When it comes to apartments, it's as if the internet was not made for searching
July 12, 2011 2:33 PM   Subscribe

What tips can you give me for apartment searching, given that I'm moving to Northwestern Washington (the state) and am currently 750 miles away?

I plan on moving in September, but I'll be traveling up there to find an apartment at the end of this month. This will actually be the fourth time I've done a long-distance apartment search, but I've never, ever felt successful at it. I want a better system.

My major problem is I just don't see how to use the tools that are available online to make a good plan-for-action once I'm there. All the apartment webpages I know of are horribly designed, terrible to use, and freeze my system up regularly (I'm talking about sites like apartmentguide.com, apartments.com, etc). I have no idea how to search by neighborhood, rather than unclear "Within 5 miles of this zip code" parameters. Heck, I don't even know how to figure out what neighborhoods I may want to be in! I have no idea what information is useful to have once I'm there, or how to get it ahead of time.

Usually, I end up with a list of apartment complexes to check out -- the list usually takes forever to form (see my complaint about webpages above) and isn't that useful. Then I just drive around randomly until I find something that seems suitable. This is a plan that doesn't really work well, given how I never start out with any idea of where to start driving around randomly. In the end, I've never once been better off for all my preparations. So, what can I do differently? What advice can you give me? How can I best prepare for a successful apartment search?
posted by meese to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you be more specific? Where in NW WA? Seattle? Tacoma? Everett? Forks?
posted by valannc at 2:40 PM on July 12, 2011

Response by poster: Bellingham, specifically.
posted by meese at 2:43 PM on July 12, 2011

The last time someone posted this question, someone added a link to Padmapper , which I have found incredibly useful in Minneapolis. Depending on where you're trying to move, YMMV.
posted by Sphinx at 2:52 PM on July 12, 2011

Response by poster: The last time someone posted this question

Can you link? I tried searching, but (adding to the "I suck at searching" theme of this question) I didn't find anything.
posted by meese at 2:53 PM on July 12, 2011

Have you looked at padmapper? It won't help with "Will I like this neighborhood?" but it's clean and loads quickly. I think it pulls only from craigslist.
posted by rtha at 2:53 PM on July 12, 2011

posted by rtha at 2:53 PM on July 12, 2011

I can't find the askme in question, and like an idiot I didn't favorite it.

Yeah, Padmapper pulls from craigslist, but at least in my area, it also pulls from rent.com as well as having actual renters sign up to their site.
posted by Sphinx at 2:56 PM on July 12, 2011

Padmapper is fantastic. Also, if you have any good friends in the area, it's immensely helpful if they can give you neighborhood advice, and maybe even tour a couple of prospective apartments if they're very good friends.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:10 PM on July 12, 2011

I lived in Bellingham for six years and have about a zillion friends there still. It's the place, all things being equal, I would still live if I could. Awesome spot. Congrats!

The Bellingham Herald is the local daily paper, and the Cascadia Weekly the alt-weekly. Both have classifieds. You might try that in addition to Padmapper and Craigslist.

You can also feel free to hit me up via the email in profile, and I'd be happy to answer any questions about neighborhoods, put you in touch with folks, etc. Have fun.
posted by jeffmshaw at 3:20 PM on July 12, 2011

Found the link, meese:

Where to look for an apartment in Los Angeles.

Probably not gonna find much help, but good luck.

/Meese! - My favorite musical.
posted by Sphinx at 3:53 PM on July 12, 2011

Two ways to get advance info on neighborhoods.

1. If you went to college, go to your university alumni site and search the alumni database for people who live in Bellingham. Contact them and ask for advice on neighborhoods. Give them your criteria and contact info.

2. Email a couple of real estate agents and ask your questions. They will know the rental market and all about neighborhoods. A good agent will be happy to give you advice even if you are not a buyer.

Bellingham is a lovely place. I hear they have a fantastic farmers market.
posted by valannc at 4:46 PM on July 12, 2011

I lived in Bellingham for six years and have about a zillion friends there still. It's the place, all things being equal, I would still live if I could. Awesome spot.

+1. I lived there for college and three years after I left, I came back to work for a then-local business class ISP (since sold to Verio/NTT). In college, I lived on Ferry Street. Walkable/Bikeable to WWU, and inexpensive. Afterward, I lived on Flynn, a block or two from Lake Whatcom. Rent was very, very reasonable, even for an apartment with a view.

I would easily accept a cut in pay if I could find a suitable job in my profession there. You have no idea how I envy you.

As for your search, you can try apartments.com, but no idea of whether this works for you. If you are a student, faculty, or staff at Western Washington University, try their housing registry.

I used the Herald to look last time, but I rented a room from a friend locally for two weeks until I found my apartment.
posted by Hylas at 4:49 PM on July 12, 2011

Response by poster: Padmapper is better than even my wildest fantasies. Amazing.
posted by meese at 5:36 PM on July 12, 2011

There are several property management companies in Bellingham, and they should have photos and descriptions of their available rentals on their websites. The ones I can think of are Apex, Bayview, Lakeway, Son Rise and Landmark (Landmark has a reputation as slumlords). A lot of students pre-rent, though, so many apartments might not have many units available. There are a lot of postings on Craigslist. The university's paper, The Western Front, has LOTS of adds for apartments, particularly in fall and spring. There are also ads posted around campus, both for apartments and room sublets. If you're attending or working at WWU, there's several complexes right next to south campus, and the nearby neighborhoods are Sehome and Happy Valley. Downtown is also close (and fun), as is Fairhaven (which is really nice and pretty expensive). If you're not interested in living around students, the Meridian area is where the mall and other big box stores are, Birchwood is cheap and kind of crappy, and the Sunset/Barkley area is pretty nice (Barkley can get pricey). There's some nice buildings kind of hidden off in the trees on the east side of the freeway, but they're harder to find. Anecdotally, I found renting from the complex owner to be cheaper than going through a property management company, but I only found the building by just driving around. Feel free to memail me if you have any questions! The 'ham is great :)
posted by Safiya at 9:32 AM on July 13, 2011

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