A post about apartment hunting by Amanda  inspired me to write about my experiences and lessons learned with respect to finding an apartment. Amanda quotes that apartment residency rates are like 95%+ this year and so that means that finding an apartment at an attractive price is going to be harder this year than in years past.
The article begins by discussing how to conduct research on the housing options and “climate” of the area you’re planning on moving to, then it moves towards finding an apartment within the neighborhood (or neighborhoods) you’ve chosen after paring down the choices in the first step. Finally, I talk briefly about how to compare the various apartment offerings, mentioning the promotions, referral bonuses, and other bonuses you might not immediately identify.
Learning About The Area
If you are moving to a new job… find out if your moving benefits from your new company includes reimbursement for house/apartment hunting and or a temporary living stipend. The house and apartment hunting benefit would allow you a weekend to visit the area, work with a real estate agent who knows the rental market, and find a suitable place to stay… all on the company dime. If they don’t, find out if there is a temporary living stipend where the company will pay for your first 30 days after you move and includes meals and housing. If you are lucky and they do, take them up on the offer and use those 30 days to scope out the area. Otherwise…
If you’re just moving… then likely you won’t have the benefit of some free living in order to learn the area. The next best place is to dive in and do some searching on the web.
- Google Earth – My first step is to find out a little about the area using Google Maps (or Earth) and their satellite imaging. It’ll give you an idea of the lay of the land, access to major highways, schools, etc.
- Zillow – Using Zillow you can find out the relative value of each of the properties in your area, higher value usually means better neighborhood. While this isn’t a perfect indicator for what neighborhoods are better than others, there should be correlation between property values and how “good” a neighborhood is.
- County Police Website – If you’re lucky, using a county police website you can see where the recent crimes have occurred.
Finding An Apartment In A Specific Area
Once you’ve narrowed down your search and gotten a good feel for the relative “goodness” of various neighborhoods, it’s time to find a place. I recommend using apartment search engines like Rent.com and Apartments.com to get an idea of how much an apartment will cost you. You want to be able to know how much a single bedroom and a double bedroom apartment will typically cost in each area by memory so you can compare when you start looking in other areas. A secondary benefit of these sites is some of the kickback a little bit of their referral money back to you. For example, if you visit an apartment listed on Rent.com and tell the apartment complex that you saw it on Rent.com, you’ll receive $100 if you sign.
Correctly Compare and Constrast Apartment “Offers”
On these sites, when you are researching the various apartments, look for special rental bonuses such as a month’s free rent. Since the rental market is hotter now than it was the last few years, those offers might not be there anymore. If you’re using Rent.com, on the search result pages you’ll see MOVE-IN SPECIAL in small red letters within the description of a rental apartment, that means they’ll have some sort of promotion available. Also, look to see if utilities are included because that can be worth a hundred dollars a month (plus you can leave your air conditioning on during the summer without fearing a huge energy bill) and keep a keen eye out for pet restrictions, you don’t want to pick a place and find out Fido will cost you a $500 deposit and $50 a month. Be sure you’re comparing apples to apples.
(Photo: mr_t_in_dc )