how to organize your apartment search (without losing your cool)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017
If you read my post yesterday, you know that we're moving to Chapel Hill. And if you've met me or read my blog ever, you know that I am the Type A-iest of the Type As, so an apartment search is quite the undertaking for me. And nothing brings me more joy. 

So, let's talk about the game-changer in any apartment search: Apartment List. I've got a few tips for organizing your apartment search, and they all begin and end with that amazing site. If you need an apartment or rental home soon or in the future, this is where you should start.
This post is not sponsored in any way by Apartment List. I really like the site, and wanted to share my experience with the site with anyone else who will need an apartment in the future!

Step one: Make a wishlist. 

How many bedrooms do you want? What's your ideal square footage? Do you need a porch or a patio, or is that negotiable? Do you need a washer and dryer, or are you fine buying/renting your own or using a community laundry center? Townhouse, cottage, apartment, house?

We decided we wanted a two-bedroom apartment with more than 1,000 square feet. We wanted a patio or terrace, and our complex had to have a dog park and plenty of sidewalks and green areas. Our unit had to have a washer and dryer and we were pretty flexible on other things like hardwood floors versus carpet.

Step Two: Set your budget.

This is crucial. How much are you willing and/or able to spend on the place you're going to rent? Factor in your usual expenses, the cost of living in your new town and utilities.

Apartment List manages this in two ways that makes it super helpful – 1) it asks you what your budget is and 2) it asks you what your annual income is, so it can calculate the units you can actually qualify for. (Most complexes require that you make 3 times the rent each month, sometimes more than that.)

Step Three: Find apartments that have everything you want and fit into the budget that you've set for yourself.

There are a lot of ways you can do this – check a site like Apartment Guide or Zillow and narrow down what you want, plugging everything into a spreadsheet; look on Google Maps in your desired area and find complexes in the neighborhoods you're looking for; or by using Apartment List to find apartments that match your preferences and needs and package them up for you to look through.

Know what you're willing to make an exception for – will you pay an extra $100 over your budget to have a much shorter commute? Are you willing to sacrifice hardwood floors for a fenced in yard? 

Step Four: Make your shortlist. Narrow down to 5-10 apartments you want to tour.

You're going to end up with hundreds of apartments that fit into your budget, more than likely. Narrowing that down by all of your needs and wants, you want to make sure you have five to ten complexes you could actually see yourself living in.

Again, I used Apartment List to narrow down all of our choices to our shortlist. We had four units we decided to tour – we wanted to tour five but one never returned our calls – because that was all we could fit in the one day we had. If you're moving somewhere from out of town, you'll likely be in the same boat; if you're moving down the street, you'll have a little more flexibility to see more units.

We tried to be really picky. If we weren't absolutely sure that we might want to live at the complex, it didn't make the cut. Like I said, we had five great places on our list that we felt were right for us.

Step Five: Write down the questions you need to ask at each unit.

You will not remember when you get to the complex to ask if they do have 24-hour emergency maintenance, but you will regret it when your ceiling starts leaking at 4 a.m. and you have to wait until the maintenance guy is awake in five hours.

Some examples of questions we made sure to ask if they weren't answered for us already...
• Do you have a maintenance staff member living on site for 24-hour emergency maintenance?
• What is your pet fee and pet rent? Do you have a dog park? Do you have dog friendly events?
• What is the parking situation like? Are there enough spots for residents and guests?
• Do you have garages that can be rented?
• Do you have storage available for rent?
• Have you ever heard complaints about noise or thin walls?
• Do you offer valet trash? If not, where is the nearest dumpster?

Step Six: Ask for floor plans and dimensions. And everything else they have.

When you tour an apartment, especially if you like it, ask for every single piece of paper they have. List of amenities? Yes. Floor plans of the unit you're looking at? Oh, definitely. Dimensions? Hand it over. Any other promotional materials or packets that a potential resident may want to look over? It will all come in handy when you make your pro/con list, friends.

Step Seven: Analyze your remaining options and break down what's most important to you and how those options deliver on those needs/wants.

We wrote down the 15 most important things to us – distance to the Dean Dome, distance to the airport, convenience (is it near a grocery store? Is the stoplight slow to change?), dog park, etc. – and scored each of our final three options in each category. (One of our four complexes took itself out of the running when the leasing agent candidly told me about the residents being pretty rowdy partiers and trashing the pool every weekend. Pass.)

Who gets the highest score? That's probably – probably – your best option. However...

Step Eight: Sleep on it.

This was crucial for me and Pat. We came up with our winner, but the second place complex was only a few points behind, even though they'd gotten a 0 in one category. So, it was tough. It came down to the commute and the value; the unit we decided on was closer to the Dean Dome, although further from the airport, and it was far more bang for our buck, with a screened-in porch for little Theo to frolic around on.


We are so excited to have made this huge decision! What about you? How did your first apartment search go? If you haven't taken this big adult moment on yet, what are you worried about?


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