Apartment-Hunting Season Returns: How to Arm Yourself
If you're on the hunt for an apartment right now, you've probably noticed that you're in good company. Each weekend, hordes of hunters arrive at the newest and most luxurious complexes. The apartment business is growing increasingly competitive in many markets, and leasing companies are offering tempting specials to sweeten the deal and lure prospective renters away from competitors. Working in this kind of "every man for himself" climate, however, requires a little prior knowledge before you begin your search. It really is a jungle out there. Afraid you're beginning your search too soon? Forget it.
It used to be that renters began looking for their next apartment right before their leases were up. Not so anymore. Apartments are snapped up almost as quickly as they become available. In order to ensure yourself as many alternatives as possible, begin your hunt at least six weeks prior to the expiration of your current lease. Apartment communities generally know what their availability will be six weeks in advance.
Research each community before you visit, and find out if it's even worth your while and the gas money. Find out rental rates and what they include. Believe it or not, some communities don't supply microwaves for their residents, for example. If you don't own a washer and dryer, it's going to make all the difference in the world to have one present in your apartment. Even if you love an apartment, lugging your laundry to an on-site facility is going to color your outlook -- and soon. Ask about utilities. While many communities pay for water consumption, some don't. Whether you stand to gain by paying only for the water you use remains to be seen. To help you get a good estimate of anticipated utility expenses, ask the community representatives for a ballpark estimate of monthly utility expenses. Then call the utility provider to verify the accuracy of that estimate.
It's also important to ask leasing agents if the community is willing to take any measures to help residents cut down on their utility expenses. Some communities go so far as to install a transparent screen on windows if residents are experiencing high electricity bills due to an abundance of summer sunlight, for example. Before you start your hunt, decide what's negotiable and what's not in terms of amenities. Then base all of your decisions on that list. For example, if a security system is top priority with you, don't be swayed by an otherwise great apartment. If having a security system gives you peace of mind, it's worth the effort to find another great apartment with a system installed. And you'll find one -- particularly if you live in a major metropolitan environment with a cutthroat-competitive rental market. Another point: If your prospective new home has particularly high community fees, ask yourself how often you'll really take advantage of those services. Are you a fitness nut? Do you need that fitness center? Do you need drive-through mail service? All of these amenities make life easier, of course, but some of us still don't mind doing things the old-fashioned (and cheaper) way. If your upcoming move is being prompted by an increase in rent where you live now, take a moment to consider the costs of moving.
Adding to your expenses will be a new security deposit, application fees, boxes and packing tape, moving service, and new phone service, among other things. Now, does paying an extra $25 each month seem awful? And if you're considering a quick move up the road or a few streets away, it may not be worth the expense. Should you decide to take the plunge and move, be sure you notify your current landlord, insurance company, post office, and credit-card companies of your upcoming move. And don't forget that you'll need to make revisions to your driver's license and automobile registration, as well. Plan to move into your new apartment on a date that overlaps with your current lease. A period of one or two days is a good guideline, according to Cathy Macaione, author of The Apartment Hunter's Survival Guide and the president of a multihousing company. Allowing yourself that time gives you a degree of assurance that you won't be rushed from your current residence into your next one. In such a scenario, items get lost, are broken, or you run out of time to do things like clean the apartment you're vacating -- which means you're going to lose part of your security deposit at precisely the time you could use a little extra cash. Moving is fraught with emotion and stress, and apartment hunters aren't immune. But doing your homework -- and starting it early -- is your best defense.