Make a list — and a map.
Looking for an apartment always starts with deciding on your priorities. “Mental preparation makes everything a lot simpler,” says Jessica Dailey, a senior editor at Curbed who recently moved herself. Write out a list of all of the factors that would create your ideal apartment, and then decide which are absolute musts. It can be easy to forget something that's important to you when you're seeing 10 places in a weekend. And, having a checklist with you will help ensure that you don't accidentally sign up to live behind a curtain across someone's living room when "bedroom door" was most certainly on your list.
Never lose sight of the financials.
Budgeting properly isn't just having that first month and security deposit squared away so you're ready to move as soon as the right place presents itself. There's so much more to playing this game well. You have to know where you stand financially, and keep your cool when brokers or landlords ask detailed questions about exactly how much you make, or have in your bank account at this very moment.
Rental markets differ from city to city and change from month to month. Do your research well before your desired move-in date to better understand the temperature of the market as well as what the typical procedure is for seeing and securing an apartment where you live. “Starting to think about your move months in advance is really important,” says Jessica of Curbed NY. “Moving is a big undertaking. You never think you have as much stuff as you do and you always think that you have enough time, but end up rushing through the process instead.” She recommends looking at apartment listings every day until you have found the one for you. "Even if you are working with a broker or several, you should always look on your own as well, starting at least a month or more before you need to move." If you find the one, be ready to pounce.
"The most stressful part of apartment hunting is the surplus of misinformation about apartment rentals on the market,” says Lauren Buck, a real estate agent with Citi Habitats in New York City. “Clients come to me very frustrated after hours of searching online and having experienced nothing more than a stream of fake listings, bait-and-switch ads, and being told that apartments will require a fee despite the listing advertising the space as no fee.”
If you are having trouble finding what you want in your budget and location, take a moment to reassess your options and decide where you can be more accommodating in your criteria. "An example would be someone who wants a two bedroom in a certain area in the price range of a one bedroom," says Lauren Buck, of Citi Habitats. “Changing the location may get the person the space that they want. Or, they may need to come to an understanding that a one bedroom will be enough, because they decided that the locale was nonnegotiable.”
When you rent an apartment, you are entering into a relationship with your management company or landlord, who will be working with you to provide a livable environment for the duration of your lease. As communication is key in all relationships, the onus is on you to vocalize what you want and need from your living situation. “Most renters don’t realize that everything in real estate is negotiable,” says Egypt Sherrod, host of HGTV’s Property Virgins and a real estate agent and landlord. “If you are looking to sign a lease in the winter, you have more flexibility to negotiate than you do in the summer, when landlords are less likely to make concessions.” Think about offering to sign a lease that will last longer than a year in exchange for a break on the rent if you are moving during the off peak months. “It is always worth it to ask for what you want,” Sherrod adds.
Especially in bigger cities, with a large number of renters moving simultaneously, you should be firm in your decision and move forward with the application process as soon as you find an apartment you like. Be flexible throughout your search and realize that the idea of “perfect” that you had in the beginning is likely going to change by the time you sign a lease. There will always be another apartment to see, and you just have to trust your gut when you think you've seen the one. Then, all you have to do is put all your worldly possessions into cardboard boxes and start taste-testing to select your new go-to pizza place.