Craigslist: Apartment Hunting

Craigslist is a great, free resource for many things, including buying and selling goods, job hunting, and apartment hunting. With all of these experiences and transactions, there are many common themes, so to avoid redundancy, check out the other three posts if you haven’t yet (buying, selling, and job hunting) — then come back to this one. Thanks! Now this is a broken record free zone.

To give you an understanding of how a typical Craigslist apartment hunting experience goes, I’m going to walk you through our four apartment hunting experiences (all via Craigslist), and of course, I will be randomly interspersing pictures of my dogs, Margeaux and Nola. Just try to stop me.

Free dog bed

We found our first apartment as a married couple through a service called Promove, however we first heard of Promove through Craigslist (as of this writing, Promove is only available to residents of metro Atlanta and Dallas, but if you live in any of these places and you’re apartment hunting, definitely consider using them — they’re completely free!).

Our first apartment was great, affordable, in a safe neighborhood, but a teensy bit small for our taste — at the time (times have changed). We were living in Sandy Springs, GA, a suburb north of Atlanta, where rental property wasn’t too steep, and we knew we could get something bigger for approximately the same price, if only we searched.

They're very adaptable to small spaces.

This put us at the end of an eleven month lease (a goofy thing our first apartment offered in order to save us a little money on monthly rent), and eleven months from the time we got married and moved in happened to be the end of December, smack dab in the middle of the winter holidays. This may sound like no fun, however it earned us some serious savings on our rent, since no one wants to apartment hunt during the holidays.

It’s sort of a Catch-22 (sort of) because no one is looking for an apartment during the holidays, which also means no one is moving during the holidays. However, we were able to find a few apartment communities on Craigslist that had vacant units, and they were super motivated to lease them as soon as possible (no management company likes a vacant apartment). This gave us a lot of room to negotiate for a better deal.

dog in Braves hat

I bet she could negotiate a good deal... in this hat.

After the lease was up in our second apartment, we decided we wanted to move into the city (of Atlanta, that is) to be closer to work. While there are some amazing apartment communities in Atlanta, most of these are very cookie cutter/lots of (unnecessary) amenities/etc. etc. and this was not what we were looking for this go ’round. In Atlanta, there are so many beautiful, older homes — we love old houses– that have been turned into quadruplexes, and we decided this was something that we would like to try. Because most of these are privately owned (no big management companies), Craigslist was more important than ever. And because we were dealing with individuals versus big companies, we had to be even more cautious than usual. And because we were dealing with old homes and all of the charming details (and the not so charming details: structural instability, rodents, uneven floors, et al), we knew we really had to have our scam radar on.

Clearly, Margeaux does not have her scam radar on.

As with the other units, we followed the same process: we searched Craigslist within our budget and within our defined neighborhood. In Atlanta, we knew we wanted to live in the Virginia Highlands area, but knowing this is a very desirable part of the city, we were also aware of “neighbor misnomer fraud.” Ok, that’s not exactly a real thing, but that’s what I call it when a landlord or management company lists a property as being in a particular neighborhood (or just lists it somewhere on the Craigslist ad) so it comes up in your search for your specific neighborhood. However, the reality of it may be that it’s a mile or more from your neighborhood… and while a mile or more is no big deal in a suburban area (a mile by car is like 2 minutes), a mile in an urban area is vastly different. A lot can change — especially crime rates — in less than a mile.

Nola taking a bite out of crime.

Also with privately owned apartments and/or apartments in urban areas, utilities — or at least some of them — are included, and such was the case with our Atlanta apartment. When we first heard the monthly rent, we thought it was a little steep, but when we were told that included utilities (and then did the math), we realized we’d actually be saving a little money. Lesson learned: always ask up front what is included (and what isn’t).

With our move to NYC, we knew we wanted to look in Brooklyn, and we’d narrowed down the neighborhoods we’d be willing to call home (also thanks to an amazing website called Nabewise.com that gave us the ins and outs of various “nabes”). The apartment we ended up with has actually proved to be a great place. However, this choice was basically the only choice because of when we searched: the week of the 4th of July. This was the only time that we could both get away from work for NYC apartment hunting, and with a projected move-in date of August 2nd, this was just about the only option.

Nola's thoughts on our current apartment

We’d heard tales of prospective tenants racing each other to the finish line in order to turn in their paperwork first and secure a lease before the other (and they’re not just tales — it’s like something on the Animal Planet). So we thought ourselves rather clever that we were going to be among the few apartment hunting then (after all, it was the week of the 4th of July). And we were right… on one account. However, what we didn’t take into account was that most brokers and leasing agents would be on vacation and/or wouldn’t be listing very many rental options that week because they assumed (like we did) that most folks were on vacation. So, while this fact helped us in Atlanta during the winter holidays, this hurt us in New York during 4th of July week… in the form of fewer available options. And fewer available options meant we went with the first apartment we ever looked at. (Gasp!) Yeah, this might sound a little reckless, but based on the Craigslist and Nabewise research we’d done, along with the fact we were definitely not apartment hunting novices (I mean, c’mon!), we felt pretty darn confident with this decision. (And we still haven’t regretted it.)

TICKLE FIGHT!!!

Ok, so I’ve done more narrating than advice-doling here, but I wanted to paint the picture of how I know Craigslist is a great apartment hunting resource. Here are a few more tips we’ve picked up along the way:

  • Subscribe to Craigslist’s RSS feed, specific to your search, that way you’re aware of a new list as soon as it becomes available. So if you’re looking for a 1 bedroom apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn for $1400/month or less, just type in the criteria, hit search, and scroll to the bottom where you’ll see the little yellow RSS logo. Subscribe to these search results using Google Reader or something like that and you can get these updates A.S.A.P. (and if your phone is of the smart variety, you’ll really get these A.S.A.P.
  • Whether or not you’re working with an individual of a privately owned property or a leasing agent at a larger apartment community, you always have at least some ability to negotiate (though working with an individual with a private property usually affords you more haggling ammo). It never hurts to at least try.
  • Don’t ever assume that the picture in the ad is the picture of the unit that you may be leasing, and with this advice in mind don’t ever, ever lease a unit without seeing it first. (I would even go as far to say don’t trust that verbal guarantee that agents sometimes give you: “It’s just like this one, but it’s on the second floor.” That might be true, but then again it might have rotting wood flooring, a hole in the ceiling, no refrigerator — this is a real life example.)
  • If you’re trying to narrow your search down to a specific area, but are wondering about the credibility of the Craigslist neighborhood descriptions, in addition to Nabewise.com, you can also try a new website called MapsKrieg. It’s still in it’s Beta version, but I’m pretty impressed so far; it is literally a mash-up of Google Maps and Craigslist apartment listings. You type in the neighborhood or city where you’re looking and MapsKrieg does the rest. The only limitation here is that sometimes a listing does not provide an accurate address, if any at all, so it’s possible you’re missing some other postings by solely relying on MapsKrieg. Use MapsKrieg as a companion to your search rather than the only option you use.
  • Try to apartment hunt with someone, whether it be your future roommate, significant other, or just a very helpful friend or family member. Not only will they help give you balance and prevent you from making emotional decisions, but it’s just safer to have someone with you, especially at those privately owned places.
  • Just like with buying on Craigslist, watch out for key words that could have double meanings (vintage can often mean “charming and full of character,” but it can also mean run-down and nasty, just as one example).
  • Never offer your social security number or credit card number over the phone. This shouldn’t happen until you’re signing the lease, or at least filling out the application, and all of these things should be done in person. But you knew that, right?
  • I always prefer e-mailing over talking on the phone, but sometimes the best and fastest way to snatch up a deal is to call the listed number. I know. Sorry.
  • Even if you have pets, don’t check the “cats” or “dogs” boxes. Surprisingly often, landlords don’t mention this detail or make this selection in their own listing, and in my experience, it does not absolutely mean that pets aren’t allowed. I don’t really understand this frequent omission, but the apartment I’m in now didn’t mention cats or dogs in their Craigslist ad, and when I mentioned this to the broker, it was no problem at all (we didn’t even have to pay a pet deposit). Of course, there are some buildings that are pet-free, but usually they tell you up front in the listing.

Whew! Lots of stuff. Anyone else got any tips out there? And just curious, has anyone else out there lived in 4 apartments in less than 3 years? Are you impressed, or mostly just horrified? And how about those dogs? (You’re think they’re pretty cute, right?) Leave a comment!

Check out the rest of the ongoing Craigslist series…

Buying on Craigslist

Selling on Craigslist

Job Hunting on Craigslist

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7 thoughts on “Craigslist: Apartment Hunting

  1. Pingback: Craigslist: FREE! | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  2. I beat you. We are looking for our 4th apt in 3 yrs. We seem to have a curse on us. Our landlords die on us & the family wants to sell. It is even harder to find a 3 bdrm apt that will take a dog.& kids (well…teenagers). I am a native Brooklynite, born & raised 3rd generation (my kids are 4th) & if anyone knows how hard it is to find an apt is me. Being a native Brooklynite, we aren’t interested in trendy, artsy, cultural, touristy, nightlife, etc kind of neighborhood. We want a Brooklyn family neighborhood. We can go to those places if we need to, don’t need to live there. I do appreciate your tips for finding an apartment on Craigs List, but a 4th floor walk-up is not my idea of a great find. We can’t afford more than $1700/mo & the neighborhoods listed on Nabewise (btw is now known as Airbnb) doesn’t even mention the neighborhoods that are affordable & family oriented. I love your blog. I love your money saving decorating tips & DIY recipes. But please don’t give advice about finding great affordable apartments in Brooklyn. Your’re not a native & haven’t a clue.

  3. Ah! Spoken like a true New Yorker!

    First of all, thanks for reading the blog — glad you’re enjoying it thus far!

    Second, by no stretch do I claim to be an expert on “finding great affordable apartments in Brooklyn.” What I do say is: “To give you an understanding of how a typical Craigslist apartment hunting experience goes, I’m going to walk you through our four apartment hunting experiences (all via Craigslist).” That’s all, and nothing more. In fact THREE of the FOUR apartments were in metro ATLANTA, so if anything, I’ve provided what I think is some helpful info for Atlantans. The NYC apartment experience is merely anecdotal. And a bit of a cautionary tale, because, as I learned that week, apartment hunting during the 4th of July is not wise if you want options. Yes, we ended up in a fourth floor walk-up, in a true Brooklyn family neighborhood (nothing more, nothing less), without an ounce of trendy artsy anything really, but quite safe, and we pay pennies compared to what some of our friends and peers pay for their apartments. (And again, we’re young marrieds looking for a one bedroom and seeking to make a small carbon footprint while hopefully finding a place that will accept not one, but TWO dogs. We wouldn’t even begin to know how to look for a three bedroom apartment up here and our budget has never been anywhere near $1700/month — I wish!. Obviously, we have very different experiences, needs, and skill sets.)

    Yes, Nabewise was recently acquired by AirBNB, I saw that, too. Must update it soon! However, I recommended that resource because it is user-driven; that is, native Brooklynites like you can update it, along with New York newbies like me. All the opinions expressed about neighborhoods were not from some company, bur rather the inhabitants of those actual neighborhoods. In that sense, it was a great resource (but alas, it is now gone).

    Most importantly, this whole blog post is based purely on finding an apartment through the sometimes elusive Craigslist. I don’t even mention the other ways like going through one broker, using the Village Voice, putting your name on waiting lists for specific buildings, talking to friends of friends, reading the obits and figuring out where the deceased use to live, etc., etc. I don’t mention these ways, because they are not methods I’ve tried, so I can’t attest to their usefulness firsthand (though I hear good things!). What I DO know about is Craigslist, so what I chose was to walk the reader through my four apartment hunting experiences (since married, not to mention the ones prior to that), all very different, but all via Craigslist, in order to take some of the stigma away from a resource that I think is pretty good, especially in more urban areas like Atlanta and NYC. But again, just Craigslist. This is NOT a definitive apartment hunting guide for New Yorkers. At all.

    A blog — especially this one — is a web log, not a monologue. The Ginger Penny Pincher community — small, but mighty — relies on feedback and conversations among its readers. So, instead of telling me what I shouldn’t do — which as you’ll see, is something I didn’t do in the first place — PLEASE contribute any and all advice that you may have on the subject, especially from your Brooklynite perspective! It would be greatly appreciated :)

    Again, thanks for reading — AND commenting!

  4. Ahhmy ginger-hair friend. I have been cut to the quick. You have struck the fatal blow & I shall relent. I apologize, bad day & I took it out on you…no excuse. I am sorry. Forgiven?

    As you have rightly suggested, I am going to help give some suggestions that I have used in the past & shall use now to find that apartment we need to live.

    Nice, affordable apartments in NY are a rarity. Just so you know a 3 bdrm apt in Bklyn that take kids (again my bad teenagers) & a dog for $1700 dont exist. I am moving from such a place & it took me forever to find this one. it is going to take us longer to find another one. Unfortunately, because of Sandy, apartments are more of a premium than ever before. Displace families need someplace to live & greedy LL know this. Apt prices have sky rocketed. We have to find the extra money somewhere in order to live in a decent area. We havent seen anything that we could rent that was a). safe, b). legal & c) healthy for less than $2,500 OUCH!! That is through the real estate agent. Which unfortunately is the best way to find an apartment in NYC, but who can afford it??? I worked real estate a long time ago. I got their number & I know their lingo, but for an owner of an apartment, it probably is the safest way to go, but as a tenant, it is the expensive way to go.

    Second best way WORD OF MOUTH!!! Absolutely! Tell everyone & their grandmother you are looking for a place. The butcher, the baker, the mechanic, that casual stranger you were chatting with on line while waiting to pay for your groceries. A lot of people, especially older adults, are very distrustful of people. They would rather have someone come from someone they know, then have strangers walking through their homes looking through everything. Cant say I blame them. Unfortunately for me I have exhausted my shout outs. I mean 4 times in 3 years is a lot even for this harden NYer. Thank goodness we live in the age of communication so Tweet, Facebook, Blog, etc. Let everyone know & tell them to tell everyone they know, etc. Even use your kids school friends & your kids teachers. If you have to, shout from the rooftops. Didnt work for me, but one never knows.

    The obituary used to be a great source, back in the day. Maybe in small towns, but here in NY uh uh. First of all if the person who died was an elderly person, they either a) have their own home, which the family sells & divvy up the cash, b) live in a rent control apartment, which a family member has already taken over before they were even cold or c) if they did live alone, they lived there a long time & the apt needs lots of work. Besides, by the time you found where they lived, the apartment is already rented.

    Craigs List is a great starting point, but I have to tell you, that I have almost been conned by unscrupulous people trying to get money out of me. Luckily for me, my antennae went up before that happen, but some people arent so lucky. People if it looks too good to be true IT IS!!! Nobody puts a $5,000/mo apt with a doorman up rent for $1,200 while they are on a good will mission in South Africa. My experience was when I answered a Craigs List ad & a man claimed to be a real estate agent, gave me an address (this is where my antennae went up) of a house for rent in the price range I could afford. The address looked familiar, so I Googled it it was a friend of mines address!!!! So I emailed the so-called agent & told him I was interested. He said & I quote OK great, just send me the money & I will set up the appt. So I asked him if he would meet us there to show the place & he said no. All I had to do was ring the bell, they would be expecting us. After that, I ripped him a new one. Needless to say, I am more cautious now & learned to read between the lines. I personally have not have much luck on Craigs List, but I have friends who have, so I know it is a good source or jumping point. I myself am currently searching on Craigs List for a new apt. Like everything else. Be careful of the sharks. (Oh, btw, the $5,000/mo doorman apt, was my daughter. She was looking for her own apt. Yes she actually thought she was getting this great deal. I ripped her a new one too).

    Church bullentins, The Tablet (Catholic newspaper), Jewish Press, Il Progresso (Italian newspaper), neighborhood newpapers (i.e. Bay News, Kings Courier, Carnarsie Digest, etc), even look at the bullentin board at the supermarket. You never know what you may find there. If you are lucky enough to read another language, buy that paper. I buy El Diario, I am not fluent in Spanish, but my mom is & she helps me with the translations.

    I find rent websites are not really a good source or very helpful. I have tried, but alas, never did well by them.

    So these are my suggestions. I have tried them all. Some hits, some misses. Right now I am batting a 0 avg. I need a place to live where my LL wont die on me. Know any Immortals? P.S. Keep up the good work on your site. You are doing an amazing job

    Wanda

    Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2013 18:56:06 +0000 To: pepsi1224@hotmail.com

  5. Dearest Wanda! Nothing to forgive, I didn’t take offense, and we all have bad days — I totally understand. AND a big thank you to YOU for all of the great tips, many of which I hadn’t heard of before now. I’ll definitely be referring to those when my husband and I move (again) in August. Thanks for the tips AND thanks for the readership! :)

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