I absolutely loved my LA guesthouse, but when my landlord decided to sell the property, I was thrust into the housing hunt. Regardless of why you must move, this hunt is never easy, especially if you live in a high-cost city.
You’re hunting for an apartment that’s affordable, but also charming and safe. Economic laws of supply-and-demand mean that a unit below its city’s average will have much higher demand — not easy to nab. However, if you treat this hunt like a part-time job, it will absolutely pay off. You’ll find an amazing place and save on what costs could have been, had you not searched smartly.
Here are a few tried-and-true secrets:
Run Your Credit Score
First, research your credit. Since it’s very likely that landlords will run your score, run it yourself first with a free site like CreditKarma.com. A high score will earn you more consideration for a competitive unit!
When applying for an apartment, you’ll be charged to have your credit checked, but sometimes if you show your printed-out score, that will satisfy the landlord, saving you the fee.
Now, figure out what the average rate is. Rentometer.com works great for this. Be specific to your favorite neighborhoods so you’ll know exactly how to spot a deal.
Next, start searching. You’re hunting for a secretly underpriced unit in order to minimize your competition. Hint: It won’t be found on paid-posting sites like Zillow.com or Apartments.com.
Craigslist postings are widely distributed, so good deals face ample competition. Give yourself an advantage by being the first to spot a posting and make an incredible first impression.
… if you treat this hunt like a part-time job, it will absolutely pay off.
RSS and Chrome Browser Alerts
Be the first to email, first to arrive, first to apply. By showing that you’re prepared to move fast, they may not even bother letting anyone else apply.
Better to cast wide nets than to make your search hyper-specific. You may want somewhere that’s pet-friendly or a certain size. However, I recommend only plugging-in your budget and preferred neighborhoods. Posters often don’t mention pet policy or unit size. You can parse that out in conversation, but you’d never have that conversation if you had filtered them out.
If you’ve ever posted on Craigslist, you’ve probably received vague emails from people expressing interest and then disappearing. Don’t do that to someone else. Canned Emails can help. Take time to craft one well-written email. In mine, I bulleted the following:
• A link to the original posting
• Backstory about why I was moving (It wasn’t for bad behavior)
• My desire to be a long-term tenant
• I’m quiet, don’t smoke, fully employed
• My credit score
• My LinkedIn page hyperlink
• A specific time I could see their unit
This was to personalize my outreach, establish myself as their ideal candidate and to see the unit quickly.
If the posting seems too good to be true, it probably is. Probably 80% of the posts I explored were frustrating scams. However, if you’re quick to spot scams, fear not. The tell-tale warning sign: if the poster won’t show the unit, the conversation ends right there.
• I-Moved-Out-Of-State Scam: The poster says they moved out-of-state, so they cannot show you the unit. They’ll try to get money or personal information from you.
• Come-To-Our-Office Scam: The poster says you must come to their office to pay a deposit before you can see the property.
• Run-a-Credit-Score Scam: The poster won’t show the unit until they check your credit via their preferred website. Since I ran my score in advance, I sent my own documentation. No surprise, the poster went silent.
As long as you don’t give any money or vulnerable information out, you’re safe. It’s worthwhile to wade through scammers because among the muck there are also amazing real postings. You’ll only find those gems if you are willing to deal with scammers.
Private Facebook Groups are powerful tools for sharing housing opportunities. They have strong etiquette codes which protect all members. Type “Housing” in your Facebook search, then recommended groups (like the popular Gypsy Housing) will populate. Ask to be invited into any that seem interesting. These are great for sublet and roommate leads.
Tell Your Network
Send out emails and social media posts to your friends explaining your situation. One friend responded that he was moving and his landlord didn’t like looking for new tenants. The landlord would give me a discount if I could move in as soon as my friend moved out.
Drive the Neighborhood
The landlord least likely to know the increased value of their unit is also least likely to post online. Drive through your favorite neighborhoods looking for hand-written “For Rent” signs. I found one $150 below market rate.
If you find an apartment and feel it’s “the one,” apply immediately, but while they’re researching you, research them back. Drive by at night. One studio I visited was in what seemed a sleepy family neighborhood. However, after talking to a neighbor, I learned the neighborhood was plagued with theft and gang violence. Research Crimemapping.com to get a feel for the area. If it doesn’t feel right, keep looking. You deserve to feel safe in your new home!
How did you find your current place?
Feature image via John Dunfee