Moving to a new location feels a lot like many other life-changing events: a mixed bag of excitement, anxiety, stress, and joy. But unlike many of life’s major milestones, the apartment hunting experience can easily be made more focused and less nerve-racking.
Timing is Everything
Assuming you’re choosing to move and not being forcefully displaced by your landlord, you’ll want to start making notes on a calendar as early on as you can. Make note of the day your lease expires and the day you must have everything out for your final walkthrough inspection. Ask your landlord if you can use your security deposit (or any part thereof) to cover your final rental payment. Honestly calculate how much time and money it will take to make your current apartment pass inspection without penalty fees. Assess how much time it will take to actually find a new place, especially if you’re moving to a new city. No matter what the specifics of your situation might be, you should always start apartment shopping early in the day, when any newly available units will have just been posted.
Money vs. Amenities
Moving to pay the same or less rent is much different than moving to improve your quality of life. The former is much less fun and more tedious, especially if you’re relocating to a place you’re unfamiliar with. You can’t really rely on the pictures and descriptions in listings, so use a search engine to find reviews of specific addresses and check out unretouched images of apartment interiors, exteriors, and surrounding streets. There’s usually a (bad) reason certain rental rates are significantly below market.
If you’re looking for more bells and whistles, narrow them down to the things that are most important to you. Dishwasher, covered parking, on-site laundry facilities, public transportation access, local nightlife, building security — any or all of these extras will likely cost you a little more, so be prepared to pay.
Let’s Make a Deal: Best Months
Even if you live in one of the 10 or so states where ice and snow aren’t prevalent during the winter, apartment shopping is still the most cost-effective between November and February. You’ll typically find lower monthly rates, move-in specials, and slashed deposit requirements during the winter season. These are also the months when many people generally prefer to nest in familiar surroundings. On top of that, many are too caught up in various holiday events and vacations to look for a new place during this time. The downside of this is that the number of people that will actually be available to help you move will also dwindle, but you should have no problem getting great deals with moving companies and truck rental services.
Moving on Up: Best Months
Logic largely dictates which months of the year offer the best deals here — it even comes down to certain times of the month. May through September is when most people move. People graduate high school and start or graduate college during these months, so competition is particularly fierce then, especially for higher-end apartments with more desirable amenities. However, if you approach the market armed with copies of your good credit report, deposit money in hand, and a glowing recommendation from your current landlord, you’ll have a a much better chance of striking a deal. Don’t be shy about haggling for perks like a free first month’s rent or a waived or lowered security deposit. If bargaining makes you uncomfortable, bring along a friend who thrives on deal-making.
Keep in mind that the summer months are also highly competitive because of the good moving weather they provide. Also, since most rental agreements demand payment on the first or last day of the month, and most tenants must give at least 30 days notice before moving out, apartment hunting three to four weeks ahead of your desired move-in date can give you an advantage with landlords who don’t want to leave their property vacant for even a day or two.
Various other considerations can give you the upper hand in your quest for the perfect apartment. Check out neighborhoods with new apartment buildings whose owners are hungry to fill empty spaces. Areas with high vacancy rates often tend to offer move-in specials like a free month’s rent or substantially lower rates for the first six months if you sign a year-long lease. It’s also a perk to move into a brand new place because you know that it hasn’t already been sullied by former tenants.
If you’re moving to a college or university town, start looking as early as possible. Since the majority of college students need housing from September through May, you may have to secure an apartment many months in advance or opt for a sublease.
You Must Remember This
Even if you follow all these guidelines, monthly rental rates are generally only ever lowered by an average of five percent, despite your most valiant efforts. Don’t hesitate to relish that savings, and remember that wherever you end up, it’s generally only a one-year commitment, so there’ll always be more time to find something bigger and better.