First and foremost, pay attention to the time of year you begin your search. If you are coming from out of state or even from another one of Florida's cities, avoid the hurricane season if at all possible. If it isn't, watch the weather to make sure you're not moving during high winds and rain. For sure, that ain't fun. The season begins on June 1st and ends on November 30th--that's only half the calendar. So plan accordingly. Aside from that caution, the rest is quite standard. Expect to pay application fees, have your credit checked, and bring rental history with references, as well as proof of income and identification. Another expectation is first and last months' rent with a security deposit for animals as well as humans. Your realtor or agent will be able to point you in the right direction for setting up utilities and other city services once you find what you are looking for.
Lorraine Rd/Covenant Way: This is a suburban neighborhood filled with well-educated, young, and upwardly mobile urban sophisticates. The median income is rather high in this neighborhood, but the residents who live here can afford the better things in life. Caviar dreams! This area is ranked in the top 15 percent of America's wealthiest neighborhoods. So yes, if you have a staggering income, this is the neighborhood for you.$$$$$
Whitfield Ave/University Pkwy: This is another quiet suburban neighborhood that is exceedingly expensive to live in, with medium-sized rentals (3-4 bedrooms) as the norm. Filled with freshwater ponds and located right next to the Braden River, this is a quiet community of up-and-coming professionals and their families.$$$$$
Manatee Ave W/79th St W: Surrounded by water, this opulent neighborhood is for those who want to watch the sun rise and set over the ocean each and every day. Lucky them. With Palma Sola Bay to the south, Grassy Pointe Bayou to the east, and Perico Bayou sandwiched between the island and the mainland, this is a small slice of Floridian paradise, so many are seeking this spot. It's easy to find a small- or medium-sized rental here, but you will be paying for the location. It's easily walkable and has lots of little shops and corner stores, but most residents drive to work.$$$$
Palma Sola Park: This is a gorgeous and moderately affordable area that lies on the banks of the Palma Sola Bay. You will find mainly executives and management professionals in this area, so be aware of eavesdropping on the passersby on their cellphones. Predominantly young people with a good smattering of families and seniors rounds out the familial feeling of this area.$$$
Bayshore Gardens: Located along the banks of Sarasota Bay, Bayshore Gardens is a large mobile-home community with a few single-family houses mixed in. This rather nautical, hip, trendy area of the city is actually home to many seniors. Imagine--hip seniors with scuba gear. It is a very walkable neighborhood, very affordable, and family-friendly, with the added benefit of having Bayshore Gardens Marina within walking distance. Many residents take to the bay for fishing, swimming, paddle-boarding, or boating. This is an ocean lover's dream!$$
75th St W/Cortez Rd W: This neighborhood is a stone's throw away from Palma Sola Bay. Rock-skipper heaven! It has a nautical feel to it, and is populated with little shops that cater to locals and tourists alike. It's an urban area with mostly young, middle-income residents who are rising stars in their chosen fields.$$