- Panicking won’t help. Easier said than done, but take a deep breath and realize that tens of thousands of people move cross-country every year. If you have a plan and you’re patient and stick to it, there’s no reason you, too, can’t make a successful move.
- Use networking to your advantage. Tell your friends, your relatives and your co-workers that you’re searching for a place; tell everyone. Asking around costs nothing and may yield immense benefits. In addition, use email, phone and social media to expand your networking reach.
- Time your search appropriately. Different cities have different lead times for finding an apartment. For example, if you’re moving to New York City, apartments aren’t on the market until a month or less before the move-in date. Conversely, many college towns put apartments on the market three or even five or six months before the move-in date. Go online and look at the listings in the area where you’re moving and figure out how far in advance you need to begin your search.
- Research neighborhoods first. Before you start seriously honing in on an apartment, study the neighborhoods in the city where you’re moving and get a sense of which ones are right for you. The key categories: the personality of the neighborhood, the price of the neighborhood and the time it will take you to commute to work.
Do some research online: Read the local papers and look through brokers’ and real estate agents’ websites. They’ll give you a taste for what each neighborhood is like, as well as approximate pricing. If you’re worried about crime, most city police departments will provide crime statistics for each neighborhood. Also use an online mapping website to check the commute times.
Conducting the actual search
- Fly out to hunt (if you can afford it). Nothing beats being there and seeing the apartments, meeting the potential roommates and walking through neighborhoods. But one weekend is a short period of time, so if you’re planning to fly out, make sure you’re prepared well before you arrive. This means doing research, having neighborhoods in mind, setting up showings and having your paperwork ready.
- Find a short-term sublet. If you can’t fly out to look around, or you’re unsure of where you want to live even after your visit, try taking a one- to three-month sublet to get your feet on the ground. Then, you can use that as a home base for a proper apartment search once you arrive.
- Do it remotely. Flying out is expensive, and you’ll need a place to stay while you hunt. If your employer isn’t paying for the move, you don’t know anybody to crash with and you don’t have spare cash to spring for a hotel room, doing the search remotely is a viable option. You can get virtual tours of places, talk to potential roommates over the phone and communicate with your future landlord online. You need to be doubly careful if you’re not planning to search in person, but it’s certainly doable.
A few words of caution
- Research the management company. A good management company is a great boon, and a bad management company can cause serious problems. Most management companies are listed with the Better Business Bureau as well as on consumer review sites such as Yelp, and most major cities have listings of known slumlords. Use these tools to do at least a cursory online search to make sure you’re not committing to an obviously bad situation. Also, type the address of the building into a search engine to see if it has been subject of any troubling news articles.
- Review everything before you sign. This is just a good idea in general, but you’ll be particularly vulnerable if you’re from out of town, so it pays to make sure you understand what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.
- If something seems fishy, it probably is. This is especially true if you’re doing your search remotely. If a listing seems too good to be true, be suspicious. Find someone who’s willing to vet the place personally, such as a friend or relative who lives in the area and would be willing to check out the apartment. Better to be patient than find yourself in a bad situation.
If you follow these tips, you’ll be on the path to finding the right place. It will take some time and work, but there’s no reason a long-distance apartment hunt can’t turn into a successful apartment search.
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MyFirstApartment.com helps novice renters successfully navigate the first year of living on their own. The blog shares proven tips and tricks for everything from finding the perfect rental or roommate, to furnishing on a small budget or no budget, to dealing with landlords or roommate’s girlfriends.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.