4 Things To Do Before Starting Your Apartment Search

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

With a record 4,000 new apartments being built this year, today’s renters have no shortage of floor plans and amenities to choose from. Yet despite all of the new supply that’s been added, finding a building in your desired neighborhood at your desired price point is sometimes easier said than done, especially as more people forego homeownership in favor of renting.

How can new and existing renters secure an apartment in today’s fast-paced market? Below are four steps every prospective renter should take before taking their first property tour:

  1. Do your research – There are a lot of great places to live in Chicago, and every neighborhood offers something unique. In order to decide which neighborhood(s) would be a good fit for you, you need to consider things like:
      • Rental prices and cost of living – A general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t spend more than roughly thirty percent of your income on rent, but that rule doesn’t factor in all of your expenses. What about heat? Electricity? Parking? Do you need to haul your laundry to the laundromat? Is the only nearby grocery store a pricey Whole Foods? Will you have additional transportation fees to live in one apartment versus another? The monthly cost of living varies and includes far more than just the rent.
      • Location and neighborhood offerings – What’s most important to you? Do you want to be close to work? Public transportation? Restaurants and shops? Understanding which neighborhoods fit your lifestyle can help narrow down your search.
      • Building policies and amenities – Know your must-haves. Do you own a pet and, if so, is the building pet-friendly? Are things like parking, storage and in-unit laundry essential? And would the absence of certain amenities like a pool and/or fitness center be a deal-breaker for you? Make a list of your wants and needs. As you begin to look at apartments you can always adjust your list as you think of new ideas and begin to understand the realities of what is available in your budget.

“If you are currently renting in the city, a good resource could be your current property manager, especially if they have a leasing division,” said Julia Durakovic, Realtor for Kass Management Services. “Property managers can help renters better understand what specific price points look like in different neighborhoods and may even manage other buildings that have everything the renter is looking for. If a person’s needs are beyond what the property manager can offer, they’re often a great source for referrals.”

  1. Set aside money for expenses – Those in the market for a new apartment – especially individuals who are not currently renting and, as a result, will not be getting money back from a security deposit – should be sure they have enough money set aside for upfront expenses, which can easily top $3,000. These include application fees, first month’s rent, a security deposit, pet deposit and any associated moving fees.
  2. Get your paperwork in order– The application process for renting a new apartment goes beyond filling out a simple form with your information and list of past apartments. Landlords will ask for much more to see how reliable and responsible you will be. Just before you start the apartment search, you will want to put together a folder of the following documents and bring it along with you to every showing.
      • Two recent bank statements
      • A clear copy of your driver’s license or photo ID
      • Letter of employment
      • Two recent pay stubs
      • Checkbook

“In Chicago, apartments can be leased hours after hitting the market,” said Durakovic. “Coming to each tour with this information in-hand shows the landlord you’re serious and prepared to seal the deal.”

  1. Think about timing –  You also need consider the actual timing of your move. Many renters start their search far too early, or even worse, too late. In large cities like Chicago, renters should plan two months before the desired lease date.

Additionally, you should also take into account that typically, a lease ends on the last day of the month while a new lease may not start until the first day of the following month. This could leave you – and all of your belongings – without a home for a night.

“If you can afford to pay rent at two places, it’s always nice to have a month’s buffer” said Durakovic. “That way you can have a more gradual move that allows you to clean and get your new apartment set up just the way you want it.” 

If you don’t have the luxury of paying double rent for a month, you will want to figure out a place to stay for the night and also line up a moving company that will store your furniture until you can move into your new apartment.