Apartment finder websites key to good rentals

Peter MillerThe Mortgage Reports Contributor

In this article:

Your apartment hunt is likely to start online with one of the many popular apartment finder websites currently available. Here are the steps to follow to ensure a successful search:

  • Before you begin your search, determine how much you can afford to spend on rent. The general rule of thumb is no more than one-third of your gross monthly income.
  • Explore several neighborhoods to decide which ones suit your needs. Start exploring about a month before you’re planning to move.
  • Use one or more apartment finder websites to narrow your search. Be sure to filter by price to prevent overspending.
  • Once you’ve found an apartment you like, be prepared to apply quickly. Good rentals may not stay on the market very long.

Finding a rental: start your search online

Apartment finder websites are magical online services that let you look for rental units without fuss or muss. Use them and you won’t be alone. According to ComScore, the leading sites pulled in nearly 35 million visitors just in January.

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Apartment finder websites are popular for two reasons. First, more than 110 million in the US — about three times the total population of Canada — rent. Second, good rental units are tough to find. You want the largest possible selection and online sites have huge numbers of easily-searchable rentals.

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Before your search

Before you begin your search, you’ll need to determine what you can afford. One rule of thumb is that you should not spend more than one-third of your gross (before tax) monthly income on your rent. However, that can be decreased if you also have savings goals (perhaps to buy a house), other high payments (like student loans) or expensive hobbies.

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On the flip side, if you have no other debts and you have a decent amount of emergency savings, you may be able to spend more on your rental.

Decide if you can live alone or if you need to split costs with a roommate to get what you want.

Create a list of “must-haves” and “extras” that you’ll use when filtering your search results. For instance, you might require a pet-friendly home no more than half an hour from your job. A nice extra might be a community gym or swimming pool.

Choose your neighborhood

Chances are that you want to be near your work, school or favorite activities when you move into an apartment or rental house. There are probably a number of neighborhoods at different price points you can explore.

How to check out your neighborhood before buying a home

If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t), consider neighborhoods that are less trendy or just slightly off the beaten path. You may get a safer space, more amenities and larger square footage for your money. Use a site like WalkScore to explore communities and find out what features are within walking distance.

Start looking at least a month before you plan to move, so you have time to walk through potential neighborhoods and check out things like traffic, restaurants, dog parks, etc. Late spring through the end of summer is a prime moving season. There will be more vacancies but also more competition.

How to use top apartment finder websites

There are more than 1.3 billion websites online and since people like to live indoors you can bet that a lot of websites involve apartments. Some of the top apartment finder sites include:

Most sites can be effectively searched by looking at eight basic issues.

  1. Search for locations by ZIP code. ZIP codes identify more specific areas than cities and counties in most cases. They are especially useful in large metro areas where there can be numerous ZIP codes for even small geographic areas
  2. Filter your search by price. Establish a budget up-front to prevent over-spending
  3. Or search by price with utilities. If the rent includes utilities, it can be easier to live within a budget
  4. Check Internet and cable services. Ideally, you want free Internet and cable as part of your package, services which can be included in the rent
  5. You may want to search by bedrooms. Typically, renters need one or two bedrooms but you may need more. Single-family homes can offer more space than apartments if you need three or more bedrooms
  6. Check the number of bathrooms. It’s always useful to have a second bathroom or a half bath for guests
  7. Don’t overlook amenities such as pools, spas, social rooms, and tennis courts
  8. Pick the type of property you want. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, a look at Census figures shows that the most-popular rental options are apartment properties with five or more units (18.9 million units), single-family homes (15.3 million), small apartment properties with two to four units (7.8 million), and mobile homes (1.9 million)

Don’t get scammed

The Internet makes searching for just about anything easier, and that’s certainly true for rentals. However, it can also make it easier for con artists to scam you.

Note that this applies even with reputable apartment-search Web sites. Unscrupulous landlords, or crooks posing as landlords get their listings onto these sites all the time.

Before plunking down your hard-earned money or committing in writing to a lease, read this article and avoid bad deals.

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Be prepared to move quickly

If you find the perfect pad, you may have to commit quickly before someone else gets it.

Before you visit a rental, gather everything you’ll need to apply for an apartment on the spot:

  • Recent pay stubs or a note from your employer to prove your income.  Make sure the letter is on company letterhead and officially signed
  • If self-employed, you’ll need your last two tax returns
  • Current bank statements
  • Your Social Security number for a credit check
  • Photo identification
  • Vehicle information, including make and model and license number
  • Your checkbook or debit card to pay for application fees and security deposit
  • Contact information for references

If you’re certain you want an apartment, apply on the spot. If you wait too long, you may lose it.

Verify your new rate (Sep 21st, 2018)