Whether you’re relocating for work, moving cross-country to be close to your S.O., or just want to start fresh in a new place, moving to a new city can be challenging. But how do you go about finding the perfect apartment for rent in Boston, MA or some other city you know very little about? It’s almost seamless once you know the ins and outs of scoring a far-away place before you officially move.
1. How to find the best neighborhoods
The best way to find out what makes a neighborhood great is to visit it — and not just online (although that’s a start). “Take a week to tour and explore before making a final decision,” recommends Terra Andersen of NMS Properties Inc., a company that manages apartments for rent in Los Angeles. Make your search more productive by narrowing down what absolutely matters most to you and doing some research before you visit: If you can’t stomach the thought of spending two hours in a car to get to work, check out Trulia local maps to find average commute times and types. (You can find crime stats there too.) Although you might need to live a bit farther out to afford the rent, consider the drive during rush hour (both ways) to see if it’s doable. Otherwise, it might be worth it live closer to work and figure out ways to curb spending to afford a higher rent payment.
2. Find a short-term rental
If you don’t have the time to visit all the neighborhoods that meet your criteria before your move, put your stuff in storage and sublet for a month (or two.) Subletting an apartment will probably cost a bit more than just moving straight into an apartment with a long-term lease because of the storage fees — not to mention the hassle of moving twice! — but keep in mind that most apartment leases are for a year. If you make the wrong choice, that year could end up feeling like an eternity. Save some money by researching what average rents are in the area and negotiate what you’ll pay based on that. If you can, offer low. The person who needs to sublet ASAP will probably take your offer, even if it is a bit low; something is better than nothing. Pro tip: Ask about the potential to sign on for a longer lease once your sublease ends. That way, if you end up loving the place, you don’t have to start your search from scratch.
3. Ask about corporate housing
You don’t have to be a CEO to live in corporate housing. Corporate housing simply refers to a furnished apartment, house, or condo that anyone, not just company employees, can lease on a short-term basis. Of course, if you’re relocating for work, your company might pay to set you up in corporate housing until you find a place of your own. (Check the limits on how long you can stay put on the company’s dime.) If you will be paying for corporate housing yourself, know that it will probably cost you less than staying in a hotel would, but more than subletting someone else’s place. And if your company doesn’t offer corporate housing, you can still opt for a furnished pad while you make a decision on where you want to live long-term. (Trulia rental listings include a search filter for furnished units.)
4. How to do a background check on property management companies (and landlords)
You know that property management companies and many landlords will run a background check on you. But you might not know that you can screen your landlord too. What are you checking for? You want a management company or landlord to be responsive to your needs regarding repairs, to return all of your security deposit (unless it’s kept for legitimate reasons), and to respect your right to privacy. (If the property manager gossips to you about other tenants, it’s probably safe to assume there’s no privacy there.) Find out what sort of management is in charge by asking other tenants in the building. Otherwise, you might be in a situation where it’s time to break the lease on an apartment before you’re ready.
“Pay close attention to the curb appeal of the community and overall building upkeep, as this provides good insight into how the management company takes care of its communities and residents,” says Darla Dillon, interior designer with Cortland Partners, a multifamily investment and management firm. Ask about the turnover rate. Anything above 50% is high. A high turnover rate doesn’t always mean problems, but it could be a red flag.
5. Subscribe to local publications
Start reading about different neighborhoods by subscribing to local publications or reading online editions of newspapers or regional magazines. Check out the Facebook groups or pages for the city or neighborhood you’re considering. You’ll learn about local news and traffic conditions and where the best restaurants, shops, and parks are in the area.
6. How dumb is it to rent an apartment without seeing it in person?
Don’t rent an apartment unless you’ve seen it first — and don’t sign the lease online, either. Once you’ve signed, you’re committed. Contrary to what some people believe, “cooling-off rules,” where you get three days to change your mind on a contract, do not apply to apartment leases. If you can’t visit the area first or find a short-term housing solution, at least have someone you trust check out the apartment for you. Have them check “kitchen layouts, closet space, and storage areas, which should be functional and complement everyday needs and activities,” says Dillon.