As someone who spent a good portion of her life in small town America surrounded by family, I never thought there could be real stress in finding a place to live. Out of college, my first apartment came from a newspaper ad in the small local paper that took a good 10 minutes to read front to back. I saw the ad and within a matter of days had moved in. My second apartment came on the recommendation of a friend and was more of a desperation move. It still served its purpose and I had a new home with relative ease.
When I decided to move to Oklahoma City from northern Michigan, however, I wasn’t prepared for the new and highly more complex world of shelter hunting. In the big city, I wasn’t just looking at what I could afford for rent and deposit. The factor list had grown. Safety, distance to work, amenities, access to local shopping centers and grocery stores, and traffic activity and road plans suddenly had to all be taken into account. After having lived in small, safe, “get anywhere in ten minutes” towns, this was all a bit overwhelming.
For those moving or getting ready to make a big move, we’ll assume that you already know the importance of having money budgeted for temporary housing, such as a motel or an extended stay facility. Sometimes though, the next step can be a bit daunting. So the following is a list of tips I’ve picked up during my own cross country upheaval. My move may have been to Oklahoma City, but the following tips can be helpful no matter what your destination may be.
1. SURF THE NET – The great thing about this tip is that it can be done before you even leave old home territory. Doing a quick search under any engine for “apartments, and the city name” will yield several results to begin your journey. Some of the best nationwide sites I found were apartmentfinder.com, apartmentguide.com, and apartments.com. These pages will give you a series of steps to narrow your search down to the exact city you’re going to be living in, as well as checklists in which you can choose what kind specific amenities you’re looking for, such as laundry facilities, pet allowances, or wi-fi access, just to name a few. You may find many of the same places on several sites, but keep looking as some places will only list with one of them. These websites usually list apartment complexes or communities. When you get to the city, follow up by picking up local apartment guides at convenient and grocery stores. The Wal-Mart in my area even offers a rack with all kinds of these guides. You can also check out craigslist.com or do a search on the city’s newspaper sites and comb their classifieds.
2. CHECK YOUR CREDIT – Credit has become important to every aspect of our life and having a place to live is no exception. Individual landlords may ask for references, but most complexes will do a full credit and background check so you need to be prepared for this. The big things apartment owners are looking for? Evictions, outstanding utilities, and leave with failure to pay rent elsewhere. Take heart if your credit isn’t quite up to part. Some places don’t place as much emphasis on credit score and some don’t check it at all. Many places will be willing to work with you by asking for a co-signer on your lease or a higher security deposit before moving in.
3. FILL YOUR APPOINTMENT BOOK – The best way to really find your home base is to look at the properties firsthand. Start making appointments to see your top picks as soon as possible. Many apartment complexes are open on Saturdays for those with work constraints, but managers who don’t stay open will usually make a special weekend appointment at the prospect of a new tenant. If it’s a place you’ve already researched online, make sure that the rates are still the same and that the amenities listed on the website are available. Ask what, if any, utilities you’d be responsible for paying and make sure that you see an actual apartment. Even if the outside looks well taken care of, there’s no guarantee that the inside is given the same care. Check to see what the basic makeup of the renter community is. Elderly communities are quieter, whereas complexes housing college students will have much more noise and activity. While this may not seem like a big deal, if you’re someone who values a quiet atmosphere, Saturday nights surrounded by college students are not going to be much fun.
4. GET TO KNOW THE NEIGHBORHOOD – It’s a sad but true fact. Not all neighborhoods are created equal. They range from your high end gated communities to your poverty stricken high crime areas. Never sacrifice your safety for cheap rent. many big cities are starting to understand the way crime is moving and affordable places CAN be found in good areas. Look around the neighborhood. Old rundown buildings and parking lots overgrown with weeds don’t necessarily mean danger, but broken windows and large amounts of graffiti can signal a high rate of vandalism and in some cases gang activity. Beyond safety, you also want to make sure that you’re within a comfortable distance to shopping and emergency centers. Take inventory of the things you’re going to need (salons, stores, fitness centers, etc.) and make sure your neighborhood will support those needs. Watching the daily news can also give you a good idea of which areas have higher crime rates as well as the general atmosphere of certain communities that you may be looking at for housing.
5. NARROW DOWN YOUR CHOICES – After looking at so many properties you should have an idea of what you want and what you don’t want. Narrow your list to a promising few, then go back and see if the places you chose are offering any deals. In my area, some places offer a move in price of $199 which includes first month’s rent, security deposit, and application fee. Other places sometimes give you two months free rent with a good credit check and the signing of a one year lease. Don’t hesitate to ask about upcoming deals if there are none happening currently, and don’t be shy about letting the prospective landlord that you’re looking at other properties. Chances are you’ll get a good deal because they want you as a regular tenant, and a landlord who’s helpful in the beginning is more likely to understand life’s little circumstances later on down the road.
6. A WORD ABOUT THE ROOMMATE OPTION – Having a roommate isn’t for everyone, but for the individual who has had few roommate problems in the past, it may be a good way to go when starting out in a new area. Rent and utilities in a a shared housing situation often gives you a better living space for less cost. Furniture comes partially furnished and you’re new to the area, a roomate can give you inside info on the town. If you’re both new to the area it’s always nice to have someone to explore a new city with. This type of situation does lend itself to personality clashes, spatial issues, and bathroom conflicts. not everyone can handle this sort of lifestyle. Be honest with yourself about how you interact with others, what annoys you, and what people in the past may have said about you and your own living habits. If you feel you can live with someone, go for it. Be open minded. Everyone is different and there’s bound to be conflict at some point. The key is to deal with like an adult and move on. Classifieds are the best place to look for roommates, though newspapers popular online resources. Watch for “creepy” and too-good-to-be-true ads. Establish some sort of correspondence with the prospective roomate through email or phone before meeting to get a feel for their personality. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
7. ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS – In any situation, this tip seems to be the most important and yet it’s probably the one that gets the most ignored. Though we may not always trust them, our instincts really are the best guide for avoiding a bad living situation. If an area sets off feelings of nervousness or discomfort, chances are it’s not going to be a comfortable place to live. If the space seems to welcome you with a sense of safety and security, then those feelings will stay with you throughout the duration of your time there.
No matter where you look, the right apartment is out there for you, waiting to help you start your new life in a new city. Yes, it will be time consuming and yes, there will be a decent amount of stress to this process, but when you find the place where you can put your feet up and hang your hat, it will all have been worth it.