What makes my childhood really unique is how often we moved. My family and I relocated to six different cities in five countries over a span of 16 years. Being so young, I knew very little about what decisions went into the moving process — so I just tagged along for the ride. As an adult, I’ve continued this trend, adding three more cities to my list while upping the frequency to moving EVERY SINGLE YEAR. So here I am sharing my words of wisdom on finding the right place for you.
Part 1: Finding the Right Place
The main reason I chose to move apartments every year is because my future plants changed, and my current living situation just did not work anymore. Your reasons might be similar to mine, or perhaps one of your roommates decided to unexpectedly move out. Perhaps you needed a change in scenery, or can afford a little more luxury. Regardless of whether you are moving for personal or professional reasons, you need to figure out the best way to find a place that works for you while sticking to something you can afford.
You must have already guessed my next words – spreadsheets are magic. The spreadsheet should be broken up by parameters, must haves and nice to haves. Some of these will be pretty intuitive, others might boggle your mind!
A physical parameter allows an option to come into your radar. It dictates what option will come across your eyes, and potentially be recorded on your spreadsheet. This could be within 50 miles from your job, 10 miles from a park you like to run at, and must be by a grocery store. When thinking about a parameter, you want to be really specific on what you need nearby — restaurants, hair salons, busy nightlife, whatever. Location is the first thing I consider about an apartment before looking at any of the features. If the location of the apartment isn’t optimized to my needs, then it could throw my daily schedule off. Until very recently I did not have a car and so any place I needed to be every day such as school and work had to be easily accessible wherever I chose to live either by walking (great forced exercise for myself) or by public transit. Whatever your parameters, find out what you’re comfortable with, and start there. Remember to consider your comfort level of safety in determining a location.
When shopping around for apartments you want to see how flexible landlords/leasing agencies are with broker fees (if any), deposits, and payment plans. Something many people look over are monthly rent payments vs. an annual payment. The perks with an annual rent payment is that you have more flexibility with negotiating down the price. If everything goes well, and your neighbors are nice, and the neighborhood is safe, then you should be fine continuing with that plan. But the only sticky point is that money is probably non-refundable — so if you move out earlier than you expected — you probably won’t see a refund on the rest. Keep in mind what is included in the rent and what is not in terms of utilities, electricity, internet, etc. These add up, so budget wisely and take them into consideration.
Sorting your need-to-haves from nice-to-haves will help you understand your needs and non-negotiables in comparing different places. If an apartment is lacking in any of your need-to-haves, then the price of the apartment needs to be reflective of that. One thing that has recently been on my need-to-haves is parking. I never needed it before, but now that I have a car, I need assurance that I won’t be struggling everyday to find a parking spot. In addition — air conditioning is a deal breaker for me. Weather in San Jose is beautiful, compared to many cities in the U.S, but a fan just won’t cut it during summer time. Knowing my needs and the average price points for those types of apartments allows me to explore the extra amenities an apartment comes with — the nice-to-haves.
A nice-to-have is something that isn’t a deal breaker. For example, while I am used to doing laundry outside my apartment, it definitely would be a perk to be able to do laundry in my apartment. By tagging the nice-to-have features, you can do a really nice comparison between apartments, and figuring out if you are saving/spending more money for a certain feature or apartment.
While on this journey of finding an apartment you should also keep track of the different types of contact you have had with landlords and real estate agents. The first things you should do are to take down the individuals’ names, phone numbers, and best time of day to contact them if you have any questions. Next, if you get the chance, take a tour! One tour, 30 minutes out of your day (in-person or virtual), can prevent long term struggles. Maybe there are stains on the walls, the door is cracked, or the exhaust in the bathroom doesn’t work. You can use these imperfections as anchors to get a better rent price, or explain that you need them all addressed BEFORE you move in. If you get them addressed after you move in, it could be a while there is no motivation and the landlord gets paid regardless.
If you can not visit because you live in a different part of the country or don’t have time, thoroughly search the place online, ask the real estate agent, landlord, or even a friend to videochat with you and give you a virtual tour. People are usually willing to work with you to meet your needs in other ways if you communicate that you can’t come by in-person. Using apartments.com as one of my main search engines, I make shortlists and then entries in my spreadsheet. Word of advice in doing a fully online search is to make sure to validate and assess the residence on yelp, Google reviews, and their own website. Judge the credibility and if you have friends/family in the area, ask them their opinions.
Part 2: Moving
While finalizing on a place, another aspect that is probably on your mind is evaluating the How! How is this move going to happen? With most of my moves, I did not have a car and as an international student, I had to rely heavily on myself to pull off these tasks, of course with some very appreciated help from my friends.
Here are some ways to address the hows:
- If you have people who can help and you have access to a vehicle for short-distance moves, then you are all set. Or you have enough overlapping time between the leases that you can move everything yourself in time.
- Long-distance moves require more planning and are usually pretty expensive for the college-student life. Uhaul, movers, Pods are some of the options. Trying to evaluate the cost of your belongings and seeing how much it would cost to move it versus replace it, will help a lot in trying to choose an option for the how.
Having lived a very transient adult life, I had never accumulated furniture or many belongings until very recently, so one of the cheapest ways I pulled this off is shipping my things across the country through UPS to my new place, and just flying to the new location. Pro tips: Get insurance on important boxes! For most domestic flights, booking a first-class ticket, which gives you two free heavy bag check-ins, is generally cheaper than booking an economy ticket and paying for check-in bags!
While I tell myself every year that I hate moving and question my life decisions, it is an exciting process to have a new start to look forward to. As much as I get stressed about the tedious logistical aspects, it is hard to resist taking on a new adventure. Wishing you all the best in yours!