In When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal's character famously suggested that the most efficient way to find an apartment was to scan the obituaries to see which ones would soon be vacated.
A better way to find an apartment — not to mention one that’ll ensure that you find long-term happiness with — is by following these six sensible tips:
1. Establish a budget before you even start looking. Call this the first reality check in the process — and one that many people calculate by using a percentage of their monthly income (say, 25 to 33 percent) as a baseline figure. In the end, you might not be able to resist exceeding your budget, but you should set a ceiling to keep your efforts on-task.
2. Make a list of the features you must have, would like to have and those that would be purely a bonus. Clarifying these details beforehand will keep your search from running off the rails — and you from being tempted by indulging in costly features that you could live without. The number of bedrooms is the feature most people are least willing to compromise on. Pet owners easily restrict their search only to communities that allow pets. Give serious thought to other features that might be important to you, such as an eat-in kitchen, the number of bathrooms or an on-site fitness center.
3. Select a search area with amenities that are important to you. Set a 10-mile radius to start your search. You might expand the size of the area over time, but pinpointing an area will do wonders for making your search more efficient and productive. Take the extra step of visiting and spending time in the area to ensure the quality of life amenities that are important to you outweigh any negatives.
4. Conduct your search in the offseason, if you can. Most leases are signed between April and August. If you can search outside of these months, you might find fewer apartments, but you also might find better rates since fewer people are looking.
5. Create a system to keep you organized. Whether it's a computer spreadsheet or a portable, expandable file, keeping information in one, easy-to-access place will save you confusion later as details about multiple apartment complexes almost certainly will blend together in your mind. You can refer to our Apartment Search Guide below for additional help. Remember to gather rates, security deposits and contact information from your apartment visits. And do yourself the additional favor of snapping interior and exterior pictures to remind you of key features.
6. Visit your favorite apartment communities at different times of the day and, if possible, talk to residents (and maybe your new neighbors) before signing a lease. Short of moving in, there's no better way to envision yourself living somewhere than spending time there first.
Finding an apartment that is right for you and your lifestyle takes time and effort. Even “Harry” would say that it's no laughing matter. But following these tips should make the process streamlined, efficient and ultimately rewarding.