My husband has a job that often requires him to travel for work. While it is usually only for a few days at a time, this next project will be much longer. Beginning this summer, he will need to be onsite for several months to oversee progress. Although I wish I could go with him, we have other obligations and another household to maintain. The distance will be hard enough. But, it will also create a serious financial strain since he will need accommodations while he’s there. Luckily, he will be able to split the expenses with a fellow coworker. But, this means it’s time for us to start apartment hunting online for affordable accommodations. However, finding a place that fits your needs and your budget can be difficult when you live out of state.
Where to Start Apartment Hunting Online When You’re Out of State
There are a lot of pitfalls to watch out for when you are apartment hunting online. Not every listing is true to the conditions they show. And, some charge more fees that they only include in the contract. I’ve made the mistake of renting places based on pictures and conversations with leasing agents before. Let’s just say…it didn’t end well.
You have different standards and expectations of your living needs than other people. You also don’t want to get stuck paying more than you should. Fortunately, we have online resources that provide a much better idea of what you’re getting for your money. However, finding the right place is a daunting task if you don’t know where to start.
Since his schedule has been especially demanding and this isn’t my first time hunting for apartments in foreign cities, I offered to take on the task. As with all my problems, I start by gathering information to find the best solution possible.
1. Get to know the area.
Ideally, I would be able to visit the area before signing a lease. In this case, it isn’t an option. So I’m getting to know the area by researching the city online. Local tourism sites are always a good resource for the history, map of the neighborhoods, information about points of interest, and other suggestions of things to do. There are also many sites that can help you search for local rentals.
Luckily my husband has already worked in the same location. So, he knew where he needed to be. But, this can still leave you with a wide range of options in large cities.
2. Narrow your search.
However, I have a different problem since this is a small town. With a population under 20,000, I had limited accommodations that are move-in ready and within our budget. Therefore, I made a list of mandatory requirements we had for accommodations. By starting with the most important search criteria and slowly choosing additional amenities, you can take an unending list of rentals down to a manageable number. In addition to narrowing it down to a few specific neighborhoods, we also need a minimum size of two bedrooms.
Ultimately, the budget will be the determining factor. We have to support two households while he’s working out of state, so we set a firm price point. The maximum budget not only includes lodging, but also utilities, groceries, and transportation costs as well.
3. Seek help locally.
Looking at the scant number of listings, I realized we would have to be more flexible with the location and amenities to find something in our budget. When I had a shortlist of choices after apartment hunting online, I noticed many were owned and operated by the same property management team. So, I gave them a call to discuss what was currently open and the terms of their contracts.
While this was a good place to start, I wanted to make sure I reviewed as many listings as possible. Therefore, I also looked in local publications and circulars for private rentals. Although I’ll be leaving the legwork for my husband and coworker, I was able to eliminate a few places that were too rigid or didn’t have what we needed.
4. Schedule a virtual tour.
During the conversations about the available accommodations, I asked the management office to schedule a virtual walk-through for a few locations. Some places offer 360 views and 3D models of the rentals on their websites. However, I wanted to see the current condition and issues. You can’t always trust that the pictures are up-to-date. Although some think it unnecessary, I would rather be safe than sorry.
5. Do your own background check.
The final step before signing any rental agreements is to know who you will be renting from. Just like landlords and property management companies run background checks on tenants, I do a background check to ensure other renters haven’t complained about safety, response time, repairs. or the return of security deposits. The initial curb appeal can tell you a lot. However, I also search for online reviews and turnover rates. If possible, I like to talk to current renters and neighbors as well. Even if the accommodations are suitable, poor management can make living conditions unbearable.
Before Signing the Contracts
Remember that once you sign on the dotted line, you’re committed to the terms of your rental agreement. There are no “cooling off” rules for apartment leases if you change your mind. Therefore, I also insist on signing the contract in person, after I’ve seen the apartment for myself.
However, this time the final decision and walk-through will fall to my husband and his coworker. As of now, we have three excellent options, including a few that will keep us far below our budget.
Unfortunately, some people have to trust someone to go on their behalf, or hire a leasing agent to assess available properties for them. While this will come at an additional cost, you know they will work for you. It’s their job to represent their clients and find something that makes you happy. In fact, their reputations depend on it. And in the end, you can’t put a price on peace of mind.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.