If it’s time to hunt for a new apartment, there are lots of options for finding a great place, as long as you're willing to do some legwork. As with everything in life, the more hard work you do upfront to research, shop, preview, and search for a great place to live, the better your chances are of finding a great place to live.
First, give yourself plenty of time to do an adequate search for your new residence. You should be well aware about your moving timeframe, so there is no reason you shouldn’t spend a few months shopping for places. A good time to start looking is two or three months before your current lease ends, or before you know you'll have to relocate for one reason or another. This will allow you to find a great place in the location you would like (subject to your budget), negotiate a lease, and get all items in order 20-40 days before your actual move. This will eliminate your having to rush to find a place, which could cause you to make a less than stellar decision and then be unhappy with the place, location, or price of your rental.
Craigslist is one of top places to find apartments for rent when searching on the Internet. And there are other rental sites like Zillow, Trulia, Rent.com, and others, so shop around. You can also check rent comparables with sites like Rentometer to see what the fair market rent is for the locations and unit size that you'd like. All these tools, plus Google street view, etc. are at your fingertips. So use them!
Another great way to find a good place is to simply drive around the areas that match your preferred location and budget. Many owners simply post “For Rent” signs in the yard to find tenants. Driving around, you might also see apartment complexes that you didn’t notice before and you could stop in their leasing offices. But the best part about driving around areas is that you get a feel for the location, so you can better know whether to include or exclude that neighborhood from your search. Drive around a neighborhood you'd like to live in at least once during the day and maybe a weekend night to see the traffic, noise, etc. of the area.
There are also apartment locator companies that help individuals find places to rent. Many of these are relocation companies that work for corporate employees or military people, but they are for private individuals too. They can do a great job for you, but just as with any service provider, you need to weigh the cost versus the benefit you are getting. In some cities, like New York City, it can be quite expensive to use these companies. You best help yourself by understanding the costs, and maybe calling a couple of references on them to make sure they did a good job for others. This is especially true if you are asked to pay upfront or if the price is significant. For others that are inexpensive, if you believe they can help you, go for it!
Once you find a place, here are a few other important issues you need to address.
- Make sure you know all the costs involved for a unit you rent, like if there are trash fees or if you pay for water. Discuss these with the landlord.
- Make sure you have adequate time to read the lease and that the landlord runs you through the terms of the lease. You don’t want to be surprised by terms that you did not expect. Few renters take the time to do this, but you really should. In general, reading documents before you sign them is a good idea, especially if it is a significant financial commitment, like a one-year lease.
- At move in, make sure to document any damage to the unit, like spots on carpets, wall damage, broken appliances, etc. and let the landlord know in writing. Take pictures on that fancy new smart phone to keep a record so that you are not assessed a portion of your security deposit when you move.
- Also, try to find a place you will stay for multiple years. Moving typically ends up being more expensive that you anticipate, so try to find a place you will stay so you can minimize moving costs.
Regardless, as noted above, start early and provide enough time for yourself to do a great job so you find the best possible residence for your budgeted amount. Good luck!