Yesterday I completed a multi-week process of searching for and picking a new place to live. I have been living in a house near my school for the last 15 months. In that 15 months, I have been very happy with the rent and location, but I decided it was time for me to go out and get a place on my own.
I started my search with an apartment book and the Internet. I found a free “Apartment Book” for the Denver area from the people behind Apartment Guide. I used that book to eliminate certain parts of town, limit down neighborhoods I would like to live in, and get an idea of what is out there and what costs might be.
From there, I used a combination of two websites to find and investigate apartments in those areas. I used a zip code map to help me search. Apartment Guide was useful for finding apartments within my rough guidelines for a one bedroom apartment within a certain area and price range. I also checked for things with Apartment Finder and Apartments.com. There are dozens of sites that help with this. Some charge, some are free. Based on everything I saw, the charge sites are a rip off. Why pay for what you can get for free?
The big things I was looking for were near my school, but not full of undergraduate students. That created a circumference to search within but eliminated a handful of apartments right near campus. I also wanted something that was one bedroom, not a studio, for about $600 per month. Again, this limited down the selection. There were also a bunch of “wants” that I could live without. Those included in unit washer/dryer, covered parking, and no pets. I also wanted to be in a safe, clean place. Those two are not negotiable.
Based on a few hours of searching on those websites, I came up with a list of about a dozen potential apartments. I searched for ratings on those apartments through two major methods. The first was a simple Google search. Using Google, you can find out a lot about an apartment, particularly a bad one. Second, I searched every single apartment on Apartment Ratings.
Apartment Ratings was one of the most useful tools in limiting the apartments I found. I looked back at a few places I have lived before and saw that most of the ratings were either very bad (most) or very good (a few). The ratings on these sites are user generated, like Wikipedia or Yelp, and have to be taken with a grain of salt. People are more likely to rate a place that is really bad than if they were just content. I also looked at a trend over time. More recent ratings are going to be more relevant to current management than older ones.
Using the ratings sites, I was able to eliminate apartments with apparent drug, violence, noise, break-in, and bug problems. That narrowed my list down to about six. I then did more reading into what people liked and didn't like about certain areas. That limited it down to three.
Once I had my top three apartments in mind, I looked online at the websites, which offer only the most glowing reviews, and found that one of them had nothing available in my price range (not even within a few hundred a month!). And then there were two…
I did a drive by of both complexes to see what they looked like in person, how the neighborhood felt, and what was around. One of the two was in an area just off from a familiar busy road. The farther I got from the road, the less safe the area felt. And then there was one…
I toured the final apartment complex on my own once and setup a time to come back with my Mom to get a second look. No matter how old I am, it is always good to get a second opinion. I trust that my Mom would never let me do anything stupid, so I brought her along. Parents, significant others, and good friends are good options for when you are looking. I did it once without anyone helping and ended up in a bad situation that I had to pay to get out of.
I setup another visit to see the actual unit I would be moving into. I really liked it. I filled out the application and left a deposit. I should be moving around the middle of next month. I would love to tell you all where, but seriously, this is the Internet. There are lots of wackos out there!
What I Learned: Tips for Apartment Hunting Neophytes
- Living around a university campus often puts you in a situation with a crappy landlord that will try to take advantage of you. Living farther out could mean better landlords, based on my experience.
- The web has a plethora of information about safety and living in certain areas, but you have to see it in person and go with your gut.
- Get a trusted second opinion before you pay any money or sign a lease, always.
- Living is generally the most expensive part of your monthly living costs. However, it is also the place you spend most of your time. Pick a place that you will love. Don't settle on being unhappy with your living situation. You can quit a job, you can sell a car, you are stuck in a contract when you sign a lease. If you are not confident, don't sign it.
What advice do you have for a new apartment goer? A college student looking for fall housing? A 20-something going to a new city? Please fill in where I missed or left off in the comments.