Tip #79: The Beginners Guide to Apartment Hunting with Realtors

Written by: Charlotte & Tasha

It is a truth universally acknowledged that apartment hunting on a budget is an actual nightmare. And every 20-something learns the hard way that “garden level” is code for “dingy basement,” the promise of “street parking available” is a blatant lie, and “spacial bedrooms” is usually a generous term for “closet.” Yet, if you want to move out of your parents rec room, you need an apartment. And so, you find yourself a realtor. It’s usually the best way to ensure that you don’t end up living in a breadbox next to the airport.

Charlotte and I quickly learned during the hunt for our first apartment that realtors are an interesting bunch. In our experience, they generally fall in one of these four categories…

TYPE 1: The All-Business Realtor (TF)

The first realtor Charlotte and I ever worked with was a true whirlwind. She fell into the “all-business” realtor category. When she showed us apartments she would march in, speed walk through through the rooms barking and pointing, “KITCHEN,” “BATHROOM,” “SPACIOUS BEDROOMS,” “GREAT PRICE,” and then anxiously wait for us by the door. Charlotte and I would trail behind her trying to squeeze our questions in between the barks– “does this building have laundry in it?” we would call up ahead. “The kitchen backsplash was just re-tiled,” she would shout over her shoulder. After showing us a grand total of three apartments, for a combined total of 15 minutes, we settled on apartment #3. When we said we would take it should screamed, “FINALLY,” and marched out to her car.

The all-business realtor has it’s pros and cons. You may not get answers to all of your questions, and you can forget about small talk, but you will find your dream apartment in record-breaking time (it just might not have in-unit laundry).

TYPE 2: The Wideawake-Nightmare Realtor (CP)

If you’re lucky, in search of your next home, you’ll come across a realtor who mistakes you for her best friend, and will eagerly tell you every detail of her life. When Tasha and I were looking for apartments a few years ago, we came across a member of this species. She was peppy, she was fun and she told more personal stories in 30 minutes than we had ever heard in our lives. Through the powers of her personality alone, Tasha and I considered (for way too long) renting an apartment in which the “second bedroom” was just the kitchen with a curtain in it. We also left that showing knowing everything we’d ever need to know about avoiding ex-boyfriends (because she swan-dove behind us when one of her exes walked across the street 2,000 feet in front of us); we witnessed the art of not getting grazed by a passing pigeon (another swan-dive situation); and we received one invitation to play tennis — which I am still waiting for, by the way. Although we did not end up renting the bedroom/kitchen-combo apartment, one short hour with this woman became the highlight of our entire year (maybe our entire lives — will report back). We kept the magnet she gave us with her face on it on our refrigerator all year and we’re really holding out hope that we’ll run into her again (ideally on a tennis court).

The moral of the story is, when you run into a quirky realtor, you may not get the home you want, but you’ll walk away with an experience that will make viewing 80 crap-hole apartments worth your while.

TYPE 3: The Fresh-Out-of-College Realtor (TF)

The third type of realtor is the fresh-faced-doe-eyed college graduate, who genuinely believes that showing broke 20-somethings a slew of Allston trash heaps is the first step on his journey to becoming a real estate tycoon. When Charlotte moved to DC, I was forced to hunt for my next apartment without her, and so I put my faith into one of these fresh-faced realtors. Filled to the goddamn brim with unbridled enthusiasm, this realtor truly made apartment hunting an adventure.

Every apartment we walked into he would exclaim, “Stunning!” or “Wow! So nice!” as though he hadn’t spent the entire day showing the same series of “garden-level” atrocities to different groups of people. He also tried to sell me on an apartment with a windowless bedroom, explaining that it was actually a good thing because I’d “NEVER have to worry about being woken up by the sun!”

Eventually, we found my current apartment, and when I told him we were interested in renting it his face lit up like a kid who just found out the cafeteria was serving chicken patties for lunch. In short, the fresh-faced college grad may come off a little strong, but at least you know that YOUR LIVING EXPERIENCE is their NUMBER ONE PRIORITY (direct quote).

TYPE 4: Go it Alone (CP)

Sometimes, you do not have the luxury of a realtor. All you have is Craigslist and very low expectations. Searching for an apartment online becomes an endless rabbit-hole almost immediately. The process is a real roller-coaster: you start off with a focused ambition, searching for the best bargain. Nine hours later, it’s the middle of the night, you forgot to eat dinner and you’re willing to pay twice your paycheck for a place a trillion miles from work just because the description says “AMAZING VIEW OF WASHINGTON MONUMENT” even though the apartment is in New Jersey.

When I first moved to Washington, I rented a room in a three-bedroom apartment, sight-unseen, mainly because they told me there was a pool on the roof. It was late, I had been searching too eagerly for too long and this place seemed PERFECT. Even though the apartment ended up being about 1/3 the size I expected it to be, and had a toilet that periodically flooded the entire bathroom (LINK POST), it was about 150 times better than I ever could have imagined considering my realtor was blind faith.

Sometimes these situations just work out. Just make sure you map out your route to work, have, at a minimum, an email exchange with your future roommate(s), and go with your gut. And ask for more pictures of the apartment.

Major Takeaways

  1. Apartment hunting on a budget is, and always will be, a nightmare.
  2. Whether your realtor is a seasoned pro who does NOT care how your weekend was, or a chatterbox with an insane amount of pep in their step, you’ll eventually find a place you wouldn’t mind living in.
  3. If a realtor isn’t an option, you can always roll the dice on Craigslist, and pray that you don’t end up in an apartment 200 miles from your office.