Many of us spend a lot of time dreaming about our, well, dream apartment — the open kitchen, the deep bathtub, the killer location. But finding an apartment on a budget can sometimes feel like a losing battle. The first day I went out looking for a one-bedroom, one-bath in San Francisco was the same day I had my first panic attack. True story. But you can find a wonderful place in your price range. The experts agree! At least the ones we talked to. Here are their top tips for finding that perfect place.
Look online—with purpose
Using the internet may seem obvious, but since there are so many options these days, it’s important to figure out where people in your town are active. Do they use Craigslist or Hotpads? Zillow or Realtor.com? Ask friends who have been successful in securing a place about how they did it, and then use those same online tools. Some will even allow you to set alerts for properties that fit your specifications so you’ll have first dibs on the best places. I used Craigslist notifications and was the first person to apply to my current place — it had everything I wanted, and the rent was $100 under my budget. Score!
Tap your network
Alex Mahgoub of Compass Real Estate says that asking friends and family for help can really pay off. If there’s a building you’re particularly interested in, ask people to keep an ear out for you. “They may hear of someone moving out in advance of any info to market.” In fact, some apartments never even get listed because they’re swooped up so fast! Deborah Ann Spence, a broker at Fierce Realty Corp, adds that social media can help, too. “Facebook has a rental marketplace section that appears to be gaining ground in busy marketplaces,” she says.
Hit the streets
Ben Mizes, the CEO of Clever Real Estate, says the ideal inexpensive pad might be just a car ride away. “Driving around neighborhoods and finding ‘For Rent’ signs might sound a little old-school, but it’s one of the best ways to find rentals before they’re listed,” he says. Mizes adds that property owners might be low tech and not ever list their properties online — and that those particular property owners might have better deals, too.
Tristen Heimann, Director of Residential Rentals at Luxury Living Chicago Realty, says it’s best to go into the hunt with an open mind. “Be open to exploring new areas,” he says. “In most cases, if you are willing to venture just a little bit outside of your original ‘ideal location,’ you tend to get a much higher quality product for less.”
Time it right
Heimann says it’s a good idea to figure out your city’s availability or leasing surge and slump. For example, college towns might have better deals during the summer when school isn’t in session. Heimann says a realtor can help with that. “A realtor should help explain the seasonal trends and map out a game plan,” he says. He adds that it doesn’t have to cost you, either.
Ask, ask, ask!
Heimann says you can negotiate—and it can end up saving you major moolah. “Many managed properties offer one or two months free rent and will waive administrative fees,” he says. “However, many of those deals are time-sensitive and can only be applicable if you apply right after your tour. Try to see all the apartments on your list within one day. That way you’ll be able to take full advantage of the best deals possible once you’ve found the one.”
Mizes adds that you should also try to negotiate the little things, like asking a property owner to cover electric bills.