How to find an apartment: Tips and tricks


Updated on May 20 • 6 minute read

Wondering how to find an apartment in the USA that meets your needs and fits your budget? Fear not! Whether you're a first-time renter or a seasoned pro, we’ve got tips and tricks for you.

This guide will take you through the steps of finding a good apartment in the states. From what to look for in an apartment and neighborhood to how to avoid rental scams and understand your lease agreement.

1. Determine your rental budget

Before you set out to find an apartment, come up with an amount you’re willing to spend on monthly rent, preferably around 30% of your monthly income. When thinking of the budget, consider things like:

  • How big of an apartment you’re looking for
  • Whether you would like to live with roommates or by yourself
  • Will the apartment be furnished or unfurnished
  • Do you want the utilities included or excluded
  • The location
  • Length of the lease (sometimes you can get discounts on the monthly rent if you have a long-term lease)
  • Parking costs

Using HousingAnywhere’s Smart Search can help you narrow your search within the amenities and rental budget you’ve set. You can filter by the apartment size, amenities such as parking or utilities, and whether it’s furnished or unfurnished. You can even set an alert and get a notification whenever an apartment meeting your requirements becomes available!

Tip: Come up with lower and upper rent limits you’re willing to pay. Rental markets are competitive, so having a range rather than a set number increases your chances of finding a place.

2. Choose the location (city and neighborhood)

With your budget in mind, you can quickly narrow down which areas of the city you want and can afford to live in.

Tip: We suggest you look for the average rent per neighborhood, read neighborhood guides, watch videos of people living in the area, and check out forums like Reddit and Quora to learn from people’s first-hand experience.

Have reasonable expectations for the location based on your budget. If you want to live on a budget in New York, don’t look for apartments in the Upper East Side or Midtown. Focus your energy on some of the cheaper NYC neighborhoods like Harlem, Astoria, or Crown Heights.

With HousingAnywhere’s map feature, you can easily check whether a neighborhood fits your budget. Just enter the city and dates in the search bar, and once the results load, switch to map view in the upper right corner. In an instant, you'll see all available properties and their locations.

3. Start your search at least 60 days before you move

The US rental market is quite competitive, especially in metropolitan cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. This is why one of the first items on your relocation checklist to the US is to find an apartment.

Starting your search 60 days before you move gives you plenty of time to look for a place and find one that fits your budget and likes. It also means you won’t have to rush and can compare apartments before choosing the right one.

4. Search for rental listings online

As you'll be looking for apartments before moving, your best bet is to search online, either via social media or rental platforms.

Using social media can be handy as you can join Facebook groups or find a place through your network. Yet, using social media also means you’re more likely to become a victim of a scam (especially through Facebook groups).

Tip: Using a rental platform is more secure and has a broader range of options in one place. While most platforms have a booking fee, that small price is often worth the convenienece and assures you that the person you’re renting from is verified.

Looking for an affordable and simple rental process? Contrary to renting through a rental agency, with HousingAnywhere, you don’t have to go through a tedious rental application process. All you need to provide to the landlord is proof of ID, income, and occupation/enrolment to be able to book.

5. Understand credit scores and paying rent in the United States

When applying for rental housing, some landlords and property management companies may check your credit score as part of their tenant screening process. A higher credit score can make it easier to be approved for a rental, while a lower score may result in higher security deposits, co-signers, or rental denials.

Tip: If you’re moving from another country, you won’t have a US credit score in the beginning. You can grow a good credit history by paying bills on time, getting an American credit card, getting a credit builder loan, and using a service to try and retrieve your international credit history.

Once you have found an apartment, ask the landlord's preferred payment method. Rent payment methods in the US, vary and can include online payments through property management websites, direct bank transfers, checks, or money orders. For foreigners, it’s best to get an American bank account as it would be easier, safer, and quicker to pay rent. This way, you can always trace the payment and have proof of payment, if required.

6. Consider roommates

Finding an apartment with roommates has plenty of perks. You can split costs, live with your friends, share responsibilities, and enjoy increased security.

If you’re looking for an apartment in larger cities like New York or Los Angeles, living with roommates is recommended as it will significantly lower rental costs and likely increase your chances of finding a place.

Yet living with roommates also means less privacy, getting used to their lifestyles, having to follow common house rules, and potentially difficulty finding the right roommates.

7. Be aware of scams

One of the important things to keep an eye on is rental scams. Becoming a victim of one can cost you money, stress, and your dream apartment. As a rule of thumb, finding apartments through social media or Craigslist increases the chances of getting scammed.

Here are 5 tips on how to avoid online rental scams when looking for apartments:

  1. Use verified sources: Work with well-known online rental platforms, reputable property management companies, or real estate agents. With HousingAnywhere, you can see that landlords are verified, ensuring you’re renting from a reputable real estate agent.
  2. Beware of unrealistic offers: If a rental price seems too good to be true for the location or size of the property, it may be a red flag.
  3. Never wire money or send personal information: Legitimate landlords won’t ask for payment or personal data via email, phone, or text without a proper application process.
  4. Research online listings: Take the time to research the rental property online. Scammers often reuse photos and descriptions from legitimate listings. Use reverse image search tools to check if the same images appear elsewhere on the internet.
  5. Trust your instincts and gut feeling: If something about the rental situation feels off or too good to be true, trust your instincts. Scammers may use high-pressure tactics or create a sense of urgency to get you to act quickly. Take your time, ask questions, and verify information before making any commitments.

Check out our guide to avoiding online scams to learn more about protecting yourself and how to tell a real listing from a fake one.

8. Make a list of questions to ask your landlord

Once you’ve found an apartment you want to rent, ask your landlord questions to have a better understanding of the living situation. Here’s a list of 10 questions you can ask your landlord:

  • What is the security deposit amount, and under what conditions will it be returned?
  • Is the lease term renewable?
  • How are maintenance requests and repairs handled?
  • Who should you contact in an emergency, such as a plumbing or electrical issue?
  • What is the process for reporting emergencies?
  • What is the expected response time for resolving maintenance issues?
  • How are utility bills (electricity, water, gas) divided or paid?
  • Are the appliances in good working condition?
  • What are the specific rules and policies for the property, such as pet policies, smoking restrictions, and noise regulations?
  • What is the property's history in terms of tenant satisfaction and any issues?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially if there’re any specific situations you need to accommodate.

9. Fill in the rental application

The last step you need to complete after finding the apartment is submitting the rental application.The property management company or landlord will send you one. The rental application also applies to prospective roommates or a co-signer who may join you in signing the lease.

Here’s a list of the personal information typically required on a rental application form:

  • Name
  • Current address (for internationals: the address on your visa)
  • Phone number and email address
  • Valid ID
  • Residence permit (e.g., Green card or student visa) for internationals
  • Social Security number
  • Employment and income information
  • Previous address
  • Pets (if applicable)
  • Emergency contacts
  • Landlord references
  • Personal and professional references

Usually, each apartment application needs a different rental application for which you have to pay. With HousingAnywhere's personal profiles, you complete your details just once and use the profile to introduce yourself to many prospective landlords for free. When contacting them, you only need proof of ID, income, and current occupation or enrolment status.

Once the application is done, all you need to do is wait to be approved for the apartment, sign the lease, and start your life in your new apartment!

This article is for informational purposes only.

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