Apartment Hunting 101

Strategies for finding a rental in a competitive market

You’re nearing the end of your lease. Time is ticking, and you’re not sure if you want to renew and stay in your existing home for another year or move on. Sure, the parking situation is ideal and you’ve made some friends in your building, but what if there’s something better out there?

When you rent a house or apartment, the freedom to spontaneously pack up and move somewhere new is both a blessing and a curse. While it can be exciting to decorate a new home and explore a different neighborhood, searching for a rental can quickly turn into a full-time job.

This is especially true if you live in a super competitive market like Los Angeles or San Francisco, where refreshing Craigslist every 30 seconds and dipping out of work for a last-minute showing is standard procedure for scoring the home of your dreams. So, how do you find a rental without completely losing your mind (and your job)?

Here are some strategies for finding a rental in a competitive market:

1.  Use mobile technology to your advantage. If you have a long commute to work, use those hours on the bus or train to browse rental listings on your phone. Our favorite apps? Lovely, HotPads, Zillow, Realtor.com Rentals, cPro (Craigslist), and Pad Mapper.

2.  Jump on it. As soon as you see a place that piques your interest, schedule a showing at the landlord’s earliest convenience. Don’t wait until the weekend. Take a long lunch to view the rental and fill out an application on site to secure your spot in line. Don’t forget your checkbook for the application fee!

3. Drive around the neighborhood. Surprisingly, this can be one of the best ways to find the rental of your dreams. Some landlords still aren’t hip to using the Internet to advertise their listings and rely on a “For Rent” sign to reel in potential tenants.

4. Type up a list of references. Most landlords will call your boss and previous landlords to verify your employment and to make sure you were a good tenant. Have all of this contact information ready before you start viewing rentals so you can fill out your applications quickly.

5. Present the landlord with incentive. If the only thing standing between you and your top choice is another applicant, give yourself a competitive edge by offering to sign a two-year lease or pay both first and last month’s rent up front. That is, if you can afford it and can follow through on your promise.

When you live in a competitive market, finding the perfect rental and beating out the competition is no easy feat. However, with a lot of persistence and a solid strategy in place, you’ll be in a good position to snag the apartment of your dreams.

Photo: Nancy Honey/Corbis

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Kate Kasbee
Kate Kasbee is a blogger and freelance copywriter living in Los Angeles. She has a background in real estate marketing and has also written about a variety of subjects including pet care, how to adopt a vegan diet, and technology. Prior to living in sunny California, Kate spent eight years in Chicago where she lived in nine different apartments in five different neighborhoods. Though she’s not quite done exploring, Kate dreams of planting her roots and owning a home with creaky floors and plenty of land for starting an organic farm.
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