We hadn't planned on everything happening so fast. Moving from New York City to Denver was on our to-do list, though not at the top. It was something we thought we'd get around to -- maybe later this fall or early winter.
But life likes to throw you curves and so, of course, everything occurred at once: My boyfriend got a job offer, and they wanted him to start in early October.
Suddenly we're moving. Across the country. And we have exactly one month to figure it all out.
We weren't naive -- we knew finding an apartment from out of state would be a terrifying process. But we thought we could hack it. We'd arm ourselves with intel, fly out to Denver for time-crunched initial search, hit the ground running. What could go wrong?
The reality of it all came crashing down during our first warp-speed, three-day trip to the city.
We found an apartment. But was it easy? Not so much.
Learn from us. Here are some tips to make your own apartment-hunting trips smoother.
Have a (weighted) wish list
My boyfriend and I wrote down our rental must-haves and desires on a piece of paper, rating them all from 1 (least important) to 10 (most). Since I was the one doing the majority of the apartment hunting, it fell on me to suss out what was really for us both.
For instance, he strongly preferred having laundry in the building, while hardwood flooring was nice to have but not mandatory (just a 3!). Having nonnegotiable criteria -- combined with a more fanciful wish list -- makes sifting through daily piles of listings much easier.
It's about the research, stupid
I've never lived in Denver, but through a frenzied (and compressed) period of research, I got up to speed fast.
Yes, the city is still strange to me. But my hours of Internet scouring paid off. I was able to quickly home in on the microneighborhoods that worked for me and my lifestyle: One- or two-bedroom apartments that accept cats, ideally in a house or small apartment complex, near areas I know I like, with room for an office. Within those specific bounds, I could tell if a listing was too good to be true -- or just overpriced.
Don't expect it to be your forever home
Because I know well how easy it is to feel overwhelmed by this seemingly life-altering decision, repeat this mantra: This apartment will not be your forever home.
Moving to a new city means you're promising yourself a new life, and you never know where that might unfold. But it's best to think of it mainly as a base for exploration. This will make it easier to compromise on the small things.
Mentally commit to a year at your first place, and plan to move at the lease's end. And who knows? Maybe this is your forever home.
Don't let fear cloud your judgment
Anxiety about change is common and can manifest itself at a moment's notice. Don't let a "We're moving?!" panic attack push you into a desperately wrong place just because you're scared you'll be homeless. (Spoiler alert: You won't be. Probably.)
Find the border between compromise and settling. Unless it is truly down to the wire, don't sacrifice more than a few things from your wish list and stick to your must-haves.
Our first day of hunting dispirited us: We went back to our crappy La Quinta hotel room, and I buried myself under the covers with my laptop. I skimmed through page after page of realtor.com, Craigslist, and PadMapper listings, looking for something.
Everything we'd seen had been wrong one way or another: One had sacrificed a dining room to create a ginormous walk-in closet (Um, why?!). Another looked quaint and historic in photos but its "authenticity" meant no one had ever updated the kitchen -- basically a stove and fridge in opposite corners of a small room with no counter space.
With two more days of apartment searching left, we were ready to give up.
I'm glad we didn't, because soon, our apartment found us.
Go on a big dig
Reality check: Sifting through endless listings can be a serious pain (oh look, another ad for a generic downtown loft!), but there are sparkly diamonds hidden in the rough. The longer you dig and keep an eye on the market, using a wide variety of search tools, the better able you are to spot the winners -- and to jump on them quickly. And you catch on quickly to any tricks or scams -- imperative when you need to work at warp speed in a tight rental market.
Try property managers
I bookmarked the pages of property managers all over Denver. (Find them yourself by searching "property manager" + "your city" or "dream neighborhood.")
Property management sites don't always update as often as professional rental sites, but keep an eye on them -- they can be great places to score a deal, especially if you're looking for a single-family home.
Take to the streets
Despite all my planning, I found my apartment through a stroke of luck. With an hour to kill between showings, my boyfriend and I began driving up and down the streets of the hood we wanted, seeking out "For Rent" signs. We found a few; I jumped out of the car to read the tiny text on the sign.
Often it would say "three bedrooms" or suggest a rent way above our budget. But we found a few contenders, and I dutifully called them. No one answered. I left messages. Still nothing.
Later, we were in an Uber on our way to a drown-your-stress-in-beer-and-pizza kind of evening when I got a phone call from one of our on-the-street finds. We redirected the cab, and an hour and a half later, we had an apartment.
The place we found by driving around was 10 times better than any we'd seen online. It had everything on our checklist: washer and dryer, room for an office, patio space, hardwood floors, an updated (but not fancy) kitchen. Its few drawbacks -- slightly over budget, no dogs allowed, an awkward bathroom layout -- were minor enough that saying anything but "yes" would have been a foolish mistake.
Don't forget to document
Take photos of every apartment; they'll be invaluable when it's decision-making time. Settled on a place? Take more photos! And if possible, a video, too (like the incredibly awkward video I made on our final walk-through of our new place).
I like to plan -- you might be able to tell -- and having a trove of videos and photos means I have visual sources to refer to when furniture shopping or drawing out our apartment's layout in SketchUp.
Plus, the video is a time-stamped record of the apartment's current condition. When our lease ends, we have an easy way to refer to how it should look.
Be aggressive, BE aggressive!
I've rented apartments in NYC, Chicago, Austin, and -- now -- Denver, and there is one common takeaway: Be a raging bull, ready to take what's yours.
Have your financial documents in order -- we printed copies of my boyfriend's job offer letter and my bank statements (hello, freelancer!), as well as our renting histories and references.
You won't necessarily need to sign a lease on the spot, but you will want to be armed with all your paperwork in the event a quick decision is necessary.
I can't promise your hunt won't be stressful: Finding an apartment in three days flat is onerous, even for the most seasoned shoppers. But it's certainly not impossible.
All you have to do is plan ahead -- and be ready to ditch every one of those plans when needed.