When and How to Shop for a New Apartment

by Jessica Sommerfield · 2 comments

apartment with view
Apartment complexes are notorious for raising their rates on a yearly basis (and they have every right – just look at your lease agreement). If you’re already dissatisfied with your living situation for one reason or another, getting out at the end of your lease – before they raise your rent – might be a good idea.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of shopping around (and moving) every time your lease is up. For instance, if you moved for a new job, you may have needed to snatch up the first place you could find, rather than shop around for the best price, neighborhood, and apartment conditions. This is why most people who move to a new area move after the first year – they’ve had time to figure out what they got, what they want, and what’s out there. On the other hand, moving every year is labor-intensive, stressful, and may not land you in a better position than you started, so it’s important to weight all the information carefully. Here are a few works of advice if you think you’re ready for a move.

Keep Your Ears Perked for Upcoming Changes to Your Current Rates

Maybe the rent isn’t going up, but there may be other unfavorable changes, such as discontinued amenities or increased pet rent. If the ‘status quo’ changes for any reason, it might still be a good idea to start shopping around. Hint: you won’t know about these changes unless you actually read the notices from your management. In most cases, they’re required to give residents notice in writing a certain number of days or weeks before changes take effect.

Start Shopping Early

Moving quickly might be the reason you’re in a place you don’t love to begin with. Making a second whirlwind decision because you didn’t allow yourself enough time to shop around will probably leave you dissatisfied, again. Note when your lease agreement ends, and place a reminder on your computer or smartphone at least a few months in advance to give you time to make an informed decision.

Ask Yourself If Prospective Apartments Represents a Significant Discount or Better Living Situation

Cheaper rent is nice, and new facilities will be the first things to draw your attention. Don’t be so eager to move out that you fail to do the math and determine if it’s worth it though, because, again, you may end up dissatisfied and paying just as much as before your move. Make a pro/con list and ask yourself a few of these questions:

  • Are there other fees, deposits, utility, or hidden expenses that make up the difference in the immediate impression of a discount?
  • If the difference won’t make an impact on your budget, is it still worth it to you because of other factors like condition, comfort, space, neighbors, location, or better management?

Pay Attention to Price Per Square Foot

A new place may sound like a great deal – the same number of beds and baths for a lower price than you’re paying now. But what’s the difference in square feet? Advertisements and even tours are designed to make rentals look as spacious as possible, so even looks can be deceiving. Knowing the numbers will tell you whether your possessions will fit, and how tightly.

Get Insider Information and Read (Real) Reviews

Finally, some times an apartment will clear all the previous checks, but still end up being a nightmare for some unknown factor. Although you can never be 100% sure of what you’re getting until you live there, talking to current residents and reading un-biased reviews left by former residents will give you a pretty good idea.

Renting could be a dream, but only if you do your homework before you move. Whether you end up moving this year, or not, keep these things in mind as you continue to search for that ‘perfect’ apartment you’ll love for years.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

Jordan February 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm

I’m glad you added in at the end talking to current residents. That may seem uncomfortable to go knock on a random door and ask them a few questions, but I think that is one of the best ideas. Like you said you never really know everything good and bad about it until you move in, but by asking one of your future neighbors you can find out a lot of details good and bad. Not to mention you can learn a little about your future neighbors. Great idea!

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CM February 7, 2016 at 9:02 am

There can be many other added costs: possible move out bills for cleaning, painting, or whatever the old landlord deems is beyond standard wear & tear and which exceeded the security deposit you delivered at move in, having to come up with an additional security deposit for the new place (plus possible last month’s rent, non-refundable move in fees, HOA dues), and even the cost of movers & packing supplies. Of course the time cost of packing, moving, unpacking, mail forwarding, etc. matters too. All of these costs eat into whatever savings you hope to gain versus your current rent.

And speaking of savings, I think it pays to ask apartment complex managers how they determine their rates. I live in the Seattle area, where many of the national multifamily companies have started using revenue management software that adjusts unit pricing for vacancies and renewals DAILY. It is stomach-turning to see the soaring rates online, fluctuating with no warning, often by $50 or $60 a day, and always ending up at 10-15% over the market rate. Cost-conscious renters ending up having to play roulette and hope that their renewal comes due or the unit they want to move into is at a reasonable rate on the day they need. As you can imagine, vacancies are growing as tenants vote with their feet.

Also, timing can matter. I don’t know if it’s universally applicable across the country, but here rent rates are lowest between Thanksgiving and mid-January (the slight downside being that this is also the time with the lowest selection). I always ask for a lease of x-months that will end during this time, because it can improve the odds of getting a lower rate at renewal.

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