By Meghan Jackson
Apartment hunting can be brutal no matter where you live. I’ve found that it’s especially painful when you’re looking in a major city on a time crunch. But through my seemingly endless searches and tours, I’ve gotten pretty good at playing the game. So here are my tips for anyone who doesn’t know where to start or needs some new ideas when on the prowl.
1. Search Higher than your Price Range
Home/condo owners that have had their properties available for a while are sometimes willing to negotiate. They’d rather go down in price than go a month making nothing. Generally, after having properties on the market for around 2 weeks or more, they’re more willing to give you a discount. Then you end up staying in your budget and sitting pretty in your new, underpriced home.
2. Only Search for New Listings
This one is probably a no-brainer to most of the world, but it took me a shocking amount of time to discover this tool, so I felt like it warranted a mention.
After you’ve initially scoured the Internet and found all available apartments of interest to you, adjust your search settings on Craigslist/Zillow/etc. to only show the newest listings. It will filter the amount, so you won’t be overwhelmed and throughout your search you won’t be looking at the same listings over and over.
3. Keep it Short and Sweet
Don’t waste time unnecessarily. If it’s the one – CALL. If there’s no phone number, send an email, but stay on top of it. Don’t waste your time crafting elaborate notes. Personally I have to forego the urge to respond “ME” and copy and paste my go-to:
Is this apartment still available? My roommate and I are very interested. We are both young professionals, non-smokers, have no pets and very respectful. Please let me know if it would be possible to take a tour. Thanks!”
4. Know Your Requirements
If you know what you want, then it’s much easier to walk in with a plan and make decisions. Don’t waste time with an exhaustive email exchange and tour if you know it’s not the one. Sure, sometimes you have to see it to get a feel, but if you absolutely have to have off-street parking, or a washer and dryer, and the one you’re looking at doesn’t have aforementioned amenities — move on. If there are no windows in the bedrooms and you know that’s not for you (that was real), cross it off. And maybe it’s the perfect home, but you could never fathom moving to the Eastside, finito.
5. Be Aggressive
This is the Hunger Games. This is the Running of the Brides. This is Black Friday shopping. You need to be the first one to see it, like it and sign it before anyone else has a chance to swoop in there and take it away from you. The perfect apartment is going to be posted online and rented soon after and if you want it, you better be ready to make moves.
Open house? Don’t be intimated by the masses of people who found the same deal as you on Craigslist or couples walking in with tape measures. Follow step 4 and you’ll be golden. All that matters is who’s first to put down a deposit.
My roommate travels for work, but as I mentioned, this is a bloodbath and we’re both well aware that we don’t necessarily have time to look at everything together. From living together in the past, we know our requirements and preferences and have developed a system: one of us takes the tour, asks our usual questions … Are any utilities included? What’s the water pressure like? Are the neighbors insane? How much is your power bill? And so on.
If it’s a possibility, a video is taken and sent to the other for consideration. This requires a particular amount of trust because it could potentially mean signing a lease without seeing it. But if it’s the perfect place, sometimes you just have to go for it.
7. Recruit Help
Tell all of your friends that you’re looking for an apartment, so when they’re bored at work browsing online or if they happen to hear of a friend-of-a-friend who has a great rental, they’ll have you in mind.
8. Keep Track
When looking for apartments online and sending emails like rapid fire, it’s easy to get lost in multiple threads. By the time a person responds, you’ve emailed so many others from various websites that you can hardly remember what location you even asked about in the first place.
This spawned my apartment spreadsheet, organized by neighborhood. Also listed are: price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the contact’s name and the link. After a tour, if it’s still being considered, I’ll make a note so I can remember which one it was. If it’s out, delete.
This is especially helpful when following up with apartments you’re interested in, but haven’t heard from. Don't be scared to reach out to them more than once. It's possible (and probable) that your response to their listing got buried in the pack.
9. Be Smart
It’s not always possible to take a tour with someone else, but pick your battles. Are you meeting with a well-known realtor company you can look up online or are you meeting with “Chris,” the potential Craigslist killer? Know when to bring backup.
10. Recognize Spam
Be aware of fake listings and responses. If the price is $560 for a 2-bed/2-bath, it’s most likely too good to be true. If they can’t give you the address, “because someone broke in and tore up the place and now their husband doesn’t want them to give it out until you send them your credit score,” before you’ve even seen the apartment — get outta there.