Whether you need to relocate quickly for a new job or your roommate backs out of a pending lease at the last minute, sometimes you need to find a place to live — stat. And it can be quite a predicament to find an apartment when you don’t have the luxury of time.
No one knows this better than New York, NY, renter Katherine Lisciani. “My roommates and I decided to move out of our Gramercy apartment, and I was so busy with work, I didn’t have time to find an apartment,” she says. “About a week and a half before our lease was up, my two roommates started moving out — and I had no idea where I’d be living. I was freaking out.” Lisciani did what any savvy New Yorker would do, especially one who specializes in marketing (Lisciani is the founder of Millennovation): She turned to social media. “I posted on Facebook, ‘trying not to freak out about my pending homelessness,’ and within an hour, my current roommate, Chanel, replied that she had an open room.” Lisciani visited the Brooklyn, NY, apartment, met Chanel’s other roommates, and moved in that weekend.
Although finding a New York apartment in a New York minute might seem near impossible, Lisciani is proof it can be done. No matter where you live, if you find yourself in a similar situation, take a deep breath, read these tips, and then hit the pavement.
If you need to lock down a place ASAP, apartment-hunt on a weekday. You’ll have maximum access to landlords and apartment inventory. Plus, if you’re looking at buildings without a doorman or on-site property manager, you might not be able to get a super to let you in over the weekend. And if you only have a week to find a new place, you need all the time you can get!
Although you may have totally bonded with your potential new landlord over your shared love of triathlons, it means nothing if you can’t provide documents that prove you’re a qualified tenant. Pro tip: Have your basic documents scanned and ready to email.
No matter if you’re apartment-hunting in New York, NY, or Albuquerque, NM, the paperwork you’ll need is the same: a clear scan of your photo ID, two to three years of tax returns, one to two years of W-2s, bank statements, and a letter of employment on company letterhead that states your salary, title, and how long you’ve been employed there. An employment letter can take a few days to obtain, so make sure to reach out to HR well in advance of your search. Trulia’s Rental Resume can also help you wrangle all this information and make you a standout candidate.
Aside from paperwork, Charlotte, NC, real estate agent Mike Sposato says to make sure you have references ready to vouch for you and that your finances are in order. “Make sure your credit is healthy and you have at least a security deposit and first month’s rent set aside,” he advises.
While it’s certainly possible to find an apartment on your own within a week, in hot markets like San Francisco, CA, and Chicago, IL, it often helps to work with a real estate agent or apartment broker, who have access to pre-vacancy lists and can take you into an apartment while someone is still living there. Finding these unadvertised apartments can be near impossible to do on your own.
Be warned, though: You’ll have to pay broker fees if you go this route. Lisciani says this is what prevented her from reaching out to an agent. “The idea of dropping thousands of dollars to have someone help me find a place was something I could not manage.”
Just because you’re on a tight timeline doesn’t mean you should forgo the necessary prep work to determine what kind of apartment you want. First, do your research — whether by Googling or actually walking the streets — to decide the exact one or two neighborhoods you want to live in. Second, make a list of what you can — and can’t — live without. If you know you need a pet-friendly building with on-site laundry, you can edit your search to make sure those criteria are met.
When you’re desperate, beggars can’t be choosers. Know what you’re willing to give up (do you really need a walk-in closet?) and what you won’t budge on (you need central air for your allergies). “As basic as this sounds, be prepared to make a decision quickly, and remember, this is a lease and not a purchase that you are making a longer commitment to,” says Sposato.
Lisciani says her willingness to move away from Gramercy, live with roommates, and be flexible with the space itself opened up her options. “I was open to whatever, but I will say where I ended up is exactly what I had in mind: It’s an amazing building in the heart of Williamsburg with a rooftop terrace, a gym, and laundry in the basement — which is hard to come by in New York. I would have certainly taken less!”
Don’t forget the old-school method of apartment hunting: word of mouth. “When we get stressed out, we often feel like we have to reinvent the wheel and do all these things by ourselves,” says Lisciani. “But if you take a second, breathe, and look around, a lot of times you can leverage your network or the people in your community. They are open to helping you find solutions.” Use the power of social media to post about your situation, join regional online apartment-hunting groups, or spread the word at work that you’re looking for a new place to live. “It’s not hard to write a Facebook status,” Lisciani attests.