Don't stress — here's how to find a rental apartment

Don't sweat it 🙌

Moving boxes stacked up with plants and rugs
(Image credit: Getty)

Whether you’re moving into your first apartment or looking for a place to call home in a new city, finding the right apartment can feel like a daunting task. 

As the housing markets in some cities become more competitive and rentals become harder to come by, finding an apartment requires tact, organization, and field sport-like skills. Even for those who are adept at wading through classifieds, apartment hunting can be tricky. 

With complex apartment applications, scammers, and short turn-around times between tenants all in the mix, it can be tempting to settle for less than you hoped for. However, if you have a better understanding of the process, you have a better chance of finding the place of your dreams 

 Have Your Paperwork Organized 

Rule number one: You need to prepare for when the right space comes along. Before your apartment hunting even begins, you need to collect any paperwork you might need for apartment applications, such as pay stubs, job contract letters, bank statements, and more. 

Time is often of the essence when it comes to applying for rentals. Without this information, you could risk not being prepared enough to submit an application in time and losing the place you wanted. 

 Deep Dive Into The Online Marketplaces 

Those with a penchant for hunting might prevail in finding a rental in the online marketplaces, like Zillow Rentals,, Apartment Guide, and the like. Even if you spend a good amount of time searching for what you want, at the most popular classified websites, you may still come up short. 

If this is the case, you could try less popular online marketplaces, such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. When searching through any online classified be sure to take the proper safety precautions to avoid scammers.  

 Take A Walk Through Your Dream Neighborhood  

Although many realtors, brokers, and property management companies post their listings online, there are always landlords who prefer word-of-mouth and don’t advertise online as much. 

In order to find the unlisted apartments, take a walk around your choice neighborhoods to search for “For Rent” signs. Walking around the neighborhoods will also give you a feel for the space and give you a better understanding of the place you want to live. 

 Pay Attention To The Details In Ads  

Here’s a scenario: You’re a skilled home chef who lives in the kitchen and you’ve found the ideal apartment. There’s just one catch, there’s no oven! Without thoroughly reading through classified ads, online and in print, you won’t get the full story and might waste time viewing apartments that don’t fit your criteria. 

Instead of rapidly viewing as many apartments as fast as possible, make a list of your “deal breakers'' (examples include needing a place with in-unit laundry, a certain number of bedrooms, or an outdoor area). If an apartment doesn’t meet your basic requirements, it’s best to move on. Your dream place might be right around the corner. 

 Consider Your Dream Place 

In order to get the best sense of where you want to move, make a list of all the aspects of your dream apartment. Although you likely won’t find one that checks off all your wants and desires, you might get a better understanding of what elements are wants and what are absolute “deal breakers" so once you move in you can make the most of your apartment.

 Uncover The Best Locally-Used Websites  

Although there are plenty of rental websites that are used in many cities — such as Zillow and Trulia — your own city might have a locally-used rental classifieds website. 

In order to find out what websites are commonly used in your city, you’ll have to ask around or do online research.  These sites allow you to filter down by type of rental, rent cost, neighborhood, and plenty of other factors.

 Talk To Your Friends And Acquaintances 

Even better than deep-diving on the internet is finding out what rentals or management companies are recommended by friends or acquaintances. 

By talking to people in the city you want to live in, you may find that there are commonly-used rental companies and locally-used classifieds you wouldn’t otherwise find. 

Reach out to friends (and friend of friends) to see if they know any apartments up for rent or have any tips on finding the best one locally. 

 Communicate Thoughtfully Throughout Your Search 

As you contact landlords and management companies in your search, be sure to always communicate using courtesy. Be sure to communicate clearly and answer any questions they might have before they ask. 

You never know if their approved tenant will end up falling out last minute, leaving them to consider the next person.  

 Hire A Broker To Help  

Especially for those searching for an apartment in a high-value city, such as New York City or Los Angeles, a broker or agent can help you narrow your search easily. 

Brokers also have access to unlisted vacancies or inside knowledge on new apartments accepting tenants. This will put you ahead of the game on your apartment search and can help you secure the place of your dreams. 

Kate Santos

Hello! I’m Kate Santos, a writer and photographer based in Los Angeles. In the design world, I got my start working as an Editorial Intern for Dwell magazine in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve written about design and architecture in many national magazines and online publications, including Playboy, Hunker, and The Culture Trip.

I grew up in a very old house in North Carolina and am still influenced by the rustic, charming, antique and aged elements of a home. Sustainability and longevity is extremely important to me and I believe learning to reuse materials or purchasing items you’ll love forever goes a long way. I also lean towards the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi when designing my own home, embracing the perfectly imperfect items I can find.