As 2013 wound down, I prepared to move from Los Angeles to San Francisco. And then, as 2014 began, it became clear I might not live through the insanely stressful experience (or, at the very least, the anxiety would kill my appetite).
Having emerged battered but triumphant, I thought I’d offer this handy tutorial based on my relocation odyssey, a lasting record of apartment-hunting tips that — no matter what happened to me — could help others succeed.
1. Consider an apartment-finding service
For the San Francisco move, I used an apartment-finding service. There were 2 reasons behind this decision:
- Living in Los Angeles, I couldn’t be in the Bay Area regularly to scout apartments. I was coming up for one frenzied week of hunting and had to ensure I ended up with something.
- Moving to San Francisco is, frankly speaking, nuts! I’d heard the horror stories: tenants who swarm on available units like ants to a syrup spill, signing leases before the kitchen paint is dry, selling off their firstborns in fiery bidding wars. And yes, it was nearly as bad as they said. But, in most major cities these days — with loads of competition and landlords who have the advantage — it helps to have someone on your side to provide the credibility that other applicants may not have.
2. Take advantage of technology
If you’re doing all the legwork, apartment-hunting apps can be a huge help in a new city.
Take Lovely, for instance. This app not only alerts you when new places hit the market, but it also lets you specify your rental price, how many bedrooms you need, your desired neighborhood(s), and even allows you to apply online. Other options like Trulia and HotPads™ work similarly, giving you a more customized experience. Even though I used an apartment-finding service, I still relied on apps to narrow my neighborhood choices.
Apps can help with other parts of your search too. While looking for your soon-to-be home, VRBO® can help you find a rental property to use instead of a pricey hotel, and tools like Uber or Lyft can often get you around the city cheaper (or at least friendlier) than a cab.
3. Don’t get too excited over a listing
It’s huge, in an excellent neighborhood, and way cheaper than all the others on the block?! Perfect! Well, until you learn that you have to wire $3,000 to Nigeria and they’ll send you the keys from there. Yep, it’s a scam — and, the way I look at it, simply a rite of passage. I apparently enjoyed it so much, I did it 3 more times. (Excuse me while I dropkick my keyboard.)
4. Prepare your credentials
In the glory days of apartment hunting, I imagine a firm handshake and a sixer of Michelob was all it took to earn a landlord’s trust. Today, however, they’re more careful.
The agency I used had me put together an application packet, complete with my credit report, proof of employment, letters from my current landlord and neighbors, and a thorough personal profile. I’d urge any renter to do the same — landlords were very impressed and several called me afterward to voice their appreciation. It’ll also help you get a jump on other applicants who don’t have their docs ready to go.
5. Keep your mind open (even if the floor plan isn’t)
That moment when your apartment-searching hopes meet cold, hard reality can be grim. The first place I saw, for example, charged $3,000 for about 400 square feet of space. After that, a different landlord asked for almost as much rent from my dog as he did me. Next was the fifth-floor walk-up with stairs too narrow to fit an Army cot, much less a queen-sized bed.
I knew moving to San Francisco would be tough, but this was demoralizing. Did I think about giving up, quitting my job, and raising alpacas on a remote New Zealand farm? Of course I did. But, I regained my composure and moved on to the next place. That’s all you can do. And if you keep an open mind and stay positive(ish), you’ll find something that suits your tastes, needs, and budget as I eventually did.
6. Avoid open houses if possible
Many landlords arrange open houses for available units since it’s the easiest way to get as many suitors as possible in today’s packed rental market. But open houses can (and in San Francisco, did) get very crowded, so it can be tough to make an impact.
You’re better off setting up private viewings if you can get them. This is one area where an apartment-finding service can really pay off. Mine was terrific at reaching out to landlords and coaxing them to show units individually. This gives you a leg up on competition, and, in my case, led directly to signing the lease.
Remember, even if a landlord isn’t advertising private showings, it never hurts to send an email and inquire anyway.
7. Bring your checkbook
When you find the right place, you know it. Don’t let it slip through your fingers while you’re waiting in line at the bank.