Getting a new apartment can be invigorating—everything is so shiny and full of possibilities! Finding a new apartment? Not so much. If you’re renting in a hot market, near a college, or you’re not a Trump (and yes, we’re counting Tiffany), finding a place that’s both affordable and available isn’t usually easy.
The proof is in the numbers: In the third quarter of 2016, the average nationwide vacancy rate was 6.8%—down from the same time the year before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To make matters worse, rent prices are still sky-high. A recent report by GoBankingRates found the national average for rent is hovering around $1,234 a month for a 678-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. And experts say rent prices aren’t going down any time soon. Wheee!
This unholy combo creates a sort of special supply-and-demand hell that only renters understand. If you’re apartment hunting soon, you might as well prepare yourself now for that unique cycle of heartache and despair that’s about to play out. With apologies to Kübler-Ross, we’re here to help guide you through the five stages of grief—err, apartment hunting.
Stage 1: Denial
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We’ve all done it. As soon as we pop open the laptop to start our apartment search, we expect to find a ton of awesome listings just ready and waiting. And then we don’t.
We keep the listings tab open all day on our browsers, refreshing every 20 minutes, and wait for Mr. Dream Rental to pop up, all the while growing more and more desperate. Wait, I thought you said this was going to be fun?
How to cope: The solution might be simple, if startling: Get offline.
Take a drive (or walk) around the hood and check for rental signs. We know it’s shocking in this digital age, but not everything is posted on rental listing sites. Sometimes you’ll have to dig a little deeper. As you scour the neighborhood, write down names of apartment complexes you want to look into, and then look them up online—they should have floor plans, pricing, and even availability on their respective websites.
Still nothing? Try a Realtor® or a rental broker.
“As a renter, a broker can be extremely useful, especially if you’re not that familiar with the neighborhood,” says Moshe Goykhman, director of leasing for Dreamtown Realty in Chicago. “Their knowledge of the renting market and the neighborhoods can be very helpful in uncovering a hidden gem.”
Stage 2: Anger
Once you’re knee-deep in your apartment search, you suddenly remember why you hate renting. Every. Single. Place. seems to have at least one enormous downside. You get only one parking spot. Or your washer and dryer are outside on the patio (true story). Or maybe the landlord won’t take your (perfectly behaved) Great Dane. Agh!
How to cope: Don’t lose hope just yet. Take a deep breath, and try to change your approach: Remind yourself of the upsides to renting—such as free maintenance and cheaper insurance. Stop focusing on the smaller issues and instead focus on the bigger ones: Find a couple of places that meet your immediate needs and then narrow them down by the biggest factor of all: location.
“If everything else is equal, then you should go with the preferred locale,” Goykhman says. “You can change almost everything else. But the location is staying the same.”
Stage 3: Bargaining
You’ve done all your homework, viewed a few apartments, and narrowed it down to three or four places that will meet your needs—at least for now.
And then the reality starts to sink in: This is going to be expensive. Really expensive. Suddenly, you feel desperate. Maybe you can make a deal with the landlord? Maybe there’s a special promotion you don’t know about?
How to cope: Don’t count on any discounts. Yep, it’s time for the tough talk. You might get lucky and score a deal, but here’s what you need to remember: The national rental market is tight right now, and there are plenty of other renters out there happy to fork over the cash. If affording a particular place is going to be a squeeze, you might have to readjust your plan.
“Apartment hunting is all about expectations and being realistic,” Goykhman says. “If a renter is having trouble finding something that they can afford, then they may need to sacrifice in some manner.”
It won’t be fun, but start trimming that wish list again. As you cut out “must-haves,” you’ll find cheaper apartments that fit the bill.
Stage 4: Depression
And then, just when you finally find a good, affordable spot, some smooth-talking renter just waltzes in, plops down the deposit, and steals your apartment. It might be the single most depressing thing apartment hunters go through, but you can deal.
How to cope: Start by finding out what else the landlord might have available soon. If you have a broker, this will be easy.
“It’s very possible the broker may have dealt with the landlord before or he may have colleagues who have and can get you the inside scoop,” Goykhman says.
If you don’t have a broker, just go ahead and make the call yourself—and ask the landlord if he can knock some dollars off the rent to help mend your broken heart.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The landlord doesn’t have anything else available, and Mr. Perfectly Fine Apartment is really gone? You’re going to have to go back to the drawing board, but that’s OK!
How to cope: This time you know what you can afford, you’ve scouted the good locations, and you don’t need to waste any more time. You can do this. Win that perfectly average apartment!
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