6 Steps to Finding an Affordable Apartment

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At the end of this month Matt and I will be moving to Oregon. We’re excited to be leaving our hotel and live in our own space again, but haven’t loved the ups and downs of looking for an apartment. We’re not from Oregon and haven’t ever even visited Salem where we’ll be living. We’ve felt overwhelmed and frustrated at times as we looked for an apartment and agonized over what we needed and wanted and what price we were willing to pay for our wants. Needless to say we learned a lot by trial and error and turn over our findings to you. We hope these steps will help you avoid some of the pitfalls we encountered on our apartment hunting journey.

1. Determine Your Must Haves

  • How many rooms and bathrooms will you need?
  • How important is it to you that you have washer/dryer hookups in your apartment?
  • How important is it to have A/C? In Salem we were surprised to find that a majority of the units we were looking at did not have A/C. 
  • What amenities are important to you? Is it worth $50-100 per month extra to have access to a pool and fitness center or would you be just as happy paying for a gym membership with that money? Or could you buy your own machine with the money you’d save and then re-sell the machine when you move?

If you want to keep your monthly rental cost down, you may have to make sacrifices. Even just $100 extra each month adds up. Just think–over the course of a year, you will be spending an additional $1200 for access to these amenities. If the you know you’ll utilize the amenities then these extras are worth their cost to you. But, if you don’t think you’ll use them, consider finding a less expensive rental. 

2. Break Down the Costs

It’s generally recommended that a person spend about 1/3 or less of their net monthly income on housing. This guideline gave us a solid starting point on figuring out how much we could afford to pay in rent every month. Also, consider you may have other financial goals or aspirations which limit that to a smaller percentage of your income.

Look at your budget before you begin looking for an apartment. You can adjust it later if necessary, but start with a dollar amount that you are willing to spend first. Now take into account the other costs associated with renting. As you look at listings take note of the following about each property:

  • Are some utilities included? Some landlords will pay for the water, sewer, and garbage. Does the monthly cost include Internet access?
  • Is there an additional cost for parking or HOA? 
  • What other costs will you have in addition to your month rental payment?
  • How far away is the rental from work? How much more will you be spending in gas for a longer or shorter commute?

Get the real monthly cost of your favorite apartments so you’re comparing apples to apples. Then stick to your budget. If you don’t, the nicer housing can make it easier to justify spending more. And if you do fall in love with an apartment outside of your budget it may help you to ask yourself a few of the following questions:

  • Am I willing to eat out less to be in a nicer apartment?
  • Am I willing to spend less money on traveling, movies, shopping, and other entertainment to live in a better apartment?
  • What could I buy with the money we save on rent every month by living in a smaller or less fancy place?

3. Go Beyond Google

In our experience classifieds and property management sites offered cheaper rental options that websites like Trulia, Apartments.com, or ApartmentFinder.com which come up first on search engines like Google. We found a lot of cheaper listings on sites like:

  • Craig’s List: It sounds super sketchy I know–thanks to news stories about Craig’s List Killers–but on classified sites you’ll find small business owners tend to post less expensive monthly rentals for housing. This is probably because referral sites like apartments.com charge fees for listing rental properties. So look at classifieds first and while they are not at convenient, you’ll find great properties at lower costs.  
  • Property management sites were also a great place to find discounts and similar properties in your price range! 
    • If you can’t find enough pictures or a sufficient description of a property that interest you on Craig’s List or a the property management site, google the property address and other sites are likely to have more pictures and information, including referral sites like apartments.com.
  • If possible, talk to people in the area who may have leads on better deals.

4. Research Safe Areas

Ask/Take a Drive

Even if you’ve lived in a city for a while, you may not know everything about each area of the city. If you’re local, drive to the area and look around, ask co-workers and friends about what the area is like, and use some of the tools mentioned below to find out as much about the area as you can.

Use Social Media

Starting out we knew very little about the safe and unsafe areas of Salem. Matt read about a few areas and then reached out via social media to see if he had any friends who had moved to the area. It turns out he did. He was able to ask our friends about the area, and they were even kind enough to walk through an apartment for us and videotape what it looked like. They were also able to tell us more about the surrounding area.

If you don’t have this luxury because you are moving to a new area from out-of-state or out of the country, and don’t know anyone, I recommend using a handy tool Matt discovered on Trulia.com listings.

Use Trulia’s Anything You Could Ever Want to Know About an Area Tool

Trulia may not have as many listings as other sites, but they put together a tool that is invaluable in your apartment search. When we began looking for apartments, we pulled up neighborhoodscout.com to look at crime rates and Google maps to calculate Matt’s commute time. These sites were helpful, but Trulia has managed to merge them into a handy tool that combines almost anything you could ever want to know about your area into one easy-to-use tool and it’s free when you sign up for an account on their website. I included a screen shot of the tool bar that superimposes the information about crime, schools, your commute, etc. over the map of the area you’re moving to.

trulia moving tool
Trulia.com tool used to display invaluable information about the neighborhoods in which you’re moving

Here are a few examples of the helpful data we found on Salem, Oregon:

 

If you have a minute check out your area on Trulia.com and see what the crime stats and hazards are near you. Based on your experience, how accurate is the map of your area? Please let me know in the comments below.

Matt and I are not sure of the accuracy of the tool yet, but if the data is accurate, it is incredibly helpful. We’ll keep you posted on if our neighborhood is crime-ridden as soon as we get there. 😉

5. Look at Apartments One Month in Advance

If you look earlier than a month in advance, you’ll likely end up paying extra fees to hold the apartment. If you are particular, this peace of mind could be worth the extra fees. However, consider that most land lords only get one month’s notice that their current tenant is vacating, and may not even know if their units will be available two or three months in advance. Looking one month in advance allows for some flexibility and gives you a better idea of what units will actually be available in your time frame. It also gives you time to see how competitive the market is and snatch up a place if units are turning over quickly.

Watch the listings. You may find prices drop over time. If you notice listings are only up a couple of days call about a property as soon as you see it and then put in an application before looking at the unit and signing the rental agreement. Doing this will reserve your spot in line. Plus, many property managers are willing to refund your application fee if another renter’s application is approved before they get to yours. Just be sure their application fees are refundable before you take this approach.

5. Keep a Record

Use a Google or Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the places you’ve checked out, their prices, features, amenities, availability, and why they did or didn’t make it to the top of your list. If you don’t, you may find yourself looking at the same listings over and over again wondering why the unit wasn’t right for you the first time you viewed it.

6. Be Patient and Persistent 

Don’t get discouraged! It will take time, plenty of phone calls, and a few applications until you find the right apartment for you. But if you consider what you need in advance, break down the costs, research the area, give yourself a month, keep a record, and try to be patient, you’ll be sure to find an apartment with what you need at the right price.

1/8/17- Update- The neighborhood our apartment is in seems great, but unfortunately we don’t live in it yet because we are waiting for all our stuff from the storage units to arrive. But as far as crime goes, we met a cop at the church and he let us know that where we are living should be fine.

 

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