Finding an apartment for rent in a new city sounds like my worst nightmare. You don’t know the neighborhoods, you don’t know what commuting is like, you just know there is a better place that is cheaper and bigger and full of stainless steel!
This is an anxiety I cannot bear.
That is until I discovered an even worse mover’s fate: finding an apartment for rent in a new city… without actually being there. This, I have decided, is virtually impossible. The one time I had to try it I failed miserably and resorted to living in the vacant room of a friend of a friend’s brother’s friend’s house – “signing the dotted line” without being there in person was a hurdle the landlord and I could not overcome.
In this summer alone I have had two friends move from Seattle to NYC and Austin sight unseen. They too failed in finding a residence over the phone, and either stayed in the basement of an uncle until they found a place (in Brooklyn), or ended up being saved by the grace of a friend whose German boyfriend’s VISA was denied and therefore had a vacant room (in Austin).
For those of us who are not employed by high-powered companies that do all the leg work in a cross-country move and know no one on the other side: some tips so you can find the perfect pad.
That’s a shameless plug. But it is also true. Sure, Craigslist is one of the best sources to finding apartments for rent, but if you don’t know MCB from WYN, or that those are even areas around Detroit, you’re out of luck. By putting those places on a map, you can figure out which neighborhoods or suburbs work for you and your life.
Do some research
Get to know the city you’re moving to before you move there. Does that city have a blog that is updated? What about a specific neighborhood? Read up on Wikipedia or do a little Google-ing. If you’re moving for grad school or a new job, ask alumni or future coworkers their opinions on the best places to live.
Likewise, check out the reviews of apartment complexes and landlords if they are available. There are always going to be both pros and cons based on user experiences, but you can feel out the vibe of a place from what the people who have lived there have to say.
Skype it up!
When you inquire about rooms for rent, don’t limit yourself to just phone calls. Offer to meet over Skype or a video chat so you can a) show off your good looks and great personality and b) get a mini tour of the place to see if it’s to your liking.
Get a second opinion
Have a relative who lives nearby? Friend? Mere acquaintance? If at all possible, try to get someone over there to check out the property and meet any roommates and landlords. In pictures all may look dandy, but an impartial third party will be able to sniff out low water pressure and roach problems.
Don’t send money
They want first month’s rent to hold the place? Forget about it. Just don’t. Can you spell scam?
Try subletting first
Don’t lock yourself into a one-year lease if you don’t have to. Check out rooms for rent, or look under sublets for one or two month commitments that will let you get a feel for a new city and all it quirks. You can live out of your boxes and sleep on the floor for a little while before your set up your new life in a long term locale.
Bring a tent
If all else fails, and the weather is nice, you can camp.