Moving to a New City? 7 Tips for Finding an Apartment From Afar

Taylor Fisher | 2/16/21

Moving to a New City? 7 Tips for Finding an Apartment From Afar

Looking for a place to rent when moving cities can be stressful. You not only have to think about your budget and what you can afford but how you’ll find a rental in time for your move. Not to mention the frustration of finding decent roommates or the anxiety of scams because you can’t be there to tour in person. 

This can all feel overwhelming and might almost make you second guess your move. But with a little time, some diligences, and an open mind, you can come out on the other side happily settled.

Here are 7 tips to help you find the right place while relocating to a new city.

1. Research Local Market

Look into the local market to get an idea of rent cost and which neighborhoods would best suit your needs.

If you haven’t already, a great place to start is by digging into the details of your new city and what housing options really look like there. Some cities may have a variety of rental options to choose from, like houses and townhomes, while others may only have apartments or small studios. Look at the cost of rent for larger and smaller square footage, then see how that changes based on neighborhood or amenities. Searching for the average rental cost can help set your expectations and give you a solid idea of what you’re looking for.

Make time to look at neighborhood reviews. It’s important to take a step back and really picture what your life would look like living in that area. If you find a neighborhood you’re interested in, see how far you would have to commute for work or how accessible food will be by searching for local grocery stores. It’s important to factor in safety, transit, or even nightlife. Use Trulia’s “heat map” to see which streets have higher crime rates and might be riskier. Or even check out Walk Score to get a feel for what parks, coffee shops, or restaurants are within walking distance. Your move to a new city will go a lot smoother if you can get the lay of the land before you arrive.

And let’s not forget the power of local knowledge. Major cities around the world have subforms on Reddit and Facebook for visitors and locals to utilize. These forums are a great tool to ask people about neighborhoods and get advice from locals on what area might best fit your needs. Better yet, if you’re moving to a new city for work, ask your co-workers for guidance on places to live. Even though your answers may be a google search away, don’t underestimate the value of a local's opinion, it could ultimately save you from overpaying in rent.

2. Budget

Figure out how much you can afford in rent every month.

Let’s be real, rent is your largest monthly expenditure and the biggest drain on your bank account. After you’ve done some research on your desired neighborhood, make a budget for your move and rent You’ll be surprised at how quickly everything adds up between the movers, truck rentals, deposits, and utilities. Stay realistic about what you can afford and plan for every moving cost ahead of time. You’ll find your stress levels stay much lower when there are no surprises to your bank account. 

3. Create a Wish List

Make a list of all the things you need and want in your next rental.

Once you figure out how much you can afford in rent, you finally get to do the fun part! Whether you’re searching for a rental in a new city or just a few blocks down, it’s helpful to have an idea of what you really need and want in your new home. Creating a vision of your ideal space can help you sift through countless listings, even if you don’t check every item on your list. 

Divide your list by the “essentials” (washer/dryer, pet-friendly, utilities included, within budget, etc.) and the “nice to haves” (fenced-in yard, granite countertops, balcony, no roommates, etc). Look at listings in your preferred neighborhood and keep track of the ones that check off the most items on your list. You’ll find it much easier and less overwhelming to sort through them based on your preferences.

*Tip for advanced planners: A lot of listings only show what’s available within the month, so you won’t have much time to plan ahead. If waiting until the last minute stresses you out, use a site like Alcove to search for rentals based on your move-in date.

*Tip for last-minute planners: If you’re looking for a rental to move into ASAP, Hotpads will show you what’s available for rent right now.

4. Prepare

Gather items such as your id, paystub, credit score, and checkbook. Most landlords will require this information in order to sign a lease.

It’s exciting when you think you’ve found the perfect rental, but the anxiety of reaching out quickly, so you don’t lose the opportunity is real. Once the right place presents itself, you can move things along swiftly by having some information already gathered. Here is a list of items most property managers and landlords require to sign a lease:

  • Proof of Income - paystub, tax return, or 2-3 months of prior bank statements to show income (if you are a student or don’t have a steady income, you will need a guarantor ready to co-sign the lease)

  • Proof of Identity- either a driver's license, passport, or green card

  • Credit/Background Check- have your social security number ready. Most property managers will run a background check for criminal history, as well as a credit check to make sure your credit score isn’t below their standards. **Do Not give your SSN to an individual landlord unless you can see every instance in which it is used and can guarantee every document with that sacred number is shredded. Offer to provide your own credit report so you don’t have to share that number with them. It is much safer providing this information to a trusted property management company than an individual landlord. **

  • References- most property managers require 2-3 references from past landlords, so be prepared to provide your most recent rental names, addresses, and contact information.

  • Vehicle Registration- If you plan on bringing a car with you some landlords will need your car’s registration to make sure the vehicles parked at the property are in fact tenants and not random or suspicious.

  • Checkbook- be prepared to pay for the security deposit AND your first month’s rent. **Don't ever send cash. It could be a scam**

5. Visit (if you can)

Visit the city before you move and plan some in-person tours while you're there.

Let’s be real, photos can only show so much and at times be misleading. And while it’s not impossible to rent a place without seeing it first, it’s in your best interest to do so, especially because photo editing tools can easily make a place seem larger, cleaner, and newer than it actually is in real life. This isn’t to say all listings are doing this, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to verify in person before signing a lease. So plan a weekend getaway about a month before your move so you can do some in-person showings. If you’re moving to a new city that’s across the country and you don’t have the time or money to do an in-person tour, that’s okay. See if you can at least get a live virtual tour, or even have a friend that lives closer go and look for you. While this may seem like a lot of work upfront, you won’t regret it when you dodge that roach-infested apartment.

6. Avoid Scams

Be on the lookout for rental scams. If the landlord is pressuring you to send cash or get your social security number, take that as a red flag and look for an apartment elsewhere.

The internet is filled with scammers and unfortunately, fake rental listings are something you need to be aware of. As mentioned above, it’s in your best interest to hold off on signing a lease if you haven’t seen it in person, but we know that isn’t always an option if you’re moving far away. So what you can do is your research.

Use sites like Review My Landlord to see what people have experienced when renting with those landlords. Or if it’s a property management company look up their reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. Reviews will not only give you insight into how legitimate the listing is but what you can expect if you were to rent with them. You could even see if they’re willing to negotiate a clause for you to back out if the rental isn’t as advertised. That way you have your assets covered in case something goes wrong.

Big words of advice- don’t ever send cash and really listen to your gut. If something feels off or they keep hounding you about getting your social security number, take that as a red flag and don’t fall victim to their rental scam. It’s well worth starting over in your search if it means you’ve avoided losing a bunch of money.

7. Short Term Rental

If you still haven't found your ideal rental and your move-in date is inching closer, consider signing into a short-term lease. This will give you a place to live, while you continue your search.

Committing to a lease that’s one year or longer is a hard choice to make, and one that can impact your experience living in a new city. If you can’t seem to find the right fit, consider going for something shorter term. Not only will the commitment be less stressful, but while you’re living there you can do a more in-depth search for your ideal place and take advantage of in-person tours. You could even pick a short-term rental that’s all-inclusive so you can hold off on buying furniture (hello costly expense) until you find a more permanent rental. This does mean you’ll have to move multiple times instead of just once, but it could be worth it if you need more time to find your ideal place.

When you’re moving to a new city finding a place to live will require a bit of time, some research, and patience. If you feel overwhelmed at any point keep your wish list close and try not to rush into anything, especially if it doesn't feel right. Utilize all your resources and have fun envisioning what your life will look like in a new city, you'll be there soon enough.