Apartment hunting is a necessary evil. It's not fun, but you can't fake it either — unless you actually like crashing with your parents. Short of throwing money at a broker, there aren't too many secrets to apartment hunting; you've just got to search the local papers, classifieds, and online agency listings, cruise the neighborhoods you like for signs, and of course, scour Craigslist in depth. I'm sure you can handle most of this, but there is a method to the madness of Craigslist that you may not all be aware of. It doesn't guarantee you a dream pad for the price of a shanty, but it'll at least get you in front of what you're looking for. If you're looking for tips on how to up your credit score for a prospective landlord, you'd better check out SavvySugar. To hear my tips,
- First of all, if you're looking for an apartment from long distance, you should be extra cautious, demand to see many photographs and references, and don't sign a lease until you or someone you know has visited it.
- Moving on — no pun intended: You should begin looking for a place two months in advance of when you want to move. Most places are listed about a month ahead, and in big cities, apartments will go in a day. But, if you give yourself two months, you'll get a better idea of what's available, what you can afford, what neighborhoods you like, and how quickly things are going.
- You should already have an idea of what you're looking for. So write it all down in front of you, and don't be too picky; a penthouse apartment with maid, pool, gym, and ocean and mountain views for $700/month is never gonna happen.
- The wonder of Craigslist is that it allows you to add your search terms to your RSS reader. To do so, go to your city's site on Craigslist, click "Housing," then fill in specifics like keywords, rent, number of bedrooms, neighborhood, and whether you need a pet-friendly place. Then, choose "apt/housing for rent" from the drop down menu, and check off "has image." Then, scroll to the bottom of the page and click the yellow "RSS" button. This will bring up the feed and allow you to add it to your RSS reader. Try Google Reader or Bloglines, if you don't have one already. Just so you know, you can use this same method for looking for furniture, cars, or anything else on Craigslist. And, you can download an app to your Blackberry or iPhone for your reader so you can read listings on the go.
- If you're open to a range of living situations, neighborhoods, rents, etc., then your chances of finding a place are greater, but that also means you'll need to subscribe to more feeds. So go through the last step again until you've entered all the possible search terms and combinations.
- I have 118 blogs in my RSS reader (a lot!), so if I were apartment hunting, I'd want to compound them all. You can combine a bunch of feeds into one with FeedBlendr.
- If you're afraid to get dirty with an RSS feed, you can do it the old-fashioned way, by making methodical searches. Peruse Craigslist's various categories (apartments, rooms, sublets) the same way you entered a range of search terms. You never know: a temporary rental could last three years, or a shared apartment could be with someone who travels nine months of the year.
- Whichever way you'll be reading the listings, you need to do so routinely. Get up first thing and the morning and then look again every few hours. Set an alarm if you have to remind yourself.
- When you see something that you might like, click on the map link at the bottom of the CL page to verify its address (people lie about neighborhoods sometimes). Or better yet, use a Google Maps/Craigslist mashup like MapsKrieg, which allows you to see all the listings for your location on a map.
Stay tuned for tips on actually snagging the apartment you want once you've found it!