Apartment hunting can be a cut-throat, competitive process. An apartment building located in a desirable neighborhood, for example, can garner dozens of applicants for one vacancy. If you live in a city where vacancy rates are low and competition for apartments is high, it’s important that you time your apartment search right and gain an advantage over your fellow apartment seekers.
When Should You Start Apartment Hunting?
Marymount Manhattan College in New York, NY, advises its students to begin their apartment searches no earlier than four weeks before an anticipated move.
This is fairly good common-sense advice, particularly in a building with year-round low vacancy rates, because most tenants are not required to give their notices of intent to vacate until 30 days prior to their lease expirations. Apartment managers, then, commonly don’t know what vacancies they’ll have more than a month before they have them.
But I say to competitive apartment hunters: Start earlier. You can look for an apartment up to three months in advance of your move. Target the most desirable locations or rent rates in your city, and view the currently vacant apartments even though the units may no longer be available when you want to move. That’s OK. In most apartment buildings the conditions of each unit don’t differ dramatically from one another; and if location or price is your priority, condition and size — within certain specs like your required number of bedrooms — are secondary.
Apply Early and Get Pre-approved for an Apartment
When you find the apartment building that is perfect for you and the unit you’ve viewed is acceptable, ask if you can apply early and get on the apartment manager’s waiting list. This may require paying a non-refundable application fee with no guarantee that an apartment will be available when you want one, but the risk is often worth the reward if you really love an apartment building’s particular location and feel you absolutely must live there.
By applying and getting pre-approved early, you become an easy move-in stored temporarily in the apartment manager’s pocket. When a vacancy opens up, he or she will be eager to fill that vacancy in the most hassle-free, time-saving manner possible: renting it to you.
In contrast, if you view apartments early but hesitate and wait to apply until you know for sure there will be a vacancy when you want it, you’ll have wasted the competitive advantage of looking early. Once a vacancy is announced and marketed, you’ll merely be one of many as-yet-unapproved apartment hunters who are interested in it.
Make the Most of Your Competitive Apartment Hunting Advantage
Once you’re pre-approved, stay in touch with the apartment manager by calling or e-mailing no more than twice a month to indicate you’re still interested. Keep your calls or e-mails brief; apartment managers are bombarded with inquiries and requests all day long. You merely want to make sure the apartment manger doesn’t forget your name or your place on the waiting list. Ask the apartment manager what part of the month notices to vacate typically come in, so you can time your calls or e-mails appropriately.
If you really want to stand out, send a handwritten thank-you note to the apartment manager for taking the time to show you an apartment, process your application and put you on his or her waiting list. Apartment managers don’t receive a lot of thank-yous, and they especially don’t get many handwritten ones. Your note has a good chance of being pinned on the apartment manager’s corkboard or displayed somewhere just as prominent.
“Seven Apartment Hunting Tips for Students in NYC,” Marymount Manhattan College
Author Experience in Property Management