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finding an apartment

16 posts in this topic

for those of you that are moving a long distance for grad school how do you go about finding an apartment? I don't mean which websites, etc. I mean- do you pick apartments to look at before moving, then stay at a hotel while looking at those apartments? rent an apartment without seeing it in person? How early do you need to move to the city if you are doing the former? do you need to move at the end of the month so you can look at apartments that become available at the beginning of the month? Basically, I want to get an idea of the overall process people go through to find a decent apartment if they are moving several thousand miles away.

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this is what i did: i found the place online. then asked the landlord for some pictures, details of the property, utilities, rules and such. i liked the place but told the landlord that since i am living on the other side of the country and couldn't see the place for myself, how about we do a month-to-month contract. if i like the place within a couple weeks of my stay, i will sign a long term contract. if not, i will move out. the landlord was fine with this. my plan now is to live there for a month and see how it goes. if i don't like the place, i will have plenty of time within the month to find another place.

alternatively, you can/should move at least 2-3 weeks in advance (as opposed to what you were saying in your post - to move at the end of the month. you might not have enough time if you move at the very last moment) to find your dream apartment. depending on the size of the city/town you are moving to, there should be some subleases going around where you can stay during the apt search.

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this is what i did: i found the place online. then asked the landlord for some pictures, details of the property, utilities, rules and such. i liked the place but told the landlord that since i am living on the other side of the country and couldn't see the place for myself, how about we do a month-to-month contract. if i like the place within a couple weeks of my stay, i will sign a long term contract. if not, i will move out. the landlord was fine with this. my plan now is to live there for a month and see how it goes. if i don't like the place, i will have plenty of time within the month to find another place.

alternatively, you can/should move at least 2-3 weeks in advance (as opposed to what you were saying in your post - to move at the end of the month. you might not have enough time if you move at the very last moment) to find your dream apartment. depending on the size of the city/town you are moving to, there should be some subleases going around where you can stay during the apt search.

thank, what you did sounds like a good idea. The end of the month isn't last minute in terms of when I'm starting classes- I start classes in late Sept. did you mean it's not enough time to find an apartment before they are all gone?

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thank, what you did sounds like a good idea. The end of the month isn't last minute in terms of when I'm starting classes- I start classes in late Sept. did you mean it's not enough time to find an apartment before they are all gone?

may be not all, but most of the the good ones might be gone. also, if you arrive late in the apt-hunting season, you might have to settle on what you don't usually consider an ideal apt. i'd rather like to spend extra couple hundred $ and go there few weeks earlier to find the place - this is if you want to scout out the place in person. if you talk to the folks in your department (secretary, grad students), i am sure they will hook you up somewhere cheap temporarily till you find a place.

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It can really depend on where you're trying to move. A few approaches:

1) Stay in a hotel or with an older grad student while you look for a place. If it takes too long, though, the former can get expensive; the latter can get awkward.

2) Send a message out to older grad students asking if they have any tips on open places. Some of them may be moving (or have friends who are), so you may be able to score an apartment that way. If you don't have access to the listserv, get in touch with a current grad student or the graduate director and see if they might be willing to ask for you.

3) Sublease for the summer (or less) and search from there. This can be much cheaper than getting a hotel room, especially if you rent from current students at your university. That can give you a good chance to get to know the neighborhood, too.

4) Just suck it up and sign from a distance. It can be scary and end badly, or it can be just fine. We did this and it worked out well, but that's definitely not universal. Read the online reviews and take your best guess.

Make sure to learn how the rental market works in the area. How long is the turnaround time between when the apartment is posted and when it gets signed? When do apartments go on the market relative to their date of availability? This varies considerably by town/city. For a good idea of the latter, go to Craigslist and see when the recently listed apartments seem to be available. In Seattle it's about 3-5 weeks; in some places it can be days or months.

Glad to hear that Bhikhaari's strategy worked out for them. It's worth noting, though, that depending on how much of a demand there is for housing, many apartment managers will not agree to do a month-to-month. But it can't hurt to ask.

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I signed from long distance, I just didn't have the money to fly out across country, stay for a week or whatever in a very expensive area, and then fly back. So I searched and searched online, it was very tedious and overwhelming at first, there is a tremendous amount of information. It's hard when you're not familiar with the area and dependent on public transportation. But I managed. I went with a management company that's friendly to students so it doesn't take much more than a decent credit score to get approved. So they have many properties in the area and I got on the waiting list for one of their properties at the end of May for a mid-August move in date. I was told that it would be very unusual for something to not become available so I was happy with that, however when July came around and I still didn't have a place I started to get very worried. They told me nothing will open up with them in time but they found me another apartment at one of their other properties, I was so relieved I just took it. It's not quite as ideal as the other, but I figured I'll just have to put up with it for the year. The idea of moving out there to some temporary place and then having to do all of the work when I got there was not very appealing to me, so I'm satisfied with how things turned out. So now in 2 weeks when I get to my new town I'll have a decent place in a nice area all set up and ready. This place actually has a 30 day guarantee, if you're really unsatisfied within the first month you can move out despite the 12 month lease and only pay for the days you were there.

If you want to get it all done before you go I suggest making phone calls as soon as possible to see what's available, you might find a perfect place on a website but it might not be available for your move in time. Getting on waiting lists too, you never know when someone will decide to move out or an incoming resident will change their mind and back out. Generally speaking, the complexes will know what will be available 60 days in advance, in my case it was 30, which made things more nerve racking because I'm a worrier and I didn't actually secure this apartment until a few weeks ago. My semester begins on August 29th and I chose to move in on August 15th. I feel like it's enough time for me to learn the area in terms of the basics and it also cuts my living expenses down for the month of August. I'm happy to only be paying half a months rent while I wait for my financial aid funds to come in.

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One piece of advice that I constantly get about moving to a new apartment: NEVER rent (long term, at least) unless you've seen it AND researched the landlord. Based on prior experiences with a bad managing company that I blindly committed to (a bunch of crooks, no joke), I followed that piece of advice.

Prior to moving, I scoured craigslist and other rental sites for potential places, came up with a list (based on price, location, etc), and set up appointments to see the place. I drove up with my dad and my brother to my new area of residence and stayed at a motel for two nights while looking at these apartments. My adviser was awesome and set me up with a sublet to stay at for a few days. After the hotel, I stayed there for two or three more nights while looking for/deciding on a place.

I had to play a lot of it by ear because each place had a different move-in date. I had planned on finding some more short sublets on craigslist until I could move into a more permanent residence. I was lucky in that the place I liked the most had the earliest date, so I moved in earlier than I expected and didn't have to do that. It is a bit hard to find decent places that allow month-to-month rentals, but I think subletting while searching is a good alternative.

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Like many, I can't afford flying out, staying at a motel while I look at apartments, and then flying back...only to fly out again when I actually move.

However, I'm not comfortable with renting a place sight-unseen, so I'll be depending on my magical powers of quick apartment-securing. I will be flying to Chicago at the end of August (classes start in late September for me), crashing with a fellow member of my cohort who happens to be from the area, and hopefully nabbing a great apartment within a week or so.

In my experience, the best way to prepare for this kind of stressful apartment marathon (yeah, I've done it before) is to do a lot of thorough research beforehand. I know the OP didn't want site suggestions, but I swear by padmapper because it draws from multiple renting sites and uses google maps as its interface, plus you can keep track of places you've looked at, your "favorites," etc. They even have a smartphone app! I've been watching my preferred neighborhoods for a little over a month, so I know the places that have gone mysteriously unrented for awhile (red flag!), as well as what price ranges and amenities I can expect.

It may seem like a huge hassle to do it this way, but it is doable in most cases. YMMV, of course, so I would definitely try to ask current residents in the area if they think my strategy will be successful in your new city.

As a final note, I know there are a couple of apartment-finding companies in Chicago (The Apartment People, Chicago Apartment Finders) that will help you find potential apartments and drive you around to see them (for free!). Maybe check to see if such services exist in your city as well?

Edited by blackshirt

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Definitely, definitely look at a place before you rent! Luckily, my husband and I were able to fly out to our current location to look at apartments before we signed a lease. We're really happy we did, because one of the places we found online that looked really, really super nice from all of the photos turned out to be an absolutely sketchy dump.

But if you can't make it out there, definitely do a ton of research on potential places. I really like previous posts that suggested finding a month to month contract. That way, if you like it you can sign a long term lease, and if not, you'll have time to find a place to live that really works for you.

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I don't know if makes any difference at all, but I forgot to mention that the management company I'm going with advertises on my school's off-campus housing website, not sure if there is any screening involved but I feel that a rental company with a terrible reputation wouldn't be able to advertise there...I don't know that for sure, but that's how I found them.

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If I'm going to rent an apartment without seeing it in person, is it better to go with a more expensive apartment? an apartment in a large complex? what are the safest options? I've tried looking at apartment ratings, mostly on apartmentratings.com, but it seems like every apartment building has bad reviews, and many of the good reviews sound way too positive, like they were written by the owners.

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If I'm going to rent an apartment without seeing it in person, is it better to go with a more expensive apartment? an apartment in a large complex? what are the safest options? I've tried looking at apartment ratings, mostly on apartmentratings.com, but it seems like every apartment building has bad reviews, and many of the good reviews sound way too positive, like they were written by the owners.

Because I knew that I couldn't get out there to look in person, I didn't touch sites like Craig's List or "for rent buy owners" because I'm not quite that trusting. I know lots of people have good experiences with those but it just didn't feel right to me. I went with an actual management company. The word expensive is obviously subjective and it depends on where you're going, but the apartments won't necessarily be over the top expensive. If you have a roommate that will significantly cut down the cost. You should check on your school's off campus housing site, it's basically a listing of all kinds of different properties in the area ranging from just rooms to rent in someone's house or an apartment with a particular management company. It's less overwhelming than the apartment renting websites. That's how I found the one I ultimately ended up with, they're friendly to students and offer a small student discount. It all depends on your priorities and of course financial situation. I need a decent 1 bedroom apartment of my own in a decent area, which requires more money and effort, but I can swing it (or least try really hard to swing it ;) so that's what I'm getting. I would also suggest limiting yourself to searching within your price range to see what feels right, that can narrow it down a lot.

You know I've noticed the same thing about apartment reviews (in my price range, which wasn't very high, but not the cheapest of the cheap), it seems to me that they're mostly about things the company has no control over, like annoying neighbors or the fact that kids play outside. Some of them I noticed are about bugs, there were a few mentions of this for my place, which is pretty much a turnoff but I know they treat for bugs twice a year and then on top of that if you have an insect issue there's an exterminator available once a week. So I don't know, I think an occasional roach sighting is a fact of apartment life and it's up to you to keep as clean as possible and put out a few of those little poisonous traps if you have to. I only read a few of the reviews and then decided to not pay them any attention because it's all subjective and I had to stick to my price range, location, and availability.

Edited by Mal83

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I'm now on my second "renting an apartment site-unseen." Last year I had to rent an apartment in Yokohama, Japan from the US. To make it easier for the students (since all of us were international), the school provided a list of apartments previous students had lived in. I looked up the place I ended up picking online, and set up my lease before I arrived in Japan. It was a month-to-month lease, which was nice in case I wanted to move, but I ended up loving the place. Some of my friends were not as pleased with their choices, but most of the landlords allowed month-to-month leases, so they moved eventually.

This year I'm doing a similar thing, as I'm moving from the East Coast US to almost West Coast of Canada. I'm going with a University-owned apartment building that has a yearly lease. Again, I've only seen the place online, but I'm not too worried about it. I'll only be in the place for a max of two years, so if it isn't perfect I know I'll be moving eventually. If you're staying longer in the area you're moving to, it might be better to look closer at where you'll be staying, but if you can manage a month-to-month lease, then getting the first month in a site-unseen place should be fine. Good luck!

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If I'm going to rent an apartment without seeing it in person, is it better to go with a more expensive apartment? an apartment in a large complex? what are the safest options? I've tried looking at apartment ratings, mostly on apartmentratings.com, but it seems like every apartment building has bad reviews, and many of the good reviews sound way too positive, like they were written by the owners.

Expensive doesn't always mean safer or better. Large complexes can be noisy and you may not want to live in a place where undergrads are partying until 3am every night of the week.

Honestly, you need to get in touch with current grad students in your department and ask them where they would live and where they would avoid. That will help you narrow the search done. If where you're moving is anything like where I live now, you can arrive in early to mid-August (school starts last week of August) and easily find a nice place before the start of classes. A lot of people let incoming grads crash with them for a few days until they find a place. TBH, I had better luck finding a good place where I live now in August than I did when I came out in mid-June to apartment hunt.

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First, I checked craigslist and then became really depressed. Then, I contacted a few brokers, gave them my requirements, and arranged viewings all for the same weekend. Fortunately, I have friends in the area that I am about to move to, so I stayed with them during my incredibly hectic 3-day apartment hunting mad-dash. During the viewing weekend, all of my brokers failed me miserably. Two hours before my bus ride back home, my friend found a posting on craigslist that met my needs. I contacted the apartment's broker and rushed over to view. It was an acceptable studio, so I immediately signed and rushed to the bus station. I missed my bus... actually, because of technical difficulties, the system said that I had missed my bus by an entire two days... but I caught the next bus and bought a happy meal.

There really isn't anything helpful about this post... but I guess if I were to do it all over again... I would have taken an entire week to view as many places as possible instead trying to get it all done in three days.

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That was my own strategy when I've decided to go to the SFMS, which is ±700 miles away from my hometown. Yeah it was very hard, I had multiple troubles, but anyway:

1) Make a decision when do you want to start looking. On my own experience, it's better to start looking for an apartment in Spring because prices are much lower. It will not be catastrophic if you will move in in June because anyway, 2-3 odd months will cost you less, that renting for 1-2 year for 450-500$ higher. 

2) Don't ask realtors or other agents. Use only online rental services. Zillow for example or Trulia.

3) Identify the most suitable location because you can spend up to 200$ odd money for your transport needs. In this case better to rent something higher, but closer. to your university/college. For simplifying this step use apartment maps like this one: https://rentberry.com/apartments/s/chicago-il . You can filter all of your requests, to compare locations, amenities etc. It's obviously the most time-saving method.

4) After finding a couple of possible apartments - make some calculation, try to understand which one is better according to your needs and possibilities.

5) Contact landlords and choose an adequate one. Yes, it's maybe one of the most important part.

6) Don't make your lease agreement duration longer than 10 months.

Wish you a good luck!

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