Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Ins and Outs of Finding your Dream (rental) Home

I feel as if after this past year I am now an expert on how to rent an apartment. For three months I traversed the internet world trying to find the perfect 2-bedroom apartment from 3,000 miles away and really learned a lot of tricks about the process. So here's my favorite websites and tips, and hopefully you'll find them helpful!

Where to start:

I think the old adage "location, location, location" is key here. Where is a place that's a good distance from both you and your partner's work? Is the neighborhood safe? If you have kids, what are the schools like? What is the apartment close to (highways, shopping, the downtown, etc.)? Does any of that even matter to you? Do you have a specific town or specific kind of town you like? And another thing frequently not thought about, do you care where your apartment is located on the complex? All of these things will factor in to how much you spend on rent. Something closer to the street or in the basement is less money even if it's the same floor plan.

What amenities are important to you? Most if not all websites will let you filter out options by these. Decide which are must haves and which would be nice but are not deal breakers. For us, we had to have a two bedroom (we need an office, plus we would like to not have to move again and a baby might be born towards the end of our stay here), at least 1000sq/ft, a clean kitchen with updated appliances, clean bathroom, and the complex had to be pet friendly. Things that were nice was AC (normally this would be a requirement but we live in a temperate area so we can get away without), a patio or balcony, storage space, and a gym. We lucked out and got all of those things with extras to boot.

Websites to use: - A website that is generally all inclusive of any managed care property in your area. What sets off from is that they have a few personal adds put up by private owners. - Most of the things on are listed on as well. Usually the two websites do not have every complex between the two of them, so it's good to check both. However, if you do find one that's on here and on, go through If you sign a lease and submit proof, you get a $100 gift card back.

Craig's List - The great thing about Craig's List is that you can find both privately owned apartments and houses and Managed Care properties on here. The crappy thing is that there are scams so you need to be careful. Don't email financial information and don't give information over the phone. We used Craig's List a little bit but only when we were in California. I didn't feel comfortable renting site unseen because I didn't want to gamble with so much going on.

Apartment - I found this to be the best website that listed apartment ratings of the different properties and buildings out there. This became like my Bible. Every time I heard of a new facility I would run here and do searches to see what people said. A word to the wise, though. If there are only one or two reviews and the property has a 100% approval rating, be careful. Sometimes managers will put reviews up saying how wonderful the place is just to have a good rating. Also remember that most of the time people come on these websites to complain and it's more rare for people to post glowing reviews of a place. Make you you read several reviews to get a general picture and when looking, don't just narrow your search to the properties listed at 90% or above. We opted for around 60% and I think our place is around 70%. So far we love it.

Some other good places to look for listings:

- The most traditional of places to look, your local newspaper!
- College websites - Almost all colleges have a page in the student services section that is just for off campus housing. Check out what they recommend and what the students say about them. If you are a student you may be privy to special listings just for you.
- Ask your friends and family.
- Driving around neighborhoods you like. See if there are any For Rent signs or complexes (you can take write the names down and look them up on later).

Some things to remember:

- Be prepared! Come with questions (things like: Do I pay a pet deposit or pet rent? How often do you have an exterminator come? What utilities are included? How much is my security deposit? etc.)
- Look around the apartment. Open closet doors, test the water pressure in the shower, look at the windows. Often we forget to do things like that and when we move in we realize the windows are thin, the shower pressure is really low (and that means your toilet will not have great power either and washing dishes will take that much longer), or something important is broken. Nothing's worse than having the knowledge that you have to deal with a major unknown and unwanted problem for a year or longer until you can move out.
- If something is broken and you want it fixed, ask if they can fix it before you move in and see if you can have it included in your rental agreement.
- Keep at least 3 of your last pay stubs so that you are prepared when the rental manager asks for them.
- Find out what the rules are (are there quiet hours, can you paint the walls, can you get a pet eventually if you don't have one now?). Even though this isn't college anymore, you'd be surprised at the amount of rules some complexes have. It makes you feel like you'll be running from the RA every time you light up a cigarette or want to hang a picture on your wall. Except here you get charged a lot more for property damage and that's your money, not your parents'.
- Make sure you can afford the apartment. We went from two salaries to one, so we needed to figure out how much we could afford once our bills were taken care of. There's no set number, because each couple's savings needs are different. Are you saving to buy a house? Are you saving just for fun stuff like vacations? Are you saving for a college education? Are you saving for retirement? Are you doing a little bit of each? The key to not living paycheck to paycheck is making sure your rent is low enough that you have extra money to save. It's just a function how much you want to be able to save each money, or how much is realistic.
- Pay attention to key words in the description of the apartment. Think like a real estate agent. They use euphemisms to hide flaws. Cozy = small, charming = old, and so on. Was the apartment remodeled (totally redone) or updated (just a few touch ups here and there)? It's important to see pictures, read factual parts of the description (like sq/ft, etc.) and visit in person (or have someone close by) if you can.
- Read your lease. You don't want to be surprised later on.
- Don't rush into signing a lease if you don't have to. If you like a place, but it's just not perfect, wait until you find the one. It's like finding your spouse or buying a wedding dress. If you wait long enough, you will find the perfect one for you.

Considering we rented from so far away and only took one trip out here to check out places, I'm happy to say that Nick and I were able to find our dream apartment. It's not exactly everything we would want if we were to buy (the kitchen has just a smidgen too little cabinet and counter space, and there's no central AC, just a wall unit downstairs) but it has everything we wanted when we were looking and then some. My goal was to find a place we loved so much we wouldn't want to leave for 5 years (because let's face it, when you move 3,000 miles do you really want to have to move again when you know you might be moving home eventually?), and our goal was accomplished. Good luck finding your place!

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