Renter's Rules

Apartment Guru: Make the Apartment Search Less Painful


apartment search tipsDear Apartment Guru,

I have been looking for a new place to live and it has been one ordeal after another. I know apartment hunting is hard, but does it have to be this soul-crushing? I don't have to move but I really want to. Any tips for how to make looking for an apartment less depressing and stressful?

I'd appreciate any insight you have!

--Just Looking for a Place to Lay My Weary Head

Dear Just Lookin',

Apartment hunting never turns out to be the Hollywood montage we all wish it would be -- complete with the unveiling of a claw-footed bathtub and that scene where the agent leads you to a patio overlooking the Pacific. In fact, more often than not, many of us find ourselves just hoping not to emerge from a place sweaty and smelling like garlic.

But I will tell you this, it doesn't have to be a roach-infested shit-storm either. With just a few simple tweaks to your search plan, looking for the place of your dreams can go from stained carpets to hardwood floors, faster than you can say "working fireplace!"

Step one is simple. Make a list of everything you want in an apartment -- morning sunlight, a window in the bathroom, outdoor space, a dishwasher. Then burn it.

Just kidding!
Although a lot of people suggest flexibility, I, as your guru, suggest you organize the list in order of importance.

Gabe Leibowitz, managing director of Above Ground Realty in New York City agrees. "Try to think of what you absolutely must have, like two bedrooms, or a dishwasher, and then a list of things that would be nice, like laundry in the apartment."

Leibowitz suggests you keep the number of items in your first list manageable, or else, he cautions, "You'll find yourself looking for a needle in a haystack, and quickly get discouraged."

While you need to keep your list in mind, don't forget to think outside the box. "I once almost passed up a place because the walls and floors were so ugly and gross," says Marni, a renter in San Francisco. "But the landlord agreed to let us paint and tear up the carpet. After the original hardwood was exposed and the walls were cleaned up, we had an absolute gem!"

Not all of us have that kind of time or gumption. But if a place is just dirty, maybe a little elbow grease might be all you need. Or perhaps you can convince the manager to help you because your solid credit is so endearing.

"Use open-minded eyes," suggests Marni.

Leibowitz also suggests minimizing the insanity of apartment hunting by sticking to one trustworthy broker.

"Don't hop around Craigslist, where brokers post all sorts of bait-and-switch ads," he cautions. "Having one hardworking broker who you feel comfortable with and who has your best interests at heart will take a lot of pressure off of you."

Also, don't be afraid to look at places out of your price range. After a while you might notice a few listings that are on the market week after week. You might be able to talk a desperate landlord down and get the place of your dreams at a price you can afford.

Finally, Leibowitz wants you to consider that just because an apartment is listed as "no fee" doesn't mean that the fee hasn't been absorbed into the rent cost, or by some other means, in order to seduce those dead set on "no fee."

On top of that, says Leibowitz, "A very, very large number of apartments can only be rented through a broker, so a refusal to look at fee-based apartments eliminates a large amount of excellent inventory."

That magical Hollywood montage is out there. It might include an extra flight of stairs or a spray can of Raid, but it's out there.

Now go find it!

Have a question for the Apartment Guru? Email her at: apartmentguruquestions@gmail.com
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