Choosing an apartment isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. After all, you’re talking about choosing the place that will become your shelter—one of your most basic human needs. Odds are, you’re going to be committing to that decision for at least the next year, which is the typical term of an apartment lease; and given the high cost of moving in both time and money, you’ll get the best possible return on the investment of your decision if you choose a place that will meet your needs for more than just a year. Like any important decision, you’ll want to be well-equipped and well-informed when you make it to help ensure that it’s a good one; and that means instilling a little organization and advance planning into the apartment hunting process. Here are a few tips and tools to help you gather all of the information you’ll need to compare before you commit and ensure that you’re making a sound, apples-to-apples comparison of the options available to you!
Step #1: Use the Internet. Start surfing—the sooner the better—so you can get a good look and feel for what’s out there in your area(s) of choice. You can start with a simple Google search for apartments in the area, or use one or several of the Apartment Internet Listing Services like Apartments.com, Rent.com, ApartmentGuide.com, ForRent.com, ApartmentFinder.com and even Craig’s List. Think of this as just a first pass, because you’ll be returning to the sites that most interest you later; but spend time at the websites for every community that looks promising and get a general idea of what they have to offer. Pay attention to the features and benefits that catch your eye, because they’ll help you in the next step.
Step #2: Make a Needs and Wants list. It’s important that those two things are not the same. Start with a blank spreadsheet or a legal pad and make two lists. The first is your hardcore needs, and it’ll include items like availability on/by a specific move-in date; number of bedrooms (and maybe in a roommate situation, also bathrooms); whether the apartment is pet-friendly; and any other component that you consider a total deal-maker/breaker, like the availability of high-speed Internet or access to public transportation if you don’t own a car. Your Wants list will be all of the things that would make your life in the new apartment more complete and enjoyable, and might include apartment features like new stainless steel appliances, a patio or balcony, and walls that are well-insulated against sound transference; and community features like a pool, fitness center, fun community activities and an easy commute to work. Once you’ve made your list you’re ready for the next step.
Step #3: Turn it into a Comparison Checklist. Turn your wants and needs list into an apples-to-apples comparison checklist by revisiting those websites and deciding which communities are worthy of your attention—be a little open minded here so you’re not excluding any that might turn out to be a good fit; and add columns across your checklist for each of the communities you’re going to visit so you can check off whether they meet each particular want or need. Add a few more items below your wants and needs list for other important apartment and community specifics like: lease term (length of the commitment, again usually 12 months); rental rate; square footage; price per square foot (divide square footage by rental rate); deposit requirements; washer/dryer in unit or on premises; utilities included or required; special offer terms (e.g. will they hold the apartment while you shop?); and the deadline for making a decision, if applicable. We like to go a little farther down the checklist and add some customer-service specifics because how much you love your new apartment will have a lot to do with the management’s attitude and philosophy, and these items might include: friendliness and responsiveness of staff during the leasing process; knowledge of staff (do they seem to know the apartment, community and area extremely well?); commitment to maintenance (do they offer a 24-hour repair/response guarantee?); resident testimonials (are they offered or available?); and finally, your own social recommendations (do you have friends or friends of friends who have lived or visited there and what do they have to say?).
Step #4: Add your personal experience. The last step is to see the communities you’ve selected live and in person. While lots of apartment websites offer the ability to schedule an appointment online or via email we recommend that you call. Not only will you get an immediate response, but you’ll have the opportunity to speak to a member of the team and hear for yourself how willing and able they are to serve you. Of course, their responsiveness and ability to communicate with you online is important, too; so you might want to give them your email address and ask them to send you some advance information … how speedily and well they respond is a good indication of how quickly they might respond, for example, to an email from you a few months into the lease regarding a concern with the apartment or community. Once you’ve made the appointment show up armed with your checklist and ready to engage fully in the demonstration process, but don’t let your checklist alone dictate the flow of the conversation. It’s important to be open to and participative in the Leasing Professional’s information-gathering process because that’s how he/she will determine that you’re qualified to become a resident of the community as well as how to best meet your needs. It’s also important for you to be open to considering all of the information they’ll serve to you beyond just what you have on your list, because a particularly skilled professional will offer up things you may not have even thought of to ask, and any of those things might be the one magic element that makes one apartment stand out clearly from the rest. One more tip … use your smartphone here and there to take photos and/or video during your visits. While apartment brochures and websites are pretty comprehensive they may not be current or extensive enough to show all of the things you’ll want to remember; so add your own visuals to the shopping process to help you recall the stand-out specifics about each place … the beautiful view from a balcony, state-of-the-art treadmill in the fitness center, the kitchen that looks like it was designed just for you or that huge sunken bathtub that you’d love to come home to every night.
While these are by no means the only tools at your disposal, if you follow the path above you’ll end up well educated about the apartment landscape in your area; equipped with an apples-to-apples comparison sheet of comprehensive data to help you make a good decision; and with personalized visuals to add dimension to the info on your list. Happy apartment hunting!