Fresh out of college and moving to a new city? Transferring jobs across the country? In a rush and on the lookout for a short-term apartment? Few tasks can be as frustrating and worrisome as moving to a new location. Being mired in the various decisions and considerations of the apartment hunt is hard enough when you’re local and in no hurry. It morphs into an entirely more elaborate and frustrating waltz the moment you add “long distance” to the equation.
That’s why we’ve written this guide! Armed with these helpful tips, you’ll be amply prepared for the challenges ahead.
Long Distance Apartment Hunting
The famous Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once wrote, “No plan makes contact with the enemy.” He was saying that it’s foolish to adhere to one plan dogmatically because factors on the ground inevitably change the balance of any battle. So, as you prepare for apartment hunting out of state, it’s essential that you take the time to envision what you’re looking for in a place to stay while remaining open to the opportunities that might come your way.
Questions to Ask
Curious about how to apartment hunt in a different state? It’s helpful to start by taking a snapshot of your needs, wants, and budget by asking the following questions:
- What’s my budget? – One of the best ways to narrow down your apartment search is to be realistic and meticulous about your budget and set yourself a price range. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, “Experts suggest that you spend no more than one-third of your monthly take-home pay on rent. You should be able to narrow down your neighborhood choices by considering what schools you want your child to attend, how much of a commute you can handle, and how close you need to be to family and friends.” Expenses to consider include:
- Social life
- How’s my credit? — This may impact where you can or can’t lease. If you have a bad credit score, you may need a co-signer in order to guarantee you’re good for your rent money.
- Is your employer assisting the relocation? – If you’re moving for work, odds are your company has a program that can help in some shape or form. As Forbes notes: “Many companies offer a variety of relocation services and most are flexible in what they provide. Make sure you take the time to learn what’s available to you—and use it.”
- Is the apartment furnished? – Some rental properties come fully furnished, while others are bare. If you can find one that is already decorated and comfortable, you might pay a little more in rent, but you’ll save yourself the headache and cost of shipping all of your belongings across the country. If you do need assistance for moving, see our guide, How Can I Ship My Belongings to Another State.
- Where’s my job? – If you’re working in a new place, chances are you want to be as close as possible to work. Long commute times are less than ideal, so you’ll have to gauge whether living in a certain neighborhood is worth it. If you haven’t secured a job yet, see our guide, How to Get an Apartment Out of State Without a Job.
- Will I have a car? – Another important consideration is transportation. If you have a vehicle, that might give you more flexibility. If not, public transportation in your area will be a key consideration as you narrow down your apartment search. If you’re in NYC, you won’t need a car—but if you’re in Iowa, odds are you won’t want to rely on the public transit system to get you from A to B.
- What am I looking for? – If you’re a single 20-something, you likely don’t want to live in a sleepy community of retirees. On the flip side, if you have kids, the last thing you want to deal with is being kept up late at night by young people looking to sow their wild oats. It’s essential that you seek out communities that match your desires and lifestyle.
How to Apartment Hunt
Once you have a solid idea of what you want, it’s time for the hunt to commence. Before you begin, it’s important to remember that you must give yourself time to go about the process. Waiting until the last minute to lock down a spot is a recipe for disaster. Taking ample time to conduct your search affords you the freedom to be picky. Although it entails more time spent on the process, it ensures that you don’t wind up stuck picking the “lesser of two evils.”
In addition, big cities might have apartments that become move-in ready at the drop of a hat; whereas smaller towns might require you to sign a lease months in advance. It’s important that you know what lead times are like in the area you’re heading to, seeing as that will impact when the online search starts. Additionally, if you have not secured a job in the area yet, see our guide, How to Rent an Apartment Without Proof of Income.
With that in mind, consider taking the following steps:
- Thoroughly research the area – You should’ve already begun a precursory exploration of the city. Once that kicks into gear and you begin looking at apartments, take the time to Google anything and everything that comes to mind. Things worth considering when renting an apartment include:
- What tenants have to say about the building, landlord, or management company
- People’s opinions on the area itself, the transit, restaurants, atmosphere, etc.
- Is it safe?
- How are the schools?
- Is there nightlife?
- Are there golf courses or other recreational activities available?
- Begin your preliminary search online – Obviously, your initial hunt will involve an online search. There are a host of websites that can help you see potential listings, and even if you’re nowhere near the point of signing a lease, it helps you gauge the market availability and demand—then narrow down your list. Naturally, you may have to change your expectations or compromise on some of the questions you initially asked.
- Take virtual tours – Now, you might not be able to physically tour every single location you visit, but with modern technology, it’s easier than ever to visualize a space from 3000 miles away. According to Forbes:
Multifamily developers are increasingly relying on this tech-driven capability to help them differentiate theirs from other residential products. Virtually staged models, including some with immersive and 3D components, are fast supplanting professional renderings as an industry standard. Though companies have a laundry list of innovations to choose from, many are turning to augmented reality and virtual reality to better promote their products.
Even though it’s simply a 3D rendering, it provides a much better sense of a place and its size than pictures ever could.
- Try Zeus Living – Are you looking for a shorter-term apartment? Perhaps you have business to conduct over the next few months and don’t know where the road will take you. Or perhaps you want to live in the new area for a few months before committing to something long-term, like buying a house. If so, consider Zeus Living. It’s not a listing site: Zeus leases homes and apartments from owners, furnishes them with comfortable furniture and homecare essentials, and rents them out to travelers seeking stays of a month or longer. Zeus Living offers:
- Amenities – Zeus furnishes each studio, apartment, or home, and stocks them with all the provisions and amenities you need to make yourself comfortable.
- Flexibility – Zeus has flexible dates, minimal paperwork, and immediate availability.
- On-Call Support – Need something? Have any questions? The Zeus team is here to help.
- Quality Tested – Every listing is thoroughly inspected and test-driven to ensure that all the necessary comforts are taken care of.
- Use a leasing agent – If you’ve got room in your budget, it may be worthwhile to work with a professional that knows the area well and can help you find the perfect place.
- Fly out for the hunt – This may require some time and money, but even virtual tours don’t hold a candle to experiencing a place in person. This gives you an opportunity to inspect the neighborhood, test out your commute, and make an informed decision. To that end, your time will be limited, so ensure you’re prepared! Don’t forget to bring all of the documentation you may need to sign a lease, including:
- Driver's license, state-issued ID, or passport
- A utility bill or mail with your current address
- Social security card
- Bank statements
- A letter from your employer
- A recent pay stub
Whether you turn to Zeus Living or lean on friends in the area to aid you in the housing hunt, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your long distance apartment search is a breeze. By being proactive and doing your legwork early, you’ll facilitate a much easier transition from one spot to another. So, do your research, be open-minded, and get to work!
SF Gate. What is the Process of Getting an Apartment? https://homeguides.sfgate.com/process-getting-apartment-56734.html
Forbes. 8 Tips for a Successful Job Relocation. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/11/20/8-tips-for-a-successful-job-relocation/#140673df2930
Forbes. Multifamily Marketers Using Virtual Staging to Make a Real Impact. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffsteele/2019/06/28/multifamily-marketers-using-virtual-staging-to-make-real-impact/#6c2dca236f09