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Find Your Next Apartment in 10 Easy Steps

Apartment hunting is a drag. From the outdated listings to the unresponsive landlords to the apartment tours crowded with competitive would-be renters, there are few things in life less pleasurable than looking for a new lease.

Here are 10 tips from our files that will make your move efficient, quick, and relatively painless.

1. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute
You can’t hurry rent. Whether you’re looking for a studio in Milwaukee or a pied-à-terre in Portland, starting the search late will make for a harried, rushed, and stressful search. Not only will there be fewer available apartments left — you might feel pressure to say yes to a place you don’t really want.

2. Be Realistic About Your Budget
Get a feel for the market, then set a realistic budget. Keyword here: realistic. Don’t lie to yourself about how much money you make versus how much you spend and save. Depending on rents in your city, it might not be feasible to follow the 50-30-20 rule (50% of monthly income for rent/food, 30% for personal expenses, and 20% for savings), but it’s a good rule of thumb. Better to spend slightly too little on rent than live in the perfect place and have no money to spend outside of it.

3. Identify Your Priorities
Ask yourself: Why am I moving? Then be honest about the reasons. Maybe you like to eat out, and you like to walk to dinner. Maybe a 10-minute commute would drastically improve your life. Maybe you’re tired of living in a place with no AC. Whatever it is, make sure your new apartment addresses your actual priorities.

4. Use Online Apps to Search
You knew this was coming. But it’s true: Online listing apps like ABODO simplify the search process. We collect thousands of listings from across every listing service, and lay them out on an easy-to-use map. You can filter by budget, by location, by pet-friendliness — you name it. And you can do it on your phone.

5. Use Excel
It pays to stay organized. And you don’t have to be an Excel genius to make a simple spreadsheet to keep track of apartments you’re considering. Create columns for square footage, location, price, amenities… you name it. When a place strikes your fancy, take down the relevant information, so you’ll be able to compare places at a glance. (If that sounds like too much work, some listing apps — ABODO included — make it easy to save your favorites.)

6. See Things For Yourself
A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it can’t tell you how an apartment smells. There are so many environmental factors that are hard to convey in a listing, even with 3D tours and high-def cameras. That’s why you should always, always, always tour apartments in person. That way, if the place smells like a meat locker or the upstairs neighbor is the drummer for a punk band, you’ll know.

7. Find Flaws
It’s important to pay attention to the property manager during a tour. But it’s equally important to pay attention to what he or she isn’t showing you. Water stains on the ceilings? Sloping floors? Old, dirty linoleum? These are indications that the apartment might not be very well-maintained. Test the locks, the faucets, the windows. Does the apartment seem secure? You don’t want to move into an apartment that you don’t feel safe inside.

8. Interview the Current Tenants
For the best info about the building and the property manager, approach the current tenants. If you have time, talk to one of your potential neighbors. Ask them about their experience: Are problems dealt with quickly? Is the building well-maintained? How does the property manager deal with tenant disputes? You’ll probably get valuable insight into how the landlord treats his or her tenants — not to mention an early look at who your neighbors will be.

9. Take a Walk
When you sign a lease, you’re not just renting an apartment — you’re joining a neighborhood. After your apartment tour, take a walk around the block. How does the neighborhood feel? Are the lawns and building facades well-maintained? Are people enjoying public spaces? Is there local businesses, community centers, or public parks? Basically: Does this feel like a place where you want to live?

10. Sign on the Dotted Line
Once you’ve found a place you love — in a good neighborhood, in your price range, and close to community services you enjoy — you’re almost done. All that’s left is to call the landlord and put in an application. (Some landlords will charge an application fee, which covers the cost of a credit check). If you’re approved, don’t hesitate to sign on the dotted line.

Then pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath, and drag out your tape, scissors, and cardboard boxes. Congratulations! Now it’s time to move.