For the second time in my life, I’m pulling up my roots and moving halfway across the country. This is never very easy, and one of the most difficult tasks is finding somewhere to live. Through both of those moves as well as one from the Chicago ‘burbs into downtown, which is almost as daunting, I’ve come up with a pretty good method that works for me. Seeing as how my todo list isn’t getting any shorter today, I figured I’d share that method now.
First - know what you want in both a neighborhood and a living space. This may seem obvious, but it’s the most important thing. No matter what the city, every neighborhood has something different to offer. Downtown, suburbs, bars, theaters, live music, etc. Figure out what’s important to you. Most cities also have some website where you can find more information about neighborhoods. Also determine what you want in your living space - what’s important to you? Stainless appliances? Doorman? A “not” boxy design? An apartment building or a house? A view? Write down these things and evaluate properties you see based on what’s important to you.
Now that you’ve determined where and in what type of place you would like to live. Talk to somebody. Find somebody that’s lived in that area and get some input on the different neighborhoods. There are things they might know (2 blocks from this street is a bad neighborhood) that the online descriptions won’t reveal. Some cities even have rental agencies that owners list their property with and they will take you around for free and help you find a place. These services tend to be hit or miss depending on who your agent is and your specific situation. I’ve used them twice - once unsuccessfully (but it was three guys all with different requirements, so it was a tough sell) and once successfully (by myself with very specific requirements).
Next - Spend a day or two or three searching for places on Craigslist. If you’re not going through some sort of rental agency, this is generally the best place to find rentals. It can be tough to weed out the good ones from the junk, though. An apartment that’s listed as wonderful and cute and cozy, could really be a shack in the woods while some place modestly listed could be exactly what you’re looking for. That’s where the next part of the process helps out. But for now - take a look through, print them all out, see which ones have your requirements and try to rank them. I usually use a scale of “This sounds good”, “This could be ok”, and “This will probably suck, but I’m going to look just in case”. Very scientific, I know.
Now - take a break, you’ve been working hard. Relax, put your pile off to the side, and get a drink because the next part will be a lot of fun. ;o)
Ok - so you’ve determined your requirements, found a bunch of places and rated them all. What’s next? Well the weekend trip to your new city to try to find just the right place. But you need to prepare for when you get there. With the advent of Hertz Neverlost and similar navigation systems, I would recommend a rental with one of those if you don’t know the area. Next, go through your properties and use mapping software such as Microsoft’s Streets and Trips and enter each one of your properties. Now, you can either organize them in the route planner as you see fit or Streets and Trips actually has a feature where it can “optimize” the route - while it works pretty sweet, I prefer to do it myself. I also then organize my printouts from Craigslist in the order of the route. This allows me to recall the specific property that I’m going to very easily and write comments on the paper as I visit each place. You can see the results of that mapping in the following couple of pictures - one from Chicago and the other from Seattle (click on them to get bigger views):
This is probably the most helpful part of all, as it allows me to drop into a city that I’m not familiar with and have a very well-defined plan of action. It also allows me to visit several (~15) properties in one day as they are all optimized by where they are in relation to each other. I also don’t have to worry about where I’m going as it’s already layed out for me. While some may call this anal-retentive (people’s eyebrows tend to raise when I tell them all that I do to try to find a place), this has proven to be a very successful method for me. It’s also helpful to try to set up appointments for tours, but I can very often tell whether or not I like a place simply by driving by. For example, this past weekend I used the first day to do mostly drive-bys and evaluate whether the property was worthy of an actual tour inside. I then used Sunday for those tours as well as other open houses scheduled by the landlord.
I think that’s it for now - and for those of you that actually read through this entire post…congratulations and get back to work!