How Should I Conduct an Apartment Search?

Michael Pollick

For many young adults, an apartment search ranks right next to a job search in terms of time management. A promising job in San Francisco or New York City may not feel so promising once you've finished a cursory apartment search in those areas. Few people, especially those in entry-level positions, can actually afford to live and work in most major cities in the United States and elsewhere. Starting an organized apartment search can be a daunting challenge, but the trick lies in the word organized. You must have a plan, as well as the determination to see that plan through.

A person can start their apartment search in the local newspapers' classifieds.
A person can start their apartment search in the local newspapers' classifieds.

When starting an apartment search, you must first realize your financial and logistical limitations. A cheaper apartment in the suburbs may not be so cheap once you calculate the cost of a daily commute to work. Your salary might be enough to cover the monthly rent, but can you also handle utilities, phone service, laundry, food and entertainment?

It is always a good idea to visit an apartment property directly to check out amenities, tour apartments and explore the grounds.
It is always a good idea to visit an apartment property directly to check out amenities, tour apartments and explore the grounds.

Before conducting an apartment search, have a realistic idea of your monthly take-home pay and credit rating. Also include additional payments such as security deposits, utility deposits and the entire first month's rent. Only search for apartments which fall under your maximum budgeted rent -- don't be tempted by proposed upgrades you really can't afford.

Once you have a realistic rent figure in mind, begin your apartment search with classified newspaper ads from all the local newspapers. If your start-up funds are limited, look for phrases such as no security required or move-in special. This often means the landlord will not charge the tenant a substantial security deposit up front, or the rent will not be due until the start of the next month. Sometimes apartment complexes offer a few months of free rent if the tenant agrees to sign a longer lease. Circle all of the rental ads which match your budget and are within reasonable commuting distance of your job.

Another useful tool for an apartment search is the local renter's guide available through the Chamber of Commerce or real estate agencies. Some landlords prefer to advertise in targeted outlets instead of receiving dozens of unwanted inquiries from a general want ad. Some college campuses also offer off-campus housing centers with similar information. Rental property in college towns or popular cities often goes quickly, so don't be discouraged if your apartment search occasionally turns into a rejection telethon. The key to finding a quality apartment is persistence, so keep making phone calls during the day and early evening.

If you have the time and gas, you might also want to drive through several neighborhoods looking for available apartments. Almost every apartment search eventually involves pounding the pavement and meeting face-to-face with potential landlords. Speak with shop owners downtown for inside information on loft apartments above the storefronts. Stop in the offices of professional apartment complexes to discuss the application process. Even if one landlord rejects your application, he or she might know of other landlords in the area looking for new tenants.

Sometimes it also helps to pursue a reverse apartment search. Instead of looking for available properties, advertise your own needs. Prospective landlords may contact you if they like what they read in your notice. Emphasize your positive qualities, such as steady employment, cleanliness, no substance abuse and solid references. An apartment search should be a two-way street -- you may find the apartment of your dreams or a landlord may find the ideal tenant.

Discussion Comments


Great article. Keep in mind the rental rate is often reduced by specials. So when you are considering your maximum rental rate you need to ask apartment communities what the rate would be "after specials" in order to get a real idea of the out of pocket cost. Another incredible service I used was an apartment locating company. I live in the Dallas Texas area and I used a company called UMoveFree Apartment Locators. They have a really cool website where you can search for an apartment from home. All of the move in specials are listed right on the website. This particular company actually helps renters find an apartment in dallas and then gives you a free move paid for out of their commission. So they helped me find an apartment at no cost and then actually gave me a free apartment move. Incredible. I didn't think it could be true until I actually saw the moving truck show up.

I know this particular company is only in Dallas, Austin and Houston but there might be other similar services in other states? Hope this helps.

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