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Apartment Hunting: Finding the Perfect Rental Like a Pro

Written by Savannah Marie, Community Blogger | Aug 14, 2014 11:20 AM

I've got firsthand knowledge of the perks of being a renter. When the dishwasher stops working, I just call my landlord. When my window leaks after a bad storm, I don't have to track down a repair company or look up warranty information. Obviously, there are financial benefits, as well. I don't need to save up for a 20% down payment or go through the mortgage qualification process. I don’t need to commit to one location for the next 30 years.  I'm free to move or even break my lease for a small fee whenever I want to.

So when my office switched locations this year, I was glad to be renting. Since we moved 25 miles into midtown Harrisburg, I'm looking to pick up sticks and shorten my commute. I've noticed that there are even plenty of options within walking distance, which is a dream of mine.

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The WebpageFX office in midtown

Imagine not having to hop in the car every morning and battle a commute, construction or someone else's road rage! But, the house hunting process can be long and complicated, even if I’m “only” renting. So here is what I've learned so far.

Have a List of Non-Negotiables

Rental searches can turn into stressful, wild goose chases if you don’t take time to come up with a solid list of non-negotiable items. That way, you can immediately eliminate a lot of the stock simply because it doesn’t meet your needs. If central air is a must have, why waste an hour touring a home without a cooling system? If two bedrooms are a must, don’t daydream about that studio with exposed brick.

Some of my non-negotiables include an in-apartment washer/dryer, two bedrooms and a secure building.   This really does help with the search process. For example, when I was on apartments.com looking at available spaces, setting the criteria with just one of my non-negotiables (two bedrooms) dropped the list from 50 potential apartments to 27. Other websites like Zillow.com or Craigslist also have seemingly endless inventory and online searching can turn into a time suck. I don’t have time to spare and neither do you!

Be Realistic About Your Budget

I couldn’t believe I had found this awesome apartment with architectural features in a great section of Harrisburg for such a cheap price. Word to the wise: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  The listed monthly payment didn’t include utilities, window treatments or parking. Those add-ons pushed the apartment well out of my price range and off my list. 

With that said, there are plenty of ways to keep your costs down once you are in the apartment. Resources like T&H, an online design store, can help you furnish your apartment beautifully but on the cheap. There are lots of websites with tips for keeping utility bills down and if you are walking more (like I plan to), you will be saving money on gas and upkeep to your car.

Be Ready to Sign Today

The rental market is hot right now. Many people have learned from the recession and are waiting to buy a home until they are financially secure. That means you may find stiff competition for an apartment, especially the great bargains. 

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Photo by Missy S.

In a city like Harrisburg, there isn’t a huge amount of stock once you’ve drilled down to your preferred neighborhood and non-negotiables. For example, given the fact that I’m looking in midtown, a friend recommended the renovated mid-rise called Riverview Manor. But it’s a condo building, so most of the units are owned and only two of the units are up for rent. When looking at an apartment like that, you’ll need to be ready to sign on the dotted line, so have your finances and references in order, and your checkbook handy.

Don’t let this competition rush you into signing a lease you will regret. Walk through the apartment and neighborhood, ask lots of questions and use your detection skills. Smell something musty? Ask about it. Notice the doors to the building propped open? Question the security. Flush the toilet and run the water. Now is the time to resolve any issues before you sign on the dotted line.

Apartment hunting is exciting. I’d love to be in walking distance to Midtown Cinema and the Broad Street Market. I can picture myself living near the capitol and hanging out in the restaurants on Second St. Yet, I’m also picking home and I’m learning to prepare, take it seriously and ask important questions.

Let me know your apartment hunting tips and please give me the inside scoop on any cool neighborhoods I should be checking out!

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