Scattered among the Craigslist advertisements for jobs, questionable meetups, and furniture for sale, are some amazing housing options. It can all seem really daunting trying to find your dream apartment on the internet, especially if you're moving to a new city. However, having been on both sides of the search, both as a renter and a landlord, I believe strongly that it's fully possible to find your perfect pad using Craigslist.
1) Do be very honest with your needs.
When my husband and I were looking to buy a place, we sat down privately and generated a list of our top five must haves. As much as I'd love to say that we got everything within our budget, there were a couple things that just were not going to happen without drastically ticking up our down payment. However, it didn't matter that our building didn't have a fireplace or rooftop deck since we got our big wish-list items, which were more contingent on location and building size. Finding your dream Craigslist apartment should be a very similar process. Make a list of your top five desires and put them in order. I hate to break it to you, but if you have pets or need a nonsmoking environment, those have to go at the top of your list. Landlords and rental companies have thought long and hard about their policies, and sneaking in a pet is the quickest way to ruin the relationship.
2) Don't forget to use your search tools wisely.
On the apartment/housing page, you'll be given the opportunity to complete a search form. As a general rule, I only view listings with photos. If they haven't posted photos, there's probably a reason for it: the place isn't as nice as they're saying, it's a scam, or the rental company can't be bothered to take a couple of photos. Craigslist still has some issues with their searching keywords. You might be searching for an amazing flat in Park Slope, but all that comes up is apartments near a park. Thank the housing Gods for the map filter, so you can search by location just by zooming in on your desired neighborhoods. If you're feeling extra tech oriented, save your search parameters into google alerts and let the internet do your apartment hunting for you.
3) Do take the time to write an actual email.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but the quickest way to ruin your chances to rent an apartment is to send a curt or typo-laden email. When I post my apartments for rent on Craigslist, I often get 20 to 30 emails the first day, and at the risk of seeming rude, I don't have time to deal with terribly written emails. I'm entrusting my property to you; the least you can do is take the time to draft a carefully worded message. Believe me, if you write an email that is error-free, polite, and tells a little about yourself, you will stand out from the rest. Essentially, you should put the same effort into your email for an apartment that you would for a job.
4) Do take a "test drive" in your desired neighborhood.
If you are familiar with the neighborhood you are hoping to move into, that's great. But for a lot of renters, they're looking to explore a new neighborhood or city and aren't quite sure where to begin. I'm a big believer of walkable neighborhoods, so I like to get the walk score of all the apartments that I want to send an email about. I also recommend going for a walk on Google street view, because while the apartment may claim to be "close to a train station," in actuality, it's backed up against the tracks and suddenly your dream apartment shakes every five minutes.
5) Don't come unprepared.
Especially in a competitive market, never show up to an apartment empty-handed. No, I'm not suggesting you bring them a bottle of wine (although I have to say, bribery would have worked on me), but it is very important that you show up with all the necessary paperwork. You should bring a copy of your driver's license, a recent credit check, a completed application (if one was provided ahead of time), and any letters of reference. Doing this might be necessary in certain housing markets, but even in a small town, it helps to be professional and prepared.
6) Do be chatty, but don't reveal too much.
At lot of the time, who a landlord decides to rent to comes down to who they like. So please, be chatty and sociable. Ask questions about the building, and if you're interested, show it. It was always perplexing to me to have someone look at the place, basically ignore me, make some snide comments about the paint color, and then ask if they can have the apartment. It doesn't pay to be rude. However, this is not the time for a therapy session. If you're looking for a new place because you've broken up with your boyfriend for the fifth time this year, maybe keep that to yourself. If you're only going to be staying there for a year or less, definitely keep that to yourself. It costs a lot of money and time to get a place ready to be rented by new tenants, and most landlords would rather rent to someone who is going to be there long term.
7) Don't skim the lease, actually read it.
I'm going to sound like the meanest landlord in the world, but I don't want my tenants to put nails in the wall. If they want to hang art, they need to use the picture rail and wire. I also don't want my tenants to do laundry at odd or late hours because the machine is loud and will wake up the whole building. Both of these restrictions are clearly stated in our lease, as is our right to withhold any amount of the deposit in the case of damage to the property. Read the lease very carefully, and if there is anything that is unclear or vague, ask questions. You have the right to understand the living agreement, but there will likely be some rules that need to be followed. If there is something that you can't work with, like you had your heart set on painting the place and the lease says no painting, either negotiate or move on to the next apartment.