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One more week to find a place
August 21, 2008 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Is apartment moving always this hard? For everyone? I feel like I must be missing something.

Apologies for this vague, panicked, ranty "question" but I really would like to know what I'm doing wrong and how to avoid this in the future. As far as I can tell, the process goes like this:

-Most openings don't start getting posted until a month before the move-in date.

-Your existing landlord needs to be notified in advance, so you're already committed to moving out.

-The vast majority of places require a $30-$50 credit check fee per person, non-refundable, guaranteeing nothing, before you're even in the running. Which severely limits how many places you can apply to unless you have a lot of money to throw away.

-At least four other people have applied at each apartment. Some of them have better credit and references. Eventually you find out that the places you applied at have all been giving to someone else.

-You start checking prices of self storage units and calling in your couch-surfing favors and hope next month goes better.

Except I don't think the last step is part of the standard procedure for most people. So what am I missing?
posted by squidlarkin to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
"So what am I missing?"

The concept of "paying double rent." Seriously, you're missing that concept in your plan. Start looking at places to move to before you give notice. Take a shot at them. Land one (or not; in which case try again for the next month). Pony up for it. Give notice. Move. Since you paid first/last/deposit on your old place anyway, you're not really paying double rent so much as paying rent on your new place instead of your old place.

"$30-$50 credit check fee per person"

That's insane. No sale. If they want a copy of credit records, your ten bucks to print one out and 5c a page at the copy shop are way more cost effective.
posted by majick at 3:13 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most people don't live in such a competitive housing market. I've never had steps 4 or 5 happen. Actually, I've only rarely had step 3 happen.
posted by desjardins at 3:13 PM on August 21, 2008


After a few experiences very similar to what you are describing, I too now suck it up and pay double rent. It's really and truly worth the freedom to take your time to find the perfect place and not constantly feel about (or actually be) a step away from homelessness.
posted by vodkaboots at 3:21 PM on August 21, 2008


majick, that makes a lot of sense for a month-to-month lease. But what if your landlord is insisting that you renew for a full year or get out?

Most people don't live in such a competitive housing market.

That is certainly true. Gosh, though, there sure are a lot of condos for sale. *sigh*
posted by squidlarkin at 3:23 PM on August 21, 2008


Something I do is look for or negotiate for longer lease arrangements if I like the place (never, ever do this with a basement!) or I will try to pay my rent forward two or three months in the beginning. Landlords love that
posted by parmanparman at 3:23 PM on August 21, 2008


Most people don't live in such a competitive housing market. I've never had steps 4 or 5 happen. Actually, I've only rarely had step 3 happen.

This, exactly.

And the two times I lived in places with tight housing, I found a place by word of mouth. I told everyone I knew I needed a place, and the first time I found a friend of a friend who was moving and the landlord was happy to transfer the lease; the second time the friend of a friend was a landlord who was happy to rent to someone his friend recommended.

Make sure you've exhausted your "human capital" before you start sleeping in the storage locker.

Also, even in renters' markets, where there are lots of places available, sometimes paying double rent is inevitable in my experience, just because of when a place becomes available and the date you agreed to move out and so on.
posted by Forktine at 3:28 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


majick, that makes a lot of sense for a month-to-month lease. But what if your landlord is insisting that you renew for a full year or get out?

What do you mean? You need to start two or three months before your current lease ends. Here's the timeline:

You need to move out of Apartment A on December 31, and give 30 days notice on November 30. Start looking for Apartment B on November 1st or earlier, with a target move-in date of November 30th or earlier. Yeah, you will have to pay for two apartments for the month of December, but then you'll have two or three chances to move out by December 31st, rather than the one chance you have now.

Or, yeah, like desjardin says, move somewhere with a less competitive market. I've never payed an application deposit on an apartment that I couldn't move in to a few weeks later.
posted by muddgirl at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


squidlarkin, the DC rental market is just like you've described, but you've gone all the way through a worst-case scenario. I'm currently trying to avoid double rent if at all possible, myself. There are some earlier postings but not a ton here. I need to move by Oct 1, and almost all of the postings now are for Sept 1. There are still some for August, even. This is only my second time looking for a place in the DC market, so it's possible that people more experienced in renting in fast-paced markets than me have better tactics than I do.

I try to avoid the big complexes but one thing to try is a company that owns properties across town. They might have an upcoming vacancy if a current vacancy falls through for you, and you might be able to get the first application in for a similar place next month.

To give people in slower markets a feel for it, I responded to a Friday afternoon ad last week within an hour of its posting on Craigslist. I asked to come see the apartment; she and I agreed to Sunday afternoon. When I arrived Sunday, she had a small pile of applications left by people who were interested. One weekend. Half a business day. And it's probably over. She was going to hand them over to the landlord Monday morning.

I didn't like the place enough to apply, but damn, it's fast here.
posted by Tehanu at 3:35 PM on August 21, 2008


I've never paid for a credit check before I was the top potential renter, and I'm in the San Francisco area.
posted by salvia at 3:39 PM on August 21, 2008


@Tehanu: Absolutely true - i live in DC too. I found the best way to find a place (my own apartment, not a room share) was either

1) Management company that can forecast its openings way ahead (and will have multiple apartments in the same building or in other buildings)
2) Basement apartments rented by a homeowner who were much more likely to like you based on personality. That's how I landed my current one.

Either way - yes, generally you need to pay two rents for a month. Or at least a few weks.
posted by waylaid at 3:44 PM on August 21, 2008


I'm also a renter in Seattle, and I agree it can be crazy. The apartment I am in now had 20 applicants. My hint is to find a place you really like and offer to pay a bit more than what the landlord is asking. I offered an extra $50/month and basically got the apartment on the spot.
posted by shrabster at 3:45 PM on August 21, 2008


You might want to look at places rented by larger apartment management companies, so if you get approved and the particular place is gone you can look at their other properties. Another option is to check out sublets (people looking for someone to take over their lease/start a new lease). Those are generally as-is (no new coat of paint), but sometimes they have less applicants.
posted by ejaned8 at 3:48 PM on August 21, 2008


Forktine is right...ask everyone you know to be on the lookout for an apartment opening up.

I've also had luck cruising craigslist 24 hours a day and making the very FIRST appointment to see a place...and if I like it, start making formal arrangements with the landlord before I leave that day. (If you know what's available in your area, this can be an easy thing to determine quickly.)
posted by phunniemee at 3:49 PM on August 21, 2008


You should check your local rental laws to make sure that your landlord can't refuse to offer you a month to month lease after the initial lease term runs out.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:55 PM on August 21, 2008


I property manage two homes and I don't charge for credit reports. I still have black memories of dropping multiple checks for $25-40 on the outside chance I might get to rent a place. It gets a nice reaction every time, which tells me it's a big problem for potential renters.

However, due to new privacy laws, it's absolutely heinous trying to get a report now. I have to pay to have someone come out and check my home office to make sure I have a locking file cabinet and the process is lengthy. Probably good in the long term, but it can feel like airport security when you're in the middle of it. I'm thinking next time around to ask people to pull their own free report and provide me with a copy. You might offer this in lieu of paying the fee.
posted by letitrain at 4:20 PM on August 21, 2008


I moved three times in 14 months after being in the same place for 12 years. I got all three places that I applied for first time out. When I went to show up to look at the apartments, if I liked them, I handed the landlord an envelope. In it were:

1. Letters from past landlords/neighbors/clients praising me to the heavens. After getting permission, I wrote them, the appropriate person read and signed them.

2. A sheet I titled "Renter's Information" which contained everything one would want on a normal application. However, it was typed (my handwriting blows).

3. A letter explaining my "situation" in which I spelled out what I was like (for instance, at the time I was self employed and I stated this along with the positives involved in that (I'm home all the time, which means my dog doesn't bark and I keep the place safe, etc.)) and how I behave as a renter. For instance, I prefer to give a year's worth of predated cheques each January, etc. etc. Basically, anything I can say positive about myself as a renter was in this letter.

As each landlord approved me they all commented on my preparation. Two later confessed that, due to the prep, they didn't bother with the credit check as they found me trustworthy and the cost of the check was better off in their pocket.

I have never had to pay for a credit check from any landlord I've applied to and I live in a relatively competitive rental market (Toronto). Were a potential landlord to request such a thing from me, I'd put it bluntly that I didn't like the idea and that I'd pass. However, I'd also leave them one of my envelopes. I think the contents, and the ability for them to verify my reference letters, may convince them I'm worth a shot.

Also, I agree with the poster above... I paid rent in my past and current apartment for the overlap month. It's worth it to do that to get an above average place.
posted by dobbs at 5:21 PM on August 21, 2008 [11 favorites]


You might also have missed the concept that the move-in date is negotiable. In my experience the advertised move-in date means the date on which the earliest move-in is possible, not the date on which you have to move in. This might not apply in a heavily competitive rental market, though.
posted by Jabberwocky at 5:29 PM on August 21, 2008


Everyone here has good advice, but emphatically second the concept behind phunniemee's comment. You have to aggressively pursue each prospect single-mindedly, no delay. As soon as you find a place you like, be ready to write the check on the spot. In a tight rental market, you really have to make up your mind the second you see the place. There's no time to think it over.
posted by footnote at 5:31 PM on August 21, 2008


That's the strategy I'm using now, despite having to worry about the approval of both of my future roommates. Just wish we'd realized how necessary it was earlier.
posted by squidlarkin at 5:50 PM on August 21, 2008


I will note that the paying double rent for that extra month only works in non-college towns. In Boston 70% of the rentals are Sept 1st rentals and they other 29.95% are June 1st rentals, and landlords will not move them unless they absolutely have to. And in those types of markets it really is a volume sort of thing. We have a dog and we had to look at 30+ apartments to find one that we wanted, including losing out on one nice one that the landlord showed for exactly 1 day and had like 10 different couples there to look at the place during the few minutes we looked at the place. So it really really sucks, but in tight markets you have to look at every single place you can, even if that means you have no life (besides apt. hunting) for a month. It does really really really really suck.
posted by JonahBlack at 5:50 PM on August 21, 2008


"what if your landlord is insisting that you renew for a full year or get out?"

By the time you're near the end of your lease, it's too late to look for a new place unless you REALLY get lucky. You have to plan ahead. Let's say you sign a year lease today, but by winter, you decide you can do better elsewhere. You need to start looking by May of 2009 so you can have something lined up by August.

The worst I ever had to do was pay to rent two apartments at the same time for a month and a half - but oh my god was it worth it since I landed an awesome new place.

Also, I'll second footnote's comment regarding phunniemee's comment, which probably means I'm thirding...? This advice is 100% dead on!: "You have to aggressively pursue each prospect single-mindedly, no delay. As soon as you find a place you like, be ready to write the check on the spot. In a tight rental market, you really have to make up your mind the second you see the place. There's no time to think it over."

In a tight market, you don't get to comparison shop for an apartment. Be prepared to tell the person showing you a place "I'll take it!" Or be prepared to pass.

Good luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 7:37 PM on August 21, 2008


Where I went to college you had to start looking in March for the following year. That is seven freakin months ahead of time. Even the slackers usually had a deposit in on a place no later than May 1st for a Sept 1 move date. It was a nightmare and resulted in my renting two places sight unseen in a 4 year period. One was awesome and one was a shanty but I thought that was pretty good odds.

Anyways my secret apartment hunting tip from that era: be nice to old people and bring all your references and a deposit with you. Old people own tons of rental property and so do their friends and they don't typically hassle with credit checks (99% of those $35 dollar fees go straight into the rental agents bank account) or all that new-fangled stuff. And they rarely raise the rent. Bringing your deposit check, bank statements and references in hand makes it much more likely you can close the deal there and then no matter who you're trying to rent from.
posted by fshgrl at 7:55 PM on August 21, 2008


It usually takes me months to successfully move into a place. The lag time usually involves setting up services, a slow-ass landlord, problems with services once installed, buying groceries (you forget how much stuff you really use when you move), and the general bumbling around trying to find your way that goes along with a new environment. Like, the bath is too small, or the pressure isn't what you are use to, so you have to buy a new showerhead, etc.

I usually set up an "on-deck" storage space as an intermediary between my two locations. It is grueling, but if things go wrong somewhere in the chain you are on a fairly level plateau. Overlap is key. Moving out on June 31 and moving in on August 1 is more trepidation than I would be willing to bear.
posted by plexi at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2008


Oh, also, check the laws in your city/state/province. Where I live, after you've lived in a rental for 12 months on a lease, it automatically converts to month to month, even if you sign a lease. The lease is rendered invalid, basically.
posted by dobbs at 12:18 AM on August 22, 2008


I've rented in college markets, where you need to find a place (not look, sign) 6 months in advance and declare your intention to stay or not at the current place 4 months in advance or more. Nowadays I rent in DC, which has completely different rules and strategies. I see advice for both types of markets in this thread, but I do not think everyone is clearly distinguishing between advice for different market types. The month you're looking to move is 4-6 months too late to be searching in a market where most of the leases are in synch and start on one of two months of the year. In contrast to that, you're simply not going to find many listings at all more 1-2 months in advance of your intended start date in a market with really fast turnover. I see some October listings now for DC on Craigslist, but they're still mostly out in the suburbs. Most of the city listings are for places to rent in Sept 1 or ASAP in August.

I went to look at an apartment last night, in response to an ad that appeared yesterday afternoon on Craigslist. 2 applicants ahead of me by 7 pm. $45 application fee, payable in cash on the spot, refunded if the apartment goes to someone else first. And these people were more lenient than most landlords I have met here. It's very different from when I was renting in a college town and the good places were all gone in April for Aug 1 leases. In that market, there was no way not to move out July 31 and in on Aug 1. Everything turned over on that date. In my current market, it's very different.
posted by Tehanu at 8:54 AM on August 22, 2008


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