Finding a place to live in a new city can be hard, but there are ways to save money and sanity during your search.

If you don’t do your apartment search correctly, you might end up living in a single bedroom apartment with three other guys in double bunk beds with no apartment key and no parking permit.

At least, that’s what happened to me when I moved 2,000 miles away after graduating from college. I’m from a very small town in Ohio (Fresno: total population 140) so when I moved to a large metro area in Florida, I was pretty confused about the whole housing hunt.

What neighborhoods should I search that would be both affordable and safe? Would it be cheaper to find a roommate in a house, or try to get my own place? Where could I find a roommate in a city where I knew no one?

I figured out the answers to all these questions the hard way; which resulted in me moving four times in four months. So let me share with you some wisdom I gleaned in the process…

1. Search before you move…

Get a jump start on your apartment hunt before you actually move. There are dozens of websites out there dedicated to mapping out open apartment, house, and condo locations, so you don’t have to rely on newspaper classifieds anymore. Some of the more useful sites include:

  • Zillow, which combines listings from property managers and owners, houses for rent, and even current mortgage rates and home loans;
  • PadMapper, which searches for openings using Google Maps so you can see the relative location of where you might be moving and has mobile apps for Android and iPhone;
  • Hotpads, which has street views of every listing, and allows you to contact properties and landlords through its search map.

2. …but stay away from Craigslist.

Seriously, use Craigslist as a last resort. The pictures usually don’t tell the full truth and people advertising their rooms or apartments on Craigslist know their audience — generally, younger, mobile people who need a semi-permanent place to live.

One of my Craigslist roommates had an awesome posting of his house — spacious, clean, and a pool in the backyard. Because of circumstances, I had to move in pretty much immediately, so I didn’t really ask a lot of questions, which was Mistake No. 1. Turns out the guy was a total slob and never cleaned any part of the house, including the pool, and would host parties but totally refuse to clean up after, resulting in our backyard becoming the dumpster dive for the neighborhood’s stray cats.

Instead of rooming with a rando, broadcast to everyone you know — friends, family, co-workers — that you’re new in town and looking for a place to live. If you went to college, often there are college alumni groups in bigger cities that may be able to help you out as well.

3. Looking for somewhere cheap to live for a short amount of time can save you money in the long run.

When I first moved to Florida, a friend told me about Airbnb, which matches you with local people from your city who have an extra guest room or maybe a studio apartment where you can stay. You pay nightly, so it’s a good option for people looking for a very temporary place to stay because you don’t have a lease to worry about.

On the other hand, you definitely want to know what you’re getting into before you commit to staying with an Airbnb host. When I first got to the apartment where I’d end up staying for a month and a half, I discovered that I would be given no key, which was needed to get both in AND out of the building, and no parking permit. I actually had to sneak into my own parking garage by tailgating the other residents who lived there. Not a pleasant surprise.

4. Consider your commute to work.

Apartments in many cities are expensive, so maybe you’re considering moving to the suburbs where rent is cheaper. But be sure to factor in the extra time it will take to get to work, along with gas money if you drive or a public transportation pass if you don’t have a car. It might not be too much cheaper with transportation costs considered.

Luckily, I was able to find a place just outside the city that affordable and close to both my jobs.

5. Once you find a place, carefully research rent in the area BEFORE you sign any lease.

Another Craigslist mistake: I moved into a house where I assumed the owner would be charging me a fair amount for rent. NOPE. I lived in a not-so-great part of town in a small, unfurnished bedroom and had to share a bathroom with a slovenly male owner, yet I was paying rent that *maybe* would’ve been expected for a downtown apartment.

If you discover yourself in this situation because you, like me, didn’t do research beforehand, try asking your roommate or landlord for a rent reduction. Hopefully you’ll have better luck than I did.

6. Know what’s included in the rent.

Maybe water and trash service is included, but heating and electricity bills are up to you to pay. Be sure to ask what you’ll be responsible for, and how often you’ll get the bill. Sometimes it’s monthly, but some places charge every two months, or every three months. Be sure to ask if parking is available or if you need to buy a pass, and ask about other amenities like gym memberships.

7. Review the move-out policy and security deposit return.

Some places charge first and last month’s rent, and a security deposit. Make sure to ask the landlord if you’ll get the security deposit back at the end of your lease; and whether or not it’s guaranteed. Lots of apartments require a spotless move-out in order to get your deposit back, so ask in advance whether you’re allowed to hang up picture frames or paint the walls.

8. Meet any and all potential roommates in person before you move anywhere.

Nearly all of my mistakes could have been avoided if I had simply met my future roommates. You need to discuss cleanliness, sleep schedules, job hours, cooking preferences; and don’t forgo mentioning even weird stuff like personal hygiene. NO ONE WANTS A ROOMMATE WHO LEAVES THEIR SHAVEN BEARD HAIR ALL OVER THE SINK.

When you’re viewing the apartment, check the wastebaskets, toilet seats, kitchen sink, and showers. These can be good indicators of sloppiness.

9. Then do a background check on them.

I’m not kidding. I’ve definitely lived with criminals. This can be avoidable with a simple Google search, and looking them up on sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Even if they don’t have a record, you can at least get a sense of what type of person they are. Do they like to party? Stay up all night? Cook homemade food? Smoke inside the house? You can usually find out the answers to these questions from the person’s online profile.

10. If the new place gives you a funny feeling, don’t be afraid to back out, even if it’s last minute.

Don’t be shy about saying no. You have to live here, after all. If you’re not happy at home it will affect your personal and even your professional life. The last thing you want to happen is getting stuck in a one-year lease with a roommate who seems eager to be a little too friendly. If it feels weird already, it’s only going to get worse.

Trust me on that one.

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Meet the Author

Jess Miller

Jess Miller


Miller is the former assistant editor of


homebuyers, renting, social media

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Article last modified on January 26, 2018 Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Apartment Hunting for Dummies: The Checklist - AMP.