How to Look for a New Home?

Posted: January 6, 2014 in How to...?
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First of all, This is the first post after almost 2 years of not posting anything. One of my new year’s resolutions is to try to revive this blog and add new material.

So, since I have been moving around basically every year, I thought I should write about my process of finding a new apartment, just in case someone else may find this post useful someday. This applies only if you’re going to rent. I cannot really say what the process is like if you’re planning on buying a home. Let me note that this post is more focused on my experience in the San Francisco Bay Area. This may or may not apply to other areas, so if you are reading this somewhere else, please take that into account.

Step 1: What are you looking for?

The first step is to figure out what you want. You need to have answers for the following questions:

  • What kind of home are you looking for? Is it an apartment, or a town house for example?
  • How many bedrooms/bathrooms do you want?
  • When are you looking to move in?

You must have the answer to these question before you proceed any further.

Step 2: Figure out the rental cost in your area

Now would be the time to do some research in your area, just superficially at first, at least to find out the price range of similar homes in the area.

Step 3: Preferences

Now, after having a broad idea of what to look for, consider the following, more detailed questions. You don’t have to a have a hard answer for them, but these are the things you’ll need to keep in mind in order to compare between different options:

  • What is your price range? How much are you willing to pay?
  • How big/small apartment (area-wise) do you want?
  • Flooring preference? (hardwood, carpet, etc.)
  • Would you mind if the place looked a bit old, or does it have to look very new?
  • Do you have to have a washer/dryer in your home, or would you be ok with having a common laundry room for the whole floor or building? or none at all?
  • How much storage space do you need?
  • Does it have to be within walking distance of shopping areas/restaurants/etc.? or are you willing to drive?
  • How much parking space do you need?
  • Are you looking for certain amenities in the building/apartment complex, like a gym or a pool (heated or not), etc.? or these are not necessary?

Step 4: Research

Now, it is time for some more research. I found that craigslist is an excellent starting point. Look for apartments in your area, check out the listed specs for each. Pay attention to what is listed, as well as to what is not listed. Pictures are usually very misleading.

Save the ones you think are promising, and make a list of those. Call or email to schedule appointments to see these apartments if necessary. Many of these would have links to their actual website, so take a look at the website, and get any additional information from there. Also, find out the address using Google Maps or any similar service. See what’s in that area (Grocery stores, entertainment, nature, etc.), so that you will have an idea before you go there.

Step 5: Out on the Field

Go to see each of the places on your list. While you are there, ask any questions that you may have which you could not answer using their website. Also pay close attention to the small details and the surroundings:

  • Does the area look safe, or does it look shady?
  • Does the apartment have a nice view?
  • Are the premises clean and well maintained?
  • Does the management seem professional and friendly or not? Do they seem like they are running a tight business or are they running amok?

Make sure to take notes of everything you ask and everything you see. You’ll need these.

Step 6: Comparison and Elimination

I find it useful to make a spread sheet (even on a sheet of paper), with columns representing the different features (price, area, flooring, date available, etc.) and the rows representing the different units you saw. Fill in all the information you have into that spreadsheet, and order by the criteria that is most important to you. Eliminate any units that have deal-breakers before you even start this step.

If you are successful in this step, you would end up with a clear winner at the top of the spreadsheet. You may also end up with no candidates left, after all have been eliminated due to deal breakers (in which case, go back to step 4), or you may end up with a tie of multiple candidates (each of which is better in one or more aspects). In this case, for each of these candidates find out the following:

  • What aspects/features is it lacking?
  • How important are these features to you?
  • How easy/difficult would it be to obtain these features elsewhere?

These questions should help guide your search.
Best of luck on your search. If you have any other ideas to contribute, please add them in the comments.

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