Practical Tips for Apartment Hunting

The hunt is over! After a couple months of apartment hunting, my roommate and I finally signed a lease one week before I begin work. We will now officially be living in Center City Philadelphia in a beautiful two bedroom two bathroom apartment for less than $800 rent a month each!

We first started our search back in October hoping to close a deal on an apartment that was a 5 minute walk to work. If you remember my post about rationalizing the price of rent, you would know that commute time was a major factor! Unfortunately, this deal fell through because we did not put an offer down quickly enough. More on this later, though.

After this deal fell through we continued apartment hunting. This eventually led to us finding a brand new apartment complex that was being built roughly 20 minutes, walking, from our job. Upon physical inspection of the place, we immediately put an offer down on the place and within a week we closed the deal.

Throughout this process, I was able to learn many little tips to help you not make some mistakes we made. Here are four practical tips I realized during my apartment hunting that will help you save time and money!

Be Cash Ready

As I mentioned earlier, we did not put an offer in quickly enough for the apartment we viewed in October. Five people saw the apartment the same day we viewed it and two people put an offer in that very day. My roommate and I decided to wait until the following day as we needed to get our money in order to pay the down payment. Due to our unpreparedness, we lost the deal.

This is why you must be cash ready when apartment hunting. If you see an apartment that may be a good fit for your living, put an offer on the table immediately. This shows the owner you are interested and improves your chances of getting the place.

Time of year matters

While I was speaking to our realtor, he told me that realtors generally charge lower rent prices during the winter months to attract new tenants. While I am not sure if this statement is 100% true, he told me that if our apartment began rent in the summer months, rent would have been $250 higher.

Always do a physical visit

I have to be brutally honest. Pictures can be very deceiving. The apartment that we did not get looked far better online. The floors were old and the kitchen and bedrooms were far smaller than the pictures looked. This is why I am very happy we did not settle for this place.

Having that physical inspection provides an extra level of assurance. It allows you to visually confirm that this is the place that was shown online as well as allows you to meet the owner.

Check for any deals

We will be getting one month rent free. The reason for this is that our building is still unfinished. Every day for the first month of living there, workers will be moving in appliances and furniture into the unfinished apartments. This will result in some dust and noise. If this is the case with somewhere you are moving, ask if they are willing to give you a free month or reduced rent.

Other places we looked at had deals such as reduced price of rent for first and last month, the owner would pay for heating and/or electricity, or free parking. Find what suits you best and make sure to add in those benefits into the total price. For example, getting that month for free drops our average price of rent over the contract down by over $100 a month!

How was your apartment hunting experience? What others tips would you give renters?


13 comments… add one
  • Brad, Financial Coach Nov 21, 2016, 11:31 am

    Some good tips there – and congrats on finding an ideal place! 🙂

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher Nov 21, 2016, 11:43 am

    Man! It sounds like your rental market is crazy-competitive! That reminds me of what it was like buying a house in our city. I think we put in about six offers, only to have five of them fall through. Ugh! It’s extremely frustrating trying to find a place to live, especially if the market is competitive. Glad you guys found a good place, though!

  • Steph Nov 21, 2016, 8:34 pm

    Congratulations on finding a new place!

    Thank you for the tips.

  • Financial Panther Nov 22, 2016, 12:08 pm

    Philly always seems like a great spot for cost of living and still being a cool city. My buddy lived in Philly for a couple years after college and I remember he was paying something like $600 a month to live in a great neighborhood. In contrast, my buddies who lived in DC and NYC were all paying double that amount.

    Scoping out deals is key. I managed to live in a brand new, luxury apartment for a year paying under $600 per month because some guy was moving out and needed someone to take over his lease. He ended up paying for 2 months of my rent in order for me to assume his lease, which is what made my total rent cost so low.

  • Mustard Seed Money Nov 24, 2016, 2:27 pm

    Congrats on a new place. I had a friend after college move to Philly and he loved it. Such a vibrant town and a great nightlife. He lived in a bit of a dump a little further from the city but then again his job wasn’t in the city. If he had been working in the city I’m sure he would have lived there since he worked in Boston shortly after that.

  • Dividend Diplomats Dec 12, 2016, 9:41 pm

    Sounds like you scored a hell of a deal. Unless you are out of town and can’t do it, a physical visit is a must. Of course the pictures look perfect online. While it isn’t searching for apartments, my wife and I are always amazed about how much better the pictures for a house look on Zillow than they do when we attend the open house. It is their job to do that and land the big sale.

    Good tip with having cash ready. Housing markets are hot, so you have to strike when the iron is hot (as you learned). Funny how these tips for apartment hunting can be just as easily applied to a house search.



  • MoneyAhoy Dec 13, 2016, 4:39 pm

    Awesome – congrats on landing a sweet apartment at a great rate! Sounds like timing played a large part in your success. Enjoy Philly!

    One tip I would give is that rent is always negotiable. If you feel like you could go lower and the land lord can accept, why not give it a try if there’s low competition?

  • Dividends Down Under Dec 18, 2016, 4:57 pm

    Nice tips Stefan, we try to ‘seal the deal’ by offering a few rents pay up front, which would hopefully make us stand out from any competition.


  • Wallet Squirrel Jan 8, 2017, 6:04 pm

    Congrats on the new place! I’d also recommend a few websites like Zillow and Padmapper. Zillow is a great place for commercial apartment buildings and Padmapper has craigslist ads listed on a map. These were both invaluable in my apartment hunting in Denver.

    I eventually settled on a place downtown I found through Zillow and agree, a physical visit is necessary and you need to be able to put down a deposit then and there. =)

  • When Do You Retire? Jan 12, 2017, 4:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing the tips! Might need them in the future.
    Cool calculator as well 🙂

  • Mike Jan 15, 2017, 10:36 pm

    Great tips! Thanks for the post.

  • Jack @ Enwealthen Jan 27, 2017, 1:51 pm

    Like buying a place, renting is competitive. So having the money ready will always give you a leg up on the people who don’t, whether that means cash in hand, or being preapproved for the mortgage.

    Center City can be a lot of fun. I can taste the cheesesteaks from here.

  • wealth from thirty Feb 6, 2017, 7:19 am

    I wish I’d read this back in November! I moved in Dec 2016, got a decent deal but might have saved a touch more if I’d followed some of these ideas. I had a similar experience, and found that negotiating on rent (e.g. a 12 month lease at a lower rate) and being patient were important. My landlord and I ended up agreeing on 6months of reduced rent (savings approx. $500) helped, and I managed to get the apartment semi-furnished with a washing machine, dryer and fridge for free. Thanks for the great post!

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