I’m an engineering student, and as such have moved quite a bit between co-ops, internships, and school. Because my moves happen three times a year and my moves are typically over 400 miles, I have never actually moved into an apartment that I’ve seen beforehand — and I’ve lived in seven different apartments/shared houses. I’ll admit, I went through some pretty crappy living arrangements because of this, but I have gradually learned how to make this experience better.
Here are some things I’ve learned to do when moving in blind…
Get a short lease. There is just no way you can be 100% certain that an apartment isn’t going to be a complete mess. I’ve found I can survive in sub-optimal conditions if I know it will end relatively soon. This allows you to search for better living quarters if you end up hating where you move.
Try to use more “reputable” websites. For example, I tend to look on university housing websites as I am a student. However, my one experience off of Craigslist went really well, so don’t discount Craigslist — just be careful.
Take online reviews with a grain of salt, particularly if there are only a few reviews. Some people are just bad tenants and would be mad with the best landlord. Also, an absolute glowing review is a little suspicious as well if there’s just one or two. Just remember that people do lie on the internet!
Ask people about the area. If you’re moving for a job, ask your employer if they know of good places to check out. Also ask any friends/acquaintances if they know anything about the place you’ll be moving.
Check out street view maps if they’re available. For me, this allowed me to get a feel for the area I was moving into, as well as the surrounding places. You’ll also have a better idea if you’re right by a train track or near an abandoned building that looks suspicious.
Check crime stats. Don’t rely on just the look/feel of the neighborhood based on the street view. I assumed once, and ended up in an area that looked quite nice, but was the nice neighborhood surrounded by more unsavory parts of town. Had I checked the crime stats, I would have realized that there was a much higher rate of robberies in that neighborhood and likely would not have had my house broken into three times.
See if there are any infestations in that area and ASK about them. Bedbugs are something you really, really, really don’t want to deal with (take it from me)! If someone dodges the subject, you probably don’t want to live there. Also ask a landlord how they would respond to an infestation of pests.
Ask what furniture will be there. In some instances, even if an apartment or house is listed as “unfurnished” things that people leave behind will remain (this is particularly true in college towns). Sometimes this can be a good or bad thing, it just depends on your individual preferences.
Ask for pictures of every room of the actual place you’ll be living. This is a really, really good thing to do — it really helps with decoding the “legitness” of a listing. Just remember that things can look a lot better in photos than in reality.
Talk with your landlord and get a feel if they will be responsive/are legit. You should not just do this over email. Lies are much more difficult to fabricate in real time. If you’re not particularly good at determining when someone is sounding insincere, ask a friend to sit in on the conversation. You’re not only determining whether the listing is real or if facts that are being stated to you are the truth, you’re also determining if the landlord will be responsive to things like plumbing issues or broken fridges.
If you’ll be moving into a house or apartment with already present housemates or roommates, here are some questions I’ve found very good to ask. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but they are questions I learned to automatically ask.
- Do you drink or use drugs?
- What are your typical sleeping hours?
- How tidy are you? How tidy do you need me to be?
- Will I be given space in the common areas?
- Do you mind if I have visitors?
- How are utilities and shared expenses dealt with?
- Do you have parties or people over? How often? How many?
Also stalk the heck out of your future roommates on the internet. Ask if they will friend you on Facebook. This is a great opportunity to see if you want to live with them and if they want to live with you.
Above all, trust your gut. Talk with friends about the various places you’re considering moving into and see if they think they’re a good idea. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.