stuff packed away. The move will be much smoother and you’ll be much calmer, since you won’t be scrambling haphazardly, throwing things in boxes, trying to do five hours of packing in half-an-hour.

Moving day. Even if you think it will be a simple move, plan on this taking all day. Murphy’s Law often strikes when you’re changing abodes. And, in the unlikely event that the move does go flawlessly, you’ll find yourself in box-laden rooms that are not yet livable – and you’ll likely want to use the rest of the day to get your kitchen in order, unpack your clothes and set up your bedroom.

Setting up takes time. You won’t be properly moved in for a while. You’ll still have boxes to unpack, maybe some furniture to buy and some pictures to hang. It’s something you’ll do gradually. As for getting new furniture, unless it’s a dire need (like a bed), shop around some – if it ends up taking a month or two for less important pieces of furniture, that’s completely normal.

So, adding up all the steps shows that you can probably have the keys in hand within a month after you start your search, and be pretty well settled within 2-3 months.

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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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