So you’ve decided to move to a new city to pursue the next great adventure in your life. You’re excited about all the things you’ll see and do. You’re especially excited to secure a new place to call home. You haven’t put too much thought into it. The perfect place will just happen, right?
Well, yes, if you know what to look for.
Plan ahead: How long will this whole process take me?
The first thing that any renter needs to prepare themselves for is the amount of time it can take to search for and secure a space they’ll love. Depending on where you’re moving to, expect your housing search to take anywhere from 2–12 weeks.
Starting your search a couple of months in advance gives you time to become familiar with your soon-to-be home and area.
The way you choose to rent will also play a large factor in the amount of time it will take to complete the rental process. Many landlords, hosts, and property managers will require a minimum of 72 hours to complete a background check, credit check, and process application documents. Additionally, they may also require the future resident to present themselves in person, requiring a trip prior to your big move. Using websites like Faros that automate some of the renting process can reduce the amount of time you spend to secure your space.
Determine your budget
Stop right there! Before you start envisioning yourself relaxing on your couch or entertaining friends in your new space, you’ve got to determine how much you’re willing and able to spend on said space.
We know dealing with money isn’t always the most fun, but your budget will be the main factor that influences your apartment search. Figuring out these numbers doesn’t have to be hard and, really, you only need to be concerned about two:
Your Ideal Monthly Rent:
This the number that will allow you to live your best life without sacrificing anything that you need or want.
Your Maximum Monthly Rent:
This is the number that will allow you to live in the space of your dreams with most (if not all) of your nice-to-haves. It’s also the number that you feel okay spending on your space even if you have to sacrifice spending on other areas of your life.
Need help determining your ideal and maximum monthly rent?
Check out this customizable spreadsheet , where you can enter details about your salary and monthly expenses to determine how you can balance your spending.
Find the location that’s right for you
You’re a unique person with unique interests, I mean, no one’s got a better collection of Star Wars limited edition life size figurines, amirite?! Shouldn’t your neighborhood be just as unique?
For this step, it’s easiest to work backwards. Envisioning the neighborhood you’d love to live in is the most helpful step. Set boundaries for yourself — what’s the farthest you’re willing to live from your office? Do you love a great nightlife or look to be near the neighborhood watering hole where everyone knows your name? Or do you prefer peace and quiet at night?
Considerations when searching for the perfect neighborhood
What neighborhoods match your budget?
- Want to live like Carrie and Big on the Upper East Side? If you have a Queens budget, perhaps reconsider.
What do you despise about your current neighborhood? What do you love about your current neighborhood?
- If you’re living right off the freeway and the constant noise keeps you up at night, you’ll know that you’re looking for a quieter neighborhood (#CountryLiving here you come). If you enjoy the monthly community events where you currently live, maybe you’d like to look for places that have a strong community vibe, perhaps with more families around.
Do you prefer a type of housing? Townhomes? High-rise apartments? Single-family homes?
- Different parts of cities or towns lend themselves geographically to different kinds of housing.
Do you have kids or are you planning to have children?
- You may want to look at neighborhoods that have awesome school districts, parks, and community events.
How to Investigate
Visit potential neighborhoods IRL or digitally
If you can visit a neighborhood (or group of neighborhoods) prior to moving, do it! Can’t visit beforehand? Let Google street view do it for you. For example, take a virtual stroll through this San Francisco neighborhood.
- First impressions are important. Do you get the heebie-jeebies looking at the abandoned building across the street? Or are you in love with it?
- Imagine yourself walking up the sidewalk and unlocking the door to YOUR space. Can you see it? Do you love it?
Do some social media sleuthing.
- In a more millennial turn, get an honest perspective of an area by using tools like Twitter or Instagram. Use hashtags to your advantage and see what the residents and visitors of that neighborhood are talking about.
Within the apartment itself, what are your must-haves, what are your nice-to-haves?
There are some things that you MUST have and some things that will make your experience better if you had them. A big part of finding the right space for you will be determining what those things are. Are you a fashionista who never wears the same outfit twice? Maybe a walk-in closet is a NEED. Maybe it’d be nice for you to have a garage space for extra storage but you can also manage without it.
Some “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” to consider:
- Kitchen: Is a hot plate okay, or are you a chef that needs a full kitchen?
- Furniture: Do you already have furniture, or do you want a furnished space?
- Common area: Do you need a living room, or are you okay without it? Some spaces in cities don’t have any common areas besides a kitchen.
- Closet: Are you a shopaholic who needs a full walk-in closet? Do you need any closet at all, or is a dresser okay?
- Windows: Do you prefer if there are windows in every room, or are you okay without them?
- Extra spaces: Do you need a garage? How about a backyard?
- Pets: Do you need the space to be pet-friendly, or are you extremely allergic to pets and require a pet-free zone?
Watch out for the scams
A recent study showed that approximately a total of 5.2 million renters are scammed while searching for housing. Younger renters are more likely to be scammed as they have less experience knowing what to look for when it comes to verified hosts. According to the same survey, 1 in 3 renters have lost over $1,000 in housing related scams.
So how do you avoid scams when they can be so prevalent? There are a few ways.
Beware of hosts that seem TOO eager.
Are they pushy or seem to be trying to move you along the process without a chance to ask questions? Slow down there, friend, might be time to move along.
Be cautious of hosts who ask you to wire money.
This should already be creeping you out because…it’s creepy. Any time you provide a payment to a host, you should be able to receive a receipt and prove that you made the payment and to whom. If they ask you to “just pay cash” or to “just wire the money”… draw a flag on a piece of paper and then color it in with a red marker. Because that’s a big red flag.
Find out how responsive the host is.
Does the host make you wait a while to get you answers to pretty important questions? Or maybe they respond quickly but clearly don’t answer your question? This should also make you wary. Even if it isn’t a scam, this is indicative of how the host may behave if you choose to rent their space.
If the host says they’re in another country, they’re probably not real. Please see this excellent example:
Use Google Image Search.
Take one of the listing photos, and add it to Google Image Search. It’ll pull up any other websites where that photo is used. You’ll be amazed when the apartment you love turns out to actually be a $4 million home in San Diego.
If something sounds too good to be true…it probably is
Where do you start the search?
You’ve done all the prep work so the last question is: where do you actually find apartments at?
The answer depends on how much money you’re looking to spend and how involved you want to be in your search. Hiring a real estate agent can be an incredibly personalized experience. But beware: that kind of service comes with a price. Agents expect to be paid for their searching and work, usually in the form of a hefty commission.
In the last decade, renter access to available spaces has increased through the advent of buy and sell sites like Craigslist. Unfortunately, because of this increased access, rental scams have also become more and more prevalent. Sites like Faros require hosts to verify themselves and their properties to be able to list their space. Renters view spaces, take video tours, communicate with hosts, and book. Boom. Done.
Finding a new space for your next adventure doesn’t have to be hard. Once you’ve prepared yourself for the search, established your budget, and nailed down your must-haves, you can set out to find your home sweet home.
Are you already ready to start the search? What are you waiting for?