Finding an apartment

I’ve had to go through the process of finding an apartment several times. It can be super annoying and downright frustrating. It’s easy to find something wrong with a place, but also easy to try and settle with what you’ve got. Hopefully this post will make life easier for those of you looking to transition from your current living situation.

Know you current situation

You need a general understanding of what your lease says. The most important aspects here are:

  1. When do I have to inform my landlord that I’m moving?
  2. When is my lease up?
  3. What is the penalty for leaving early?
  4. Can I assign or sublet my lease to someone else?

In most cases, landlords are more than happy to let you sublet your place, provided the person you find is generally reliable and has a stable income. Hey, your landlord trusted you. It can’t get much worse than that, right?

Assure that before you even start looking for new places, you know when and how you need to alert your landlord that you’re moving. You generally have to give 60-90 days notice. If you miss this, you can get yourself into a bit of a pickle.

If you do really need to move before your lease is up, you can sublet your place (allow someone to live under your responsibility and pay the rent.) Or you can assign the lease (the new tenant takes full responsibility for the lease.) You may have to pay fees associated with a background check and application fees for this new tenant.

Choosing a Neighborhood

We’re going to assume you know which city you’re looking for a place in. If you don’t, try seeking out gender ratio/median income/job availability/obesity indices/self-reported life satisfaction surveys etc… That’s another blog post.

When moving to a new town, you probably don’t know where the hip people are. You probably don’t know which neighborhoods to avoid and which have the best access to amenities. There are some excellent tools out there for this.

 

Walk Score gives you ratings of exact addresses and entire neighborhoods based on their access to public amenities like grocery stores, banks, and restaurants. It’s an essential resource if you don’t own a car. It’s usefulto know what you can expect to be able to walk to from your new place.

Judgmental Maps is a slightly tongue-in-cheek site dedicated to showing who really lives in a neighborhood. It’s sometimes crass, offensive, and at times downright racist, but there is something to be learned from your city’s map. It will give you insights into the types of people that live in a neighborhood beyond their income or propensity for crime. Most people like to know what their neighborhood “feels” like. These help do that. If you can’t find your town on the site, just Google it with “judgmental maps.” It’s quite likely that someone has wasted an afternoon building one for your town.

Trulia Maps is a pretty impressive compilation of map layers that lets you see the median house prices, average length of commute, % of college degree holders, etc… But the single best thing about this site is the Crime Heat Map. You can see exactly where crimes are being committed and avoid those areas, unless you’re a member of a local crime syndicate. Then you should probably live there.

I’m not making any particular judgments here about what you should or shouldn’t look for. The sites above will allow you to make a more informed decision based on the factors that you personally are looking for in your living area.

Now you know where you want to live. Let’s get you a place.

Automating the search

There a two tools I use exclusively to automate the housing search. Between them I am confident that I am constantly updated on the majority of housing options in a particular area.

Padmapper is designed to aggregate all local online housing listings onto a single map. It does a very good job. You can specify exactly the price and size you are looking for and see all your options in real-time on the map. The greatest feature of the site is their email alert. Set up an alert for your preferences and you’ll get email updates when a house or apartment matching your needs becomes available. No more worrying about missing opportunities.

One thing lacking in Padmapper is the lack of Craiglist postings. Because the site is so heavily used, especially for housing, I highly recommend you also add a Craigslist email alert to your mix. This will just about cover you for all the housing options that are becoming available in your area online.

Other resources to consider

  • Local university housing classifieds
  • Google searching and calling apartment complexes
    • Not every vacant unit will be listed online
    • One can automate this via UpWork and have pay someone else to do their calling or list-building.

I would recommend placing your top candidates onto a Google Sheet that lays out their pros and cons in a weighted fashion such that you turn what can often be an emotional or rash decision into a more calculated effort.

Finding the right apartment

I don’t even need to touch on this because a Redditor has already done so fantastically. Thanks to r/DeaconNuno for his epic post listing out what you need to look for in a good apartment. There are many things there you will definitely forget in the spur of the moment during an apartment walk-through if you don’t keep that list with you. Review his list and decide which of those factors is relevant to your search, This will make your hunting much more fruitful and risk-avoidant.

Here are a few often overlooked things to consider…

  1. Be sure to not if there are train tracks nearby. This can really be annoying and might not be obvious during your walkthrough. Just drive around, ask neighbors, or check Google Maps to find out.
  2. Check what internet providers that address has access to. It can mean slower internet, more expenses, or even caps to bandwidth.
  3. Call utility companies and ask what the average bill is for that address/apartment.

Make it a buyer’s market- 3 simple tips

 There are some general principles to keep in all purchase decisions that will increase your likelihood for success.

  1. Give yourself ample time to choose a place.
  2. Be able to walk away from a place if you don’t think you’re getting a good deal.
  3. Ask for a discount. Personal finance blogger Ramit Sethi says ask for a 70% discount. I don’t think that’s reasonable. But ask for a 25% discount. The worst they can tell you is “no.” Many great deals have been had by people asking for a discount in a friendly way.