As the 19th most populous city in the U.S., the rental market in Memphis should not be overly difficult or expensive to navigate. Like most places, choose wisely as even abutting sections can vary so widely in demographics.
Brokers: There is no need at all to pay for apartment locating in a city such as Memphis. While not as prolific as in other cities, there are, in fact, free apartment locating companies that will provide lists based on your needs and desired amenities. Doing a healthy dose of self-exploration is rewarding as well as you get to know the city as a whole as opposed to making its acquaintance via email.
What your parents would say: Memphis is not tops on the country's lists for safest, best public access or exemplary public schools. It's not a war zone, and it is in fact vibrant in so many excellent ways, but if you’re without an automobile, have school age kids, or enjoy an evening stroll to collect yourself, do not choose your Memphis apartment in haste based simply on a picture of an exposed brick wall or festive landscaping. Be smart and safe, always wear your seatbelt, and call home once in a while when you don't need money. Those last couple of wisdom gems really have nothing to do with Memphis, but it is what your parents would say.
What to have in your apartment hunting attaché case:
• your last several pay stubs or your last two tax returns
• picture I.D.
• application fee of around $50 for an apartment complex, often $0 for a smaller building
• willingness to sign a 6 - 15 month lease (best incentives on longer leases in complexes)
If you don't have a W2, proof of regular pay, or up-to-date tax documents, remember, most Memphis apartment complexes do not consider bank statements as a means to verify your creditworthiness. If you don't have a picture I.D., well, you're either seven years old or a vampire. Either way, you're probably not looking for an apartment. If you have a pet, check first and always ask about breed restrictions. Many apartment complexes welcome Fido and Mittens so long as Fido isn't a pit bull and Mittens isn't a leopard, but they also welcome them with one-time, non-refundable pet fees ($300 - $500 total) and almost always additional, recurring pet rent of $10 - $30 per month. In privately owned units, pets are not often welcomed, but when they are, it is usually at no additional charge. On the upside, the Memphis apartment market has relatively low security deposits of, generally, $200 - $300 (sometimes even lower) regardless of size or location for complexes, while higher deposits are closer the norm for others.
It comes down to the three basic disco-oriented checkboxes of life: The Hustle, Funky Town, or We Are Family... in other words, nightlife (Downtown), the ethnic/artsy/cultural vibe (Midtown including Overton Square and Cooper-Young), or more the carpool and soccer ball scene (East burbs).
Downtown: One of the most renowned spots for American nightlife is Downtown Memphis with Beale Street being the undisputed nucleus therein. With the most dining choices, views of the river, The FedEx center for sports, concerts, and cultural must-haves of rodeo and monster truck jams, Downtown Memphis is the choice for those wishing for the fast paced River City lifestyle. The MATA (Memphis Area Transit Association) trolley runs downtown and can get you to and fro with, well, not so much timeliness but with quaintness. If you live and work downtown, you can consider ridding yourself of your automobile, but parking isn't a super hassle and traffic in the grid layout is considered marginally better than other major metropolitan areas. The highest Memphis rents are Downtown, specifically in the entertainment and business districts, and close to the river. In these sections, expect to pay approximately $900 for a low rise 1 BR nearby, or around $1,300 for the most luxurious 1 BR in the most sought after central high rises. Add around $450 per month for a 2 BR. If you want to be downtown, out of earshot of the blues, and pay a couple hundred dollars less each month, take a look at the upscale Harbor Town area, historic Victorian Village, or the even more affordable Medical District community (in between Downtown and Midtown - called C Crosstown).
Midtown: Home to several institutes of higher learning including Christian Brothers University, Memphis College of Art, Memphis Theological Seminary, Rhodes College, and Victory University as well as some cultural venues such as Overton Park, The Levitt Shell (outdoor concert venue and site of Elvis's first paid appearance in 1954), Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis Zoo, and The Old Forest Arboretum, Midtown Memphis has earned the tagline “Midtown IS Memphis.” Midtown is ethnic, diverse, and what its residents consider the real Memphis. Overton Square is the home of the unsuspectingly busy Memphis theatre scene. In Cooper-Young you will find the most eclectic mix of restaurants and entertainment venues including the Elvis Impersonator Shrine (note: Replica Elvis rhinestone jumpsuits - made to original specifications and by original manufacturer start at $3,000 - so plan accordingly). In these exciting Midtown neighborhoods, expect to pay about half of that of most upscale downtown apartments.
East of the City: Communities such as Bartlett, Collierville, and Germantown are considered close to the heart of Downtown Memphis ~ 20 miles on average, and are best described as suburban communities with better public schools as a whole than Memphis itself. Malls, chain restaurants, ball fields, places of worship, and the occasional boutique, wine bar, and pet spa dot the landscape East of Memphis. Rents in these neighborhoods are comparable to Midtown and larger apartments are easier to find due to the larger number of families seeking their homes in these places.
Graceland: Elvis fan, huh? Nice try, Graceland isn't so much residential these days as it is highly touristed with budget lodgings and fast food outlets. On the upside, if you regularly desire a restaurant-made version of Elvis's favorite sandwich - Peanut Butter, Banana, and Bacon, Graceland living may just suit you.
Okay, now what?
Memphis is not a particularly large city, nor is it particularly difficult to navigate. It's lack of a subway or light rail system means you'll probably want to keep your car if you already have one - except if you live and work downtown as mentioned. Beale Street is smaller than you'd think but steeped in American musical roots and is lively all night, every night. Now go do the Elvis thing once at least, see the ducks at The Peabody Hotel once eat the BBQ, many, many times,... but those ducks are just so cute, okay, so once isn't enough, and, of course, without question, take the Mud Island Monorail and pretend you're Tom Cruise being chased in The Firm.