Depending on where you live, the timeframe for looking for a new apartment can vary widely. If you live in a college town, most rentals are likely start in August, and the majority of leases are signed six months or more in advance. In large cities like Chicago and New York, about 60 days out is considered advanced planning, with some renters finding a place only a week before they’re ready to move in.
If you’re new to a city, or moving out of state, ask friends, neighbors and coworkers when they started looking to get a feel for the market. If you have the time, it’s to your advantage to start your hunt early, as there generally are more options available than there will be if you’re in a time crunch.
There are many ways to go about your search. Websites like Craigslist and Apartments.com are popular places to start as they let you search countless apartments across the country or down the street. Check out your city’s current listings online to get a feel for price ranges in your desired neighborhoods, and see if most of the places listed are available immediately, next month or further out.
If you see a couple places that meet your move-in date, price and location criteria, don’t hesitate to set up a showing. In today’s market, with fewer renters moving and many potential buyers opting to rent instead, the good places are sometimes snatched up the day they become available.
Another thing to consider is the best way to view potential apartments. You could set up individual appointments for all of your favorite online listings, but keep in mind that you will have to keep track of all of them and allow time for commuting back and forth. In New York, locals advise working directly with the apartment buildings, which may have multiple units available to show you at the same time. In Chicago, you may prefer supplementing your online search with pounding the pavement in the neighborhoods you would like to live to see if there are any For Rent signs in the windows.
Don’t be afraid to take your time at your appointments. Ask questions, take pictures and make pro/con lists for each place you see. It’s easy for them to blend together, and you don’t want to make a decision if you can’t remember which place had the great deck or the funky, pet smell. If you end up seeing a place you love, fill out an application as soon as you can. Depending on the terms, you may only risk losing a small deposit if you decide to change your mind. Remember, nothing is binding until you sign the actual lease!
What are your best apartment-hunting tips for your city? Add your advice in the comments below.