The biggest apartment search mistakes – Number 3, the online search

Sandburg Village pool, Chicago, IL

The biggest mistake apartment searchers make is failing to focus on a small number of ideal and affordable neighborhoods. The second biggest mistake is waiting too long to begin searching.

The third biggest mistake that apartment hunters make is searching only online and often in the wrong places.

When you begin your search you should broadcast what you’re looking for to all of your online connections. Tell your Facebook friends and Twitter followers where you’re looking, what size apartment you want and when you plan to move. If you’re open to a roommate situation or a sublet, include that info. Your apartment search may be over in a matter of minutes when you learn that a friend or one of her roommates is moving from your dream apartment, or knows someone who is.

Begin your online search as early as possible, and focus it on the few sources that expose the most options in your dream locations. You’ll quickly learn whether your budget will support your dream. If not, retool your neighborhood focus as quickly as possible or rethink your openness to living with a roommate.

Hit the streets

Don’t limit yourself to an online search. Depending on your target location a number of the best apartments may not be advertised online but promoted only through FOR RENT signs on the property. Walk or bike the area on a block-by-block basis looking for signs. That’s also a good way to meet some of the locals and confirm your comfort level with the neighborhood.

Roommates

Craigslist is your best bet for roommate situations. You’ll find a much larger number of ads there than you will on Facebook or Roommates.com, and the ads are (generally) free of spam.

Sublets

A sublet can be a good move in a number of ways. When you assume the balance of someone else’s lease you can often get a discount on the rent they’re obligated to pay under the lease.

A sublet is also a way for you to test living in a neighborhood you’re unsure of without making a long-term commitment. Although there may be no guarantee, you are typically able to sign a new lease when the existing one expires.

Craigslist is your best source for finding sublets, and the category is largely free from rental service spam ads.

Single-family homes and condos

You’ll find the greatest selection – by far – of available rental homes and condos at broker sites affiliated with the local Multiple Listing Service. These sites enable you to search by price and location, and give you exact address information, photos and other details. You can sign up to receive e-mail notifications as new listings become available.

We recommend the sites maintained by our long-term clients: Coldwell Banker, Koenig & Strey or Prudential Rubloff.

Larger apartment complexes, high-rises

If you’re searching in the downtown Chicago area, Lincoln Park or Lake View, YoChicago’s comprehensive at-a-glance apartment lists and maps, along with our rental Guides, expose you to virtually every available option, with links to the property Web sites, Yelp reviews and video tours.

Outside of the areas YoChicago covers your best source, by far, for apartments in high-rises and larger complexes is Apartments.com, a national site affiliated with the Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers.

Avoid Craigslist completely for this type of apartment. It’s plagued by torrents of rental service spam, often fraudulent or bait-and-switch.

Small-building rentals

Your best bet in this category is Craigslist, but you’ll have to slog through the near-endless spam ads from rental services to find apartments. Your task will be easier if you’re not looking in one of the lakefront or high-profile neighborhoods the rental services target.

Apartment rental services

We strongly recommend avoiding the rental services we call bedbugs. If you’re determined to work with one, learn the twenty-five things they don’t want you to know first. If you’re unsure of whether a company is a rental service, consult our rental service do-not-call list, which is added to periodically.

Next in our series: ignoring warning signs

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