Five tips for long-distance apartment hunting

Before you show up with the moving van, read these tips from someone who has firsthand experience in finding a home from far away.


Moving to a new city can be a challenge — more so when you’ve never walked the streets of your new neighborhood. Even if you can manage a short trip to your future home, it’s bound to be a whirlwind — and a visit doesn’t guarantee a signed lease. You might leave with more questions than you arrived with.

Luckily, I’ve had some experience tracking down a new pad. Before moving to Dallas, I signed a lease based on what I saw on the Internet. Later, when I moved to Los Angeles, I stuffed my car with all my belongings and found a place on the fly — this included hours of calls with leasing agents while making the 22-hour drive. Needless to say, I’ve got a few tips and tricks up my sleeve that may help with your apartment hunt.

Ask your friends and ask your employer

Tap into your circles. You may have a connection to someone in your new locale — whether it’s a friend from college, a friend of a friend, or just a LinkedIn connection. This is the time to reach out and get unbiased information about good and bad neighborhoods in town. They can also tell you where to find housing within your price range.

If you have a job lined up, ask your employer. They’ll likely be more than willing to share area recommendations, and they’re probably more apt to suggest parts of town that allow for an easy, short commute.

Be candid with the leasing agent

If you have to hunt for your new apartment over the phone, be upfront with your leasing agent. Let her know your needs — everything from move-in timeframe to budget and commute. These are the first things you should discuss before continuing the conversation. Help her understand that you will need special attention throughout the duration of the leasing process. Ask for updated pictures, blueprints, a video tour, etc. If she wants to close the deal, she’ll provide you with everything you need. Don’t waste your time with leasing agents who aren’t willing to go above and beyond for you.

Research, research, and more research

You are not the first person to move to your city. There are plenty of previously helpless transplants who want to share their wealth of knowledge. To learn more about the area, read reviews about neighborhoods on websites such as Neighborhood Scout or Area Vibes. And search for area-specific blogs like I’ that are dedicated to helping newbies navigate their new home. Online review sites can also offer telling information about apartment complexes, but take them with a grain of salt since you don’t know the reviewer.

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Have all your documents ready

If you’re looking for apartments on the fly or if your quick visit is strictly dedicated to apartment hunting, come prepared to sign a lease. Have every single document on hand before you even step into the leasing office. Why? If you’re in a city where apartments are on the market one hour and off the market the next, there won’t be room for hesitation.

Here’s what you may need:

    • Proof of employment
    • Social security card
    • A government-issued photo ID (like a driver’s license)
    • Three to six months of bank statements
    • Your checkbook, but leasing agents may request a money order or cashier’s check

Let a real estate agent do the legwork

If all else fails, there is no harm calling in help. Even if you don’t utilize a real estate agent to find a place, you can at least pick his brain about renting in your new city. He can point you in the right direction, set up appointments, and even tour with you. A big bonus: Landlords often shoulder the agent fee. If you’re worried about tackling the apartment hunting process alone, this is a great way to find a place with little to no effort on your part.