Apartment Hunting 101 – The Research and Online Search

While I was expecting our Raleigh apartment hunt to be much less daunting than a New York City apartment hunt (and trust me, it was) the search was not without its own unique challenges. Our Raleigh hunt came in two stages – first, we did our due diligence and researched the heck out of places online, which I am going to detail in this post. Then, we took our second trip down to the area and visited the apartment complexes in person to make a final decision, which will be in another post coming soon.

But before we even took to the internet to get our search going, there were a few things that Jason and I needed to decide.

The first thing we needed to narrow down was exactly where we wanted to live. Jason’s job is in the company’s “Raleigh office,” but it is not actually in Raleigh, so we had to decide if we wanted to live in Raleigh proper or one of the surrounding towns. We decided it would be best to be as close to his job as possible starting out, so we picked a town close to his office rather than Raleigh. This was a town that we had checked out during our prior visit to the area and had heard good things about it.

The second thing we determined was how big of an apartment we were looking for and how much we were willing to spend a month in rent. The apartment size was simple – we were moving from a 1-bedroom and wanted to have an extra room for guests and friends to visit, so we easily settled on a 2-bedroom/2-bathroom apartment. As far as rent, I wanted to go big or go home in the rent savings department, so I was willing to look for a place that was half of what we were paying in NYC. Like me, Jason was excited about the rent savings, but he was also excited about the potential to get more for less, so he was willing to spend a bit more per month (obviously still less than in NYC) to have a very nice and comfortable living situation. We both saw the positives of each other’s views and after Jason did his spreadsheet magic (he loves making spreadsheets), we were able to meet in the middle with a reasonable number range. 

After we had the town, apartment size, and rent budget down, we took to the internet to finally begin the search. We put all this information in apartments.com and were instantly overwhelmed with the results. There were over 300 apartments available in dozens of apartment complexes. To make matters even more interesting, many of the complexes seemed indistinguishable. They all looked the same from the outside, but just different colors. They all had beautiful pictures of their apartment offerings. They all had had very similar floor plans. They all had pools, fitness centers, and clubhouses. Even their names were all similar. How the heck were we ever going to narrow this down?

Thankfully, little by little, we found differences in the offerings and ways to start narrowing down places. The first thing I noticed when I was going through the search results was that some of the complexes did not have apartments in our budget range at all, so those locations were easy to remove from the running. Some results had apartments with a rent price range. With these, we passed on the ones where the top of our budget was the bottom of the apartment’s price range, so that we would not visit the place, fall in love, and then end up getting suckered into going over our budget (because it would still be less than NYC!). The next thing I noticed was that some of the results did not have apartments available when we would need to be moving into the area. Some had places available too early in May, others were too late in June, so we were able to pass on those. 

After utilizing these basic techniques to weed out apartments that didn’t meet our basic parameters, I moved on to really scrutinizing unit floor plans. Initially, I didn’t even say to myself, “Ok, now, I’m going to scour the floor plans.” I just started looking at units, trying to figure out some other distinguishing factors, and began noticing that some of the living rooms had very strange configurations that would be difficult to fit our furniture. Other living rooms left me wondering where anyone would put their television. (I guess not everyone has a TV these days.) Then I began to notice that some places had very small kitchens with little cabinet space, which just is not going to work for this chef’s daughter. Lastly, Jason has been dying to get a king-size bed, so we had to make sure any master bedroom would easily accommodate that new addition (12’x12′ at least). Before I knew it, my combing through the floor plans left me with only about a dozen complexes. Not too shabby.

The next step was checking out these complexes’ reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. I honestly did not expect any place to have perfect reviews because there will always be at least one or two people who had a bad experience no matter how awesome your apartment complex is, but some of the reviews were completely eye-opening. Some complexes had ongoing construction that had no end in sight. Crossed off the list. Others had issues with parking availability. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Crossed off the list. One complex even had a homicide during a break-in in the past year. Crossed off the list. (Seriously, when you type the apartment complex’s name into Google and the first thing that auto populates is “[name of place] homicide” before even hitting enter to begin the search, do you really even need to know any more?)  

After going through all of the above, we were able to narrow down the list to 7 apartment complexes. I then started the process of reaching out via email to all the leasing offices and coordinating site visits for when we would be in town. This was also rather eye-opening. I am such a stickler for proper grammar when communicating for business purposes, and some of the emails I received from leasing and sales agents were horrendous. Besides for poor grammar, it was very clear that some of the agents were not even reading my email at all before responding because they would come back with questions, all of which I had answered in my prior correspondence. This process definitely helped us identify which complexes might be more on the ball than others. However, I have to share a little secret with you – the place we ended up choosing never even responded to my initial email. The complex was that good when we visited it. (And I did contact them through the apartments.com website, which could have had some kind of technical mix-up.)

While I’ve just detailed the whole process we went through searching online by ourselves for an apartment and how we narrowed it down to the 7 we decided to visit in person, it is also worth noting that we reached out to some of our connections in the area to see if they had any recommendations about good apartment complexes to investigate. But you might be thinking, “Wait, you’re moving to a place where you don’t know anybody. What connections are you talking about?” You might remember from my previous post, The Scouting Mission & Three Tips for Future Scouters, I suggested reaching out and connecting with local organizations in the area where you will be moving. We did that on our first visit to the area and these are some of the connections we reached out to for apartment suggestions. We also were able to make a few other connections by chance – a friend who lives in Charlotte, NC met a couple who lived in Raleigh and put us in touch, friends who had relatives in the area, etc. The suggestions we received from these connections definitely helped guide our search.

Overall, I know the above can be kind of wordy as it tells our whole story on researching apartments, so here are our basic tips in a simple list:

1. Decide what city, town, or neighborhood you want to live in. 
2. Determine what size apartment you are looking for and your monthly rental budget.
3. Talk to any connections you have in the area to get you started and point you in the right direction.
4. Identify any special details you’re looking for in your apartment, i.e. a large kitchen, and scrutinize the floor plans.
5. Check Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews.
6. Take note of how complexes communicate with you when setting up times to visit – it can be an indicator of how future communications will go if you decide to make that place home.

Good luck with your own hunting!

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