Apartment shopping is often called a “hunt,” and it can definitely feel that way. Sneaking through the jungle of buildings, watching tirelessly for your prey: the perfect space to call home. And like a hunt, you often feel like you have to “pounce” to get the spot, leaving little time for comparisons or fine print. While moving too fast can mean getting stuck with some nasty unexpected costs or conditions, moving too slow might make you miss out entirely! Here are some tips, taken from behavioral science, to help you make the best decisions possible during your next search.
Shop While Smiling
Yep, that sounds pretty strange, right? But research shows that people make better decisions when they’re happy. Think about “retail therapy.” When we’re in a bad mood, we often will make rash purchases to help us feel better, only to seriously regret them when the credit card bill comes. Negative emotions lead to less thoughtful decisions.
How to beat it? Next time you need to shop for a new place to live, or make any major decisions, be sure to get yourself in a happy frame of mind first. Maybe that means doing some meditation, going for a run (exercise is a great way to boost your mood!), talking with a good friend on the phone, or eating a couple pieces of chocolate. A better mood will mean better decisions.
Be Savvy with Sales
When you’re at the store, looking at the oh-so-flattering pair of jeans, then notice the sign on the rack saying 40% off, what do you think? If you’re like me, and most people, seeing that little sale sign makes you feel great about buying those jeans. They’re on sale! It’s a good deal! And not just that, but I’d better buy them now, because the sale might end soon! And lots of times that’s all true. But sometimes “sales” are just a way to make you jump into a purchase decision without really thinking things through.
How to beat it? Just knowing this is possible will give your brain a little space to stop, breathe, and think. Do some comparison shopping before you go out so you’ll know what a place is really worth. Then you’ll know if the “quick sale” deal is really a deal or just a pressure tactic. Knowledge really is power.
Beware the “Last Available”
Just like for sales, our brains kick into overdrive when it thinks something is scarce. Did that property manager just say this is the very last available apartment in this neighborhood? And there are three other people looking at it today? I’d better sign the lease right now! Don’t fall into the trap.
How to beat it? The same way as the sales tactic: do your homework before shopping, know what you want, and don’t be afraid to stop, breathe, and read all that fine print.
Don’t (Blindly) Follow the Crowd
Is there an apartment complex in town that everyone is talking about? It’s got a pool, and a gym, and free hot chocolate chip cookies at the front door? Just like sales, all that talk cue our brains to act now, think later. Thinking that something is really popular makes us feel like we, too, should like this. We want to fit in, and we trust our friends, so this must be the best option.
This is totally normal. Humans have learned short cuts in our decision making. We don’t have time to be experts on everything, so instead we tend to watch what other people are doing, or eating, or wearing to learn what is “best”. Those shortcuts work really well sometimes – like looking for a crowded restaurant is often a good way to find a tasty dinner. But sometimes that shortcut just leads to mindlessly following the crowd to mediocre products.
Not only does popularity impact our decision making, but it can really drive up the price. When a property manager knows that people really want a space, they know they can drive up the price, and eager apartment shoppers will be willing to pay.
How to beat it? First, know your budget and stick to it. If the owner/manager tries to up the prices on you, know that you can walk away. Then look around. Again, knowledge is power. Maybe you’ll find a similar place with free cookies and ice cream at $100 less per month.
So, to make the most of your next apartment hunt: Get happy—meditate, exercise, or laugh with a friend before shopping. Know the market so you know what average rent costs should be and can spot a fake sale. Take your time; it’s okay to breathe, think, and definitely read the fine print! And finally, think about what you want, even if it’s different than what’s popular. Then, shop around to find what you want at the best price.
What tricks do you use to avoid getting pressured or help you find the best place? Let us know below!