I have very mixed feelings about moving. I’ve done it about 20 times in my short life, and for that reason, it’s always bittersweet. On one hand, it marks a change in scenery and in your life. On the other, it means uprooting yourself and leaving the familiar and comfortable for something new. But now, I’ve sort of got this down to a science, and I recently tackled apartment shopping in the Bay Area, one of the most competitive and overpriced real estate markets around. Now, I feel semi-qualified to share my best tips for finding housing and moving like a champ.
- Know your living situation. Are you going to be alone, with family, with roommates, or with a significant other? How does this impact your needs?
- Know your parameters. Do you want a house or an apartment or a single room? Do you need to be in a certain area or within walking distance of somewhere? Do you need a big kitchen or a bathtub or central heating or lots of natural light? You have to know what you’re rigid and flexible on before you start shopping.
- Know your budget. You have to figure out your range on the place itself, what you can afford in terms of utilities, how much you can spend on the move itself, and what you’re able to pay for any new things your place may require.
- Have a good idea of the area and neighborhoods you’re looking in. For example, north and south Berkeley are two extremely different places despite being incredibly close together. Know what you need in the area you’re in, and ensure that it’s doable with your parameters.
- Be willing to make some sacrifices. If you need a bigger space, you may have to give up the high end appliances you want. If you need a certain location, you may have to be more flexible on your price or get a roomie. It may be a bit of give and take to get your needs satisfied.
- Look online across a variety of sites. Apartments.com, Zumper, and Zillow are my personal favorites. Lots of properties aren’t listed across platforms and some listings of the same properties might have more information than others.
- Mind your credit. In order to give yourself a fighting chance to get the place you want, you need to have a reasonably good credit score (600 is usually the minimum) or a pretty substantial income to make up the deficit. That said, there are few other options you can lean on. You may be able to put down a bigger security deposit, get a cosigner (someone with good credit to vouch for you), or pay slightly more rent for the first month or two.
- Monitor your income. You can get a guaranteer if you need have more money coming in than you do for a given place. My dad was a guaranteer for my first ever apartment, but now my income stands alone well enough to avoid this. But if you’re able to get a solid job and make money on your own, it really helps your case.
- Be kind to your current place. You need your security deposit back. Fix anything that is damaged and clean everything. Don’t skimp on the scrubbing, dusting, or anything in between. It’s worth the elbow grease to get thousands of dollars back in your back account. You also want your landlord’s recommendation to use to nail down a new place and future housing!
- Take pictures or videos before you move in and after you move out. This is proof the condition you found and left the place in, and it can be crucial to ensuring your deposit isn’t wrongfully withheld. This tip is genuinely the most important one on the list.
- Be proactive. If you like a place, set up a showing immediately and be ready to throw down the deposit and application on the spot. I’m serious. Especially if the real estate market is competitive, dragging your feet will kill your chances of getting the place you want. When I found an apartment I loved with my future roommate, we had our applications emailed in with a note of interest and intent to rent within ten minutes of leaving. I’m not even kidding. Do not wait to mull over a place for long because it’ll be unavailable in a snap.
- Be persistent. If you want a place, stay on top of it. Reach out to the realtor several times and ensure that all your application materials have been received. You want to stay at the top of their priority list. Follow up and inspect what you expect.
- Start ahead of time. I’m the queen of procrastinating, but you really ought to do this because it’ll make life way easier. Pack one box a day for the two weeks before your moving date, and then finish up the last of the details in the last couple of days.
- Clear out clutter. If you don’t use it or need it, toss it. If you have six black handbags, maybe part with a couple of them. If you’re collecting t-shirts from your high school days, give them to charity. You don’t need to fill up your new place with crap from your old place, and it will save you time on packing, moving, and unpacking.
- Get boxes from local grocery stores. It will save you at least $50 on boxes from U-Haul or Home Depot.
- Label. Every. Single. Box. List the contents of every box on the side of it. It will save you later.
- Make a master list in your phone of every box and bag, and it’s contents. You can thank me later. You’ll know where everything is, generally speaking, and it will make unpacking and the first week or so way easier. During my move, I can’t even tell you how many times I checked my list for something and was like “Oh, the batteries are in box #5!” rather than digging through everything you own.
- Reserve your moving truck ahead of time. Also, ensure the day before and day of that the location has your truck ready. There are mix ups all the time, and it was a really good thing I double checked because my location had a scheduling fluke and double booked my truck. Make sure you reserve a furniture and regular dolly too! It makes moving 50% faster.
- Space Bags are great for clothes, towels, and bedding. Also, trash bags work well too! They keep things condensed, clean, and together.
- Know who is going to help you move and plan ahead. Are you alone? (I hope not but it can be done! I’ve done it, but it was really rough.) Are you getting some friends by bribing them with pizza and beer? Are you hiring movers? Arrange with them for the dates and times well in advance, and be sure to show your gratitude and be available when they need you in the future.
- Pack an essentials box. Fill an easy to access and identify box with all the stuff you’re going to need for the first night or two. A few changes of clothes, your bathroom essentials, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, a speaker for music, phone charger, water bottles, and a few snacks.
- Get dimensions ahead of time if possible. It will help you to plan your new space and ensure that all your furniture will fit.
- Order some of your furniture ahead of time if you’re getting new things for your new place. Wayfair is my new best friend. It’ll make your place feel homier to have a table, couch, etc. soon after you move. It’s not a necessity, but I feel like it helps me settle in if I don’t have to wait weeks for stuff to come in. Just plan accordingly.
- Wrap everything breakable. Don’t be lazy because you’ll hate yourself later for skimping on the newspaper when everything is shattered. You can also wrap things in clothing if you’d prefer.
- Plan ahead if you’re going to need storage spaces for anything, especially big items. Check rates and reserve those ahead of time.
- Know what you want to do with your new space, and be sure that anyone living with you likes it and agrees. It also helps (especially if you have help moving) to immediately put boxes in the correct room rather than piling everything in the living room and trying to haul it all over the place later.
- Keep all your important papers in a drawer where they won’t get lost while you unpack and organize. The last thing you need is to lose your social security card, birth certificate, or lease.
- Let the landlord know if anything isn’t working, is damaged, or is broken right away. Don’t forget to take photos before you move in! I can’t stress this enough!
- Be sure you’re able to put your furniture together, or that you have someone around who can. I’m pretty handy, but I definitely couldn’t assemble my new couch and table without a little help. I bribed a few friends with food and made my life a lot easier. Just be sure you return the favor when your friends need your help moving into their new places. It’s a sacred thing.
- Don’t drag your feet on unpacking. The longer you wait, the harder it will get to tackle it. Also, you’re going to want to feel cozy and at home as soon as possible.
I hope these tips help make your house hunting and move a little smoother!