Should I find an apartment without seeing it in person?
February 4, 2013 11:37 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to find an apartment in a city across the country in the U.S., before moving there. I am unable to see the apartment/roommates in person before moving, because I am trying to leave my abusive family and can't let on to them that I am leaving (Here is that backstory.). So, I will be doing the one-way ticket plan. I am having difficulty finding an apartment without seeing it first, as people prefer to meet potential roommates in person and when I mention to them that I can't see it in person (and suggest Skyping or videochatting to meet each other/see the apartment) I have had limited success so far and am wondering if I am coming across as a Craigslist creep. Is this the right strategy? Is it a numbers game, and I should just keep trying? Or, should I just fly there first and then find a place? Thanks for any advice.

Thanks once again for everyone's helpful suggestions about my last question (linked above the fold). I decided to get a sock puppet so that I could continue to post questions about this.

I have moved most of my things to storage, and while I am in the process of packing things up (without my family's suspicion) I decided to go ahead and see what the apartment listings on Craigslist would be like and familiarize myself with the process. I've gotten responses from about 1/3 of the 30+ people I've contacted, and most of them have been very friendly despite the distance of where I'm relocating from (2,000 miles away). However, only 2 of the people I've contacted have been okay with videochatting before in lieu of meeting/seeing the apartment in person, and I ended up not getting those places because there were others in town who were able to move before me, as I don't have everything packed yet.

I calculated costs, and it seems like it would save me at least $1000 to drive to the local UPS or Greyhound offices and drop off my items before I fly to the city I want to move to, versus paying a mover to move my things from storage to the city. I suppose the mover costs much more because it is 2,000 miles of fuel, and I hope I researched the quote correctly. So, I was thinking that it would be in my best financial interest to find a place before moving there, relying on videochatting to see the roommates/place. I also have some unique plants that I would love to take with me, and don't have anyone to ship it to me, so I was thinking after I found a place I could mail them right before I leave. (I love my plants, and would hope to keep them, but I suppose I may have to give them away if it comes down to it.)

Do you think it is a good idea to get a place before traveling there, given the financial benefit, despite the limited success rate I've had, and any safety concerns? Or do you think I should just bite the bullet and get a place once I get there while couchsurfing or hostelling and pay the extra $1000 for the mover to send my things?

I was hoping to live with roommates to have more social interaction in a new city and save money (as ideally I want to spend under $600/mo on rent, which is available in this city with roommates), but I could afford slightly more money (up to $800/mo) for a studio for two years, in case I am unable to find roommates. However, as I don't view moving back home an option should I be unable to find a job and run out of money, I would like to save as much money as I can and thus would prefer roommates. Do you think I should gravitate towards roommates or try to find a studio?


The city I want to move to is 2,000 miles away. It will save me $1000 to ship via UPS/Greyhound if I find an apartment and mail my items at local shipping offices before leaving. But finding a place without being there has been met without much success on Craigslist, and I wonder if I come across as creepy when I say I can't see it in person but would be able to videochat to see the place/meet in lieu of being there in person. And I wonder if it is safe for me to get an apartment without being there in person, despite any Skyping.

-Should I get a place before moving there, or after, and therefore pay the extra $1000 for movers to drive to my new city?

-Should I get roommates, or get a studio instead, since I can afford it (for 2 years) if I am unable to find roommates?

-Any suggestions on the plant issue?

Thank you once again for any advice you may have. It is really helpful, as I am a bit confused. Feel free to ask for any further clarifications.
posted by new_horizons_new_life to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Bringing plants into California is problematic, due to agricultural inspections, so give them away. There are millions of plants out here. I would move first, stay in a hostel or a Y or with friends if you can, and then find a place to live. Rents in SF are very high, and you will need a room-mate or 6. A mover will cost quite a bit of money--I'd ship via Greyhound or UPS, if possible. Do you know anyone in the area? Do you have an job prospects lined up?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:42 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First things first - a BIIIIIG round of applause for taking this step. Your life is about to open up in some amazing ways.

As for the practical realities:

One way around this is to get a sublet apartment for one month first, and have your stuff shipped to a storage place near that sublet. You can leave the stuff at that storage space and spend the month actually seeing people in person and getting a feel for where you REALLY want to live, and then when you find your for-real place you can move all the stuff out of the storage space (or, if you realize you don't need a lot of it, you can get rid of it/sell it/donate it/whatever). That also gives you time to find a space with roommates.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Under normal circumstances I am a big advocate of getting a 1-2 month sublet when you're moving to a new city so you can scope out neighborhoods and meet roommates and see places in person once you're there. That does impact the cost, since you effectively have to move twice. If you go the sublet route, you may want to put most of your stuff (furniture, off season clothes, dishes, but not things like your plants) in storage in your new city and only get it out when you find a new place.

Best of luck.
posted by rustcellar at 11:45 AM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Just before you fly out, ship your stuff to the UPS hub (or Post Office, etc) in your destination city, with your name on it. Call ahead to verify how long they'll hold it. Then pick it up once you've arrived. You should have a few days at least to secure a place of some sort.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:46 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Unfortunately, you probably do seem like a CL creep even though you aren't. You will probably not find roommates who will be willing to sign you on without meeting--it's too difficult to assess personality matches without the in-person interview. And honestly, do you want to live with roommates you haven't met? Go for a hostel, friends, or sublet and find a better place once you're there. And sell and give away almost everything--you will definitely find new, interesting, exotic plants in your new city.
posted by epanalepsis at 11:50 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, another idea. Do you have a friend in the town you're leaving that can help hang on to things for a while?

If so: here's how that could work -

1. You and the friend move everything into a storage unit where you are living right now. Leave everything boxed up.

2. You give the key to the storage unit to your friend.

3. You fly to your new city, settle into a sublet and find a permanent place.

4. When you find the new place, call your friend, and give them your new address and your credit card number.

5. Your friend ships everything to you via UPS, using your credit card to pay for everything.

And --

6. If you can't bring the plants into your new state, then your friend gets to keep the plants as a token of your appreciation for their help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:57 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When my friends moved to SF, it was nearly impossible to get anyone to consider them without actually showing up at the apartment. So they made a long weekend visit and hoofed it to as many open houses as they could, and still very nearly came home empty-handed. Oh, and many of the places they went to see had lines of applicants out the door. I don't mean to be discouraging to you, but the reality of the rental market in SF is sort of discouraging in and of itself. A visit beforehand, with a long list of places you'd like to see along with a route to get you to all of them worked out before you go would be very helpful.

In light of the above, I will second/nth the suggestion to try to find a sublet. It may be more expensive at first than living with 4 or 6 roommates (though I'm sure you can find sublets in places like that too) but it'll give you a leg up and a lot of breathing room while you search for a place to live.

Also, social networks in SF are a GIGANTIC help in getting anything done there. Even if you have one person on your FB who lives in SF, have them post something (in a way your family won't see) to their local network announcing your imminent arrival. Never know who has a spare bedroom needs renting or whatever.

Good luck! Good job!
posted by carsonb at 12:01 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: What is it exactly that you want to move? I would seriously suggest trying to get rid of almost everything, and then flying with the stuff you really need. You can buy new stuff. Unless you have super-fancy things it is very rarely economic to move stuff like furniture.

I think everyone above has given some decent advice but I think the missing option to consider is "get rid of everything you can't take on the plane with you." Paying the baggage charge will be cheaper than all the other options by a long shot, and it's generally not economic to move bulky items like beds and furniture anyway.

I would try to pare myself down to two bags. Actually, when I last did this, I got down to one huge rubber duffel bag (with backpack straps), one normal-sized garment bag which I bought because it makes a good subbag for short trips, and one small backpack. I checked both of the larger bags.

Sell/donate all your extra clothes, furniture, musical instruments, sporting equipment, cooking stuff, toys, etc. You'll need the cash and having the lightness of movement and being able to pull up your whole life in two bags and hop in a cab or on the train will probably be of huge psychological and practical benefit in the near future.

If you can't get down to two bags, can you perhaps have one large box of "not critical to have now, but emotionally important" stuff that you could leave long-term in a friend's basement till you get more settled? Photos, mementos, etc.?

That way, when you get to SF you can do temporary sublets and get your bearings, and you aren't committing to a long-term situation that might stink. Finding a furnished room on CL is generally much, much easier.

The whole situation gives you a lot more flexibility. You can blow into town and couch-surf or hostel it at night, and then search CL from a coffee shop during the day for a longer-term deal, like a temporary furnished room sublet. *THEN* you can find a real place, you can afford, with roommates you like, etc. Start accumulating furniture.

Seriously, get rid of your stuff. You will feel so, so much better.
posted by jeb at 12:07 PM on February 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You don't say where you're moving to. I live in Seattle so I'll give Seattle situation (which I imagine is similar in a lot large cities).

I've house-shared before. From a landlord/roommate's point of view, it's much better to have someone local. In Seattle, the housing market is very volatile. You can typically move in the same week, if not the same day.

If that sounds like your situation, consider:

1) Couchsurfing for a couple of days/weeks.

2) Short term housing. Seattle has Belltown Inn that is furnished, rented by the week, and in a central enough area that it'd be convenient to get to places (e.g. to find jobs). Parking would be expensive though. Any large city is likely to have something like that.

3) Look for university housing. Try to avoid scams. But if there is a large university, that's where I'd look. People who are used to university students are used to them being out of town until the term actually starts. If you look for grad student housing neighborhoods, you might have better luck.

4) Have a friend on the ground visit and vouch for you.

Also, if I were you, I would not keep anything except maybe two boxes of things. I've moved between cities (but not under duress) and it's just not worth it to move all that unless you bought expensive furniture (and even then, it might not be worth it).

The most important thing about moving is having cash. Cash for deposit. Cash for rent. Cash for food to tide you over until you find employment.
posted by ethidda at 12:07 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Check out the tab that says "General Delivery" on this USPS page. You don't need to have an address. You can ship it to yourself in the new city without one.
posted by Addlepated at 12:09 PM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: San Francisco is HIDEOUS for getting a rental. For sure, find a sublet for a month or two, the longer the better. AirBNB might be a good option.

I'd opt for roommates because you'll have insta-friends, or at least someone to talk to other than the cat.

I've scoped the hell out of places on-line, but I've always showed up to see them in person before renting. (The train-tracks in the back of the house...yeah, didn't see that in the ad.)

So sublet first. Then you'll have time to assess and see.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:11 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: People seem to assume you're moving to SF, so if that's the case (sorry if not!):

When I moved to Berkeley a few years ago, I scored a spot sight-unseen via phone interview, and the house I moved into has since signed on a variety of new roomies via phone or Skype. So, you might check out spots in the East Bay with easy access to BART...this will likely save you both money (rent is way cheaper) and a lot of pain (renting in SF right now is absolutely insane...I have a friend who's been crashing with relatives and looking for a studio now for MONTHS), and commuting on BART can often end up being as quick (if not more so) than commuting on Muni, depending on your work location and where you end up in SF.

I would also say that friend-of-friend-of-friend connections helped a lot when we rented to sight-unseen folks (though it wasn't absolutely necessary). So, even if you have vauge Facebook friends who live in the area, work that social network and see if they have a friend-of-a-friend looking for a roomie.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:14 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: - Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!

- Give away the plants. I'm sorry.

- Get rid of everything you don't need, or just leave it behind. Really.

- Do a hostel or sublet, whatever is cheaper.

- Mail yourself everything General Delivery as suggested above. Yes! It is cheaper!!

- Congratulations!!
posted by jbenben at 12:19 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the responses so far! I really appreciate it. Oh and the city is not San Francisco, but the suggestions about SF are still helpful so no prob, and I was thinking of SF/bay area at one time. (I don't want to post the city in case anyone in my family comes across this.)

Ideefixe: I do not have any job prospects lined up, but it is a big enough city where I was thinking, should I not find any service jobs, I could temp. I think that's my biggest fear thus far, is not being able to find a job, but I have enough saved to last me for 2-3 years. I only know one person, and she is an acquaintance. She is fairly new to the city as well but I think I may feel uncomfortable with asking her for a place to stay considering we don't know each other that well, but perhaps it may be worth a shot in case she knows anyone.

EmpressCallipygos: Thank you for your kind words. Unfortunately, I don't think I have anyone in my current town that I could ask for help, except for some former coworkers that I'm still in touch with. I'm not sure if that would work though in case word spreads at the former job about my personal situation.. Hmm. I'll have to think if there might be anyone else. That is a very good suggestion, though!

jeb: The main things I have that I want to keep/can't replace are my artwork. I definitely get your point about traveling lightly, and I think there's still things I can get rid of. I agree, the less, the better.

Thanks everyone! These are great responses, and I think Addlepated's "General Delivery" would really work. Feel free to post more responses, as I will continue to check the page. Thanks again!
posted by new_horizons_new_life at 12:23 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to get your boxes out slowly, there's another option that might be better than General Delivery. There are services that store your stuff and then send it to you wherever you want it. They all have different business models and pricing schemes but a few are:

Storage by Mail

Storage by the Box

posted by carmicha at 12:27 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Particularly given the difficult living situation you are leaving, it would be great for your next living situation to be stable, healthy, and supportive. To this end, I think you should put your emphasis on being able to screen potential housemates and environments, and less emphasis on bringing along your possessions. What do you think about ditching everything you own, except for the bare essentials, and leaping more lightly into your new life? This will give you more time, money, and flexibility to seek out a really nice nest for yourself. Fly out with a backpack and a duffle bag, set up temporary digs in an airbnb or sublet, and really do yourself the kindness of allowing time to find a good fit. Shift your mindset to screening *them*, not being the one screened.

I only emphasize this because sometimes people who grew up in abusive households don't give themselves full permission to exercise their full agency in making nice lives for themselves.
posted by nacho fries at 12:30 PM on February 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I would not feel good about renting a place without seeing it first and I would feel like even if you were the nicest person in the world and we totally clicked via Skype, I would still prefer to have a roommate who I met in person. I think you should consider getting a sublet for a month or AirBnB.

Also, I don't know where you're headed and if you trust anyone in this space, but if someone in your position said that they were interested in moving to my city (DC) and wanted some help/advice on finding a place, I would do what I could to help. So maybe someone here can offer a hand, or at least be a person on the ground for you.
posted by kat518 at 12:32 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Nthing "get rid of everything that you can stand to part with." You are making such a tremendous step in getting out of your horrible home situation, and can look forward to a new life! Think of getting rid of all your stuff as unencumbering yourself of negative energy and things that will hold you back. Stuff can all be replaced.

And agreeing that it's generally not do-able to rent a place sight unseen. You might try CouchSurfing to find a temporary place to stay. Once you are in your chosen city and have some kind of income stream - even a temp job - you will be able to find a more permanent living situation.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:38 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: In many desirable cities, it's hard to find inexpensive housing even if you can visit in person and you have a job. My suggestion, if you are having trouble, is to look at longer-term sublets (a few months, enough time to get a job before looking for a new place) or even the more inexpensive AirBnB places that are open to people staying for a month or two.

The downside to this is that most of these places will be furnished--I'm not sure what you're moving, but they probably won't have space for much furniture. Then again, you may be able to buy a lot of new furniture for the same cost you'd pay to move heavy stuff 2000 miles. That's an easier route and something I would suggest if you aren't especially attached to your stuff.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:49 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Just throwing this out there: why you are interested in this city? Are there other cities where you have personal connections? There are probably other cities out there with better job markets and lower cost of living than most cities in California. A Google search for best cities for recent grads (and variations) will give you other ideas.

Otherwise, have you checked what your college network has to offer (directory, facebook/ linked in groups, friends of friends. etc)?
posted by oceano at 12:55 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: If your new city is Phoenix, by any chance, me-mail me. At the very least, I could accept your packages.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:56 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Congrats!

Is your artwork on canvas? You can un-stretch the canvas, (by pulling out all the staples), then roll up the canvas and toss the stretcher bars. Buying new stretchers when you get where you're going is fairly trivial. (It'll force you to find a local art supply store!) You might crack some thicker areas of paint, but you can mend it.

Perhaps you could take a few small clippings of your plants and propagate them in your new city? It's rather poetic.
posted by fontophilic at 1:04 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I once secured an apartment, sight unseen, when I was on a different continent, so I think it is possible. In that instance, it was through a legit management company, and they were happy to save it for me, provided I wired a deposit to them. Obviously, in this instance, you would want to be sure you were wiring your money to a legitimate company, but if you find something in your price range that is professionally managed, I think it wouldn't be too difficult to get a place.

I think it is also possible to get a roommate via long-distance communication, but your chances are probably lower, and it may require a bit more effort. However, I have a number of friends who have done it - some by responding to room rental advertisements, and others by posting ads saying they were looking for someone to rent an apartment with - though it seems like something that is a bit easier to do when moving to a city with a high student population (there are a lot of new people moving in from out-of-state, in huge batches, who need to get a cheap place quickly before the semester starts).

In both instances, beware that there is always the chance of surprises. The apartment I got from out-of-country was great and spacious and looked like the photos...but had a fairly serious roach problem (which was eventually fixed, but ick). The suggestion for finding a sublet place/room is one good way to mitigate those surprises, since you are generally signing up for the place for a much shorter time than a 1-year lease.

I think you should do this by looking into all your options: look at studio ads by legit companies, start messaging people looking for roommates, look for sublet places, post your own ad stating that you are hoping to find a roommate so that you can both secure a new place, together, etc...*

Considering that you are leaving an abusive situation, I think you should inquire into everything that looks safe and affordable. I would be okay risking roaches for a 3-month sublet if I thought it would get me out of a bad situation, like yours.**

* I'd normally be okay with living with anyone as a roommate, but if I were trying to find a roommate while in another state, I would probably stick with women-only, or gay men. Because, you know, if you can't meet with someone, it's a bit harder to talk to them and suss out a vibe that might indicate they were using craigslist to, you know, get tail. Your mileage, and preferred gender, may vary.

** Oh god, I dunno about risking bedbugs, or how you might handle that, but you know, the risk can probably be mitigated, as well, if you are serious about leaving the bad situation you are in. Your safety trumps bugs, I'd say.

posted by vivid postcard at 1:20 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Does your new city have any women's residences? You can book a furnished room, in advance, sight unseen (at least, I was able to do so at a residence in New York--there are several here). That gives you a stable, reasonably priced place to live and receive packages until you find a job and a roommate situation.

Also, I assume you're moving soon because you're looking at Craigslist, but on the off-chance you're not moving until the spring, college dorms over the summer can serve the same purpose--temp housing that can arranged in advance over the phone/internet.

On the shipping note: FedEx office stores will hold items shipped via FedEx for a week in their stores, possibly more if you make arrangements. If you ship to your new address via ground on or near your departure date, you've just bought yourself 10 days to figure out what to do with it. But really, I agree with those who suggest getting rid of as much as you can and starting afresh in your new city.
posted by serialcomma at 1:22 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm pretty laid back about my living situations and while living in a nice place is nice I can make do with what I get, and I also have never had a roommate that I couldn't get along with at least enough to live with them (I've had probably over a dozen by now.) So I would probably be comfortable doing the sight-unseen thing, but if you are more picky than me (most people are, no judgement), I'd look into a sublet for a month.

I found an apartment sight unseen from 1000 miles away last year through craigslist (I was moving Providence, RI). I was looking through the roommate ads and emailing people and I was getting a lot of resistance since I would be moving in before they met me. Finally in a fit of desperation I posted a roommate/apartment wanted ad telling a little about me, explaining that I had a job lined up (that you don't is a strike against you), what I was looking for in terms of rent $$ and neighborhood, and offering to add anyone as a friend on facebook so they could check me out. Surprisingly (to me), this yielded the best results of anything I did. And it was a perfect fit in terms of roommates and budget and neighborhood, but most of that was luck, I think.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:00 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: I would probably consider you a CL creeper with all the sight unseen issues, HOWEVER, I would be happy to hold packages for a couch surfer and even host them for a week knowing the situation. Like others have said, knowing a city first is good before moving for real as well.

Consider checking out couch surfing because except metafilter, I have never seen a kinder community.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:08 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: oh, re: roommates vs studio. I've always found that roommates are a great way to make friends in a new city. Even if they're just the type of roommate that you exchange 'hellos' with if you pass them in the kitchen, it's really nice to have that bit of human contact when you're in a new place and are feeling lonely and isolated. Plus, rent is a HUGE place to save money and bolster your fun budget. If you fly out without your stuff and find a good roommate situation and save $200-300/month over living in a studio, you'll get that $1000 back in less than half a year and after that what you're saving is money in the bank. Or on weekend trips, clothes, food, whatever floats your boat. There are definitely people who hate living with other people, I'm not saying a roommate situation is ideal for all, but it doesn't sound like you're one of those people.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:20 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Consider using AirBnB to find a place for the first 2 weeks to 1 month. Then you can use that initial time in the city to find a permanent place to live.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:35 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Coming in to nth the sublet option. I moved to San Francisco from the UK without a job or any contacts. I tried to line stuff up before I left but, like you, had no luck getting anything sight unseen. In the end I booked a single room in a hostel for a week then spent that time scanning Craigslist for a sublet. I got a room right in the centre of the city for six weeks and after that found a longer term rental out in the Mission. I didn't have stuff to ship but if I had I'd have winnowed it down and stuck it in cheap storage until I was more settled.

I'm not the most social of people but my housemates ended up introducing me to a much wider circle and I even made friends with some of the people I met through the room search whose rooms I didn't end up renting.

The takeaway is once you get there things will work out, you don't need it all sorted in advance. You can totally do this, wishing you the best.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:00 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: Look for people in your same situation. I moved to a new city for grad school sight unseen, and also needed to find an apartment without seeing it.

In my case, it was a lot easier to find a roommate who also wanted to rent than to find an existing person to rent to me without meeting. I posted an ad on Craigslist saying I was moving for grad school, wouldn't be able to meet or be there in person before the move, and hopefully looking for someone else in the same boat. And I found another grad student moving from a long distance. We apartment-hunted from a distance together and didn't meet until the day we were moving in.

Yes, it was scary, but I got a good vibe from her emails and she was both responsive to emails and took the time to write about herself and ask me questions, which made me feel like she was a reasonable human.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:07 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: I recently did just what you are thinking about doing -- I found an apartment long-distance and ultimately decided to take it pretty much sight unseen.

There are a few caveats and concerns.

Firstly, it is pretty unlikely that someone on Craigslist is going to agree to have you move in, sight unseen. And anyone who would do so is probably not to be trusted. The apartment I found was through connections I already had, and I had a strong sense that it was a legitimate housing arrangement. Also, nothing was officially decided until I looked at the apartment. I would strongly suggest that you at least have some other options lined up rather than just taking any old apartment, sight unseen.

Secondly, I would not build your master move plan around the idea of getting any one particular apartment. You should move because you can, generally, afford to live in this city. Not because you could afford to live in this city if you were to get this particular apartment. Because it's really hard to plan anything that specifically. My housing situation worked out well, but I also had to buy a car, and I ended up spending a little more than I'd hoped there, and in addition to that, it turned out to be a lot harder to find a job than I thought, and well, it's a damn good thing I had some wiggle room in my moving plans.

Thirdly, I wouldn't do this simply because of shipping issues. There are a lot of ways to ship your things other than "drop at UPS before leaving" and "hire movers". You could put your things in storage for a while and have a friend ship everything after you have an address. You could ship directly to a storage unit in your new city, and then pick up your things when you have an apartment to move them to. You could find someone in your new city who'd be OK with accepting a bunch of packages for you, and ship everything to that address (I bet someone on Metafilter would even be willing to do this). You could use a service like Amtrak which doesn't deliver door-to-door but wherein you'd pick up your items at the station. You could just get rid of all but the barest bare necessities and start over.

I also have some unique plants that I would love to take with me

Ummmmm, no.

Seriously, even if you do find a shipping arrangement that works for you, you are going to have to give up a lot of your things, just in the interest of practicality. You really should not let something like houseplants dictate a huge decision like how to find an apartment in a new city.
posted by Sara C. at 4:32 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you go through a management company, particularly one that caters to a student/young adult population, they'll assign you a roommate or care less about your physical presence beforehand. HOWEVER I did this and I got stuck with a not-so-great apartment and not-so-great roommate, to boot. (In my case, though, it became apparent pretty readily that I hate living with other people, so even if she had been a nice, clean, courteous roommate it might have still been less than ideal. Only you know your personality on that front.) Another option might be an apartment finder, but they probably only cater towards studios, not shares.

I think no matter how you go about this, you need to have your living situation at the very least squared away for at least a month or two. Coming from a horrible family situation myself, I was willing to spend more money for stability than others may be, but it really, really, really, really, really helped to have at least one solid thing accomplished.
posted by sm1tten at 4:42 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: am wondering if I am coming across as a Craigslist creep

No, you are coming across as a Craigslist scammer. People looking for roommates get tons of email claiming to be from people out of the area. It's the lead-in for a bad check scam.

If someone is having trouble finding a roommate in person, there might be a reason for that.

A storage unit place might be able to handle mailed items, try calling around.
posted by yohko at 4:49 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: By the way, here's how I moved cross-country without having an apartment lined up 100% in advance.

1. I booked a bed in a youth hostel for the first few nights. I'm an experienced backpacker and have stayed in a lot of hostels, so this is what made the most sense for me. You might also look into Air BnB, couch surfing, or, if you have the money, a few nights in a hotel.

2. I'm an experienced apartment hunter and knew I had a strong lead on an apartment that was basically mine for the taking, so I only booked a couple nights. You may want to book at least a week somewhere. Subletting something temporarily while you look for a "forever home" also wouldn't be a bad idea. If you've never lived away from your parents before, this might be your best bet.

3. I made a really serious schedule of things to take care of in my first week, so that I could hit the ground running. I made appointments to look at some apartments, figured out a good car shopping game plan, got a GPS (which I packed in my carry-on), and used Yelp to find local services like cafes with wifi, IKEA, Target, etc. Because of the nature of my work I wasn't able to line up job interviews immediately, but if you're looking for a general service job or temp work, you may be able to schedule that, too.

Hitting the ground running like this isn't for everyone, but it definitely can be done. And in your situation, I think it's what you should plan for.
posted by Sara C. at 5:11 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: This is a wonderful story to read, I am so excited for you. In the event that your destination city is Boston I would be glad to help with anything that makes this easier for you.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:51 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please don't ask for any favors from anyone in your home town, especially coworkers, given your previous AskMe questions and your family situation.

Keep the door on drama and undermining from the dysfunction around you firmly closed.

Stay safe.

Again, congratulations and good luck!!
posted by jbenben at 8:26 PM on February 4, 2013

Best answer: I don;t know if this exists in the States, but there is a well known Gumtree (UK version of Craigslist) scam which targets people moving from far away: the landlord contacts you to tell you about a great cheap apartment which they'd love to rent for you, but they need you to sign the contract and pay the deposit/first month's rent now as there's 'no time' to show it to you and they want to get it let. Of course, the apartment does not exist.

Also, as someone who has houseshared for the past eight years - seeing flats in person is really important as you get a feel for the place. The worst place I lived in was one I moved into in a panic, and I should have realised it was a very bad idea when the remaining housemates there had no interest in talking to me or finding out anything about me to the point where I said 'Don't you want to know anything about me though?'. (I think I stayed there for about three months and would have left much earlier if it had been possible to arrange.) Another flat I turned down because the people there were more interested in watching the TV than the questions I was asking about the place - it didn't suggest they'd be friendly or engaging to be honest. Currently I'm living with a landlord who only communicates in sarcastic jokes - fine enough when was doing the preliminary e-mailing or had just moved in and could groan, but grated very quickly, especially when I was going through a tough time and the last thing I wanted to do was be the straight man in a pun routine. Especially if you're moving from a difficult situation, it's important to gauge whether these are people you can get on with or not. It is a LOT lonelier to be living with people and feel alone than to live on your own, so I think this is important to consider. Perhaps for the same reasons, people are less willing to let the room to someone they've only seen via Skype.
posted by mippy at 4:13 PM on February 5, 2013

Response by poster: Hello everyone, not sure if anyone is still reading this but I just wanted to say thanks for everyone's responses! I was so confused about the logistics of moving, but your suggestions have really helped me. I will go ahead and move there and hostel or sublet while I find a job and a long-term place to stay, and thanks for mentioning the importance of screening my potential roommates to make sure it is a good fit and healthy environment. Thanks again, I really appreciate everyone's support and responses!
posted by new_horizons_new_life at 9:05 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

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