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How to Find an Apartment in Philadelphia, PA 2021

By: Davina Ward
May 26, 2021

The City of Brotherly Love played a pivotal role in American history. Its deep historical roots are seen across the city, from the Liberty Bell to the incredible architecture. Philadelphia is a diverse city with a unique culture and a booming economy. It’s no wonder residents are drawn to the city.

Finding an apartment in Philadelphia can be an overwhelming experience, but we’ve got you covered.

Here’s what you need to know to find an apartment in Philadelphia.

1. How to Find the Best Philadelphia Neighborhood

Philadelphia is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US, with over 1.5 million residents spread across the city’s sprawling landscape. Within its borders, you’ll find a collection of unique neighborhoods from Fishtown to Washington Square West. Each neighborhood boasts its own distinct culture, vibe, demographic breakdown, and more.

For that reason, it can be challenging for prospective renters to find a neighborhood that best suits their lifestyle and preferences.

Fortunately, we can help you find a place to start. Among Philadelphia’s best neighborhoods, there are a few standouts that should be at the top of your consideration list.

Here’s an exploration of some promising Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Center City

Despite its name, Center City is located in the city’s far southeast region and is considered a major part of downtown Philadelphia.

Here, you’ll witness some of Philadelphia’s finest architectural delights, including City Hall, One Liberty Place, and the Masonic Temple.

You’ll also be close to other famous landmarks, including the Franklin Institute, Independence Hall, LOVE Park, and Jewelers Row.

Center City residents enjoy some of the city’s best culinary feats within the many restaurants that adorn Rittenhouse Square. If shopping is more your thing, head to Reading Terminal Market for a little retail therapy.

Washington Square West

Washington Square West features a dense collection of LGBT-friendly shops, restaurants, and bars, which has earned it the colloquial moniker Gayborhood.

Beyond the awesome wordplay and rainbow flags adorning the neighborhood’s streets, Washington Square West also boasts a thriving nightlife scene.

That said, Washington Square West is a large neighborhood, of which, Gayborhood is just a small portion. Walking along 13th Street puts you in a range of several boutiques, restaurants, and pubs.

Within Washington Square itself, the 6.4-acre park offers residents a nice reprieve from the fast-paced urban life. Enjoy a picnic, sunbathing, a lengthy walk, and more, in the park’s tree-shaded center.

Kensington

Located in Philly’s northern region, Kensington has a rich history as a neighborhood largely populated by Irish and Polish immigrants in the early 1800s.

Today, the neighborhood is more diverse with a vibrant culture that draws influences from Hispanic-Americans and African Americans.

Kensington has been undergoing gentrification in the past decade and has become a coveted destination for young professionals. As a result, rents are higher than they once were.

However, Kensington residents pay for proximity to premier breweries, galleries, and boutiques. The neighborhood’s many performance spaces often host interesting and unique entertainers, so there’s always something to do.

Fishtown

Originally, Fishtown was a part of Kensington’s greater area. However, the little neighborhood carved out a name for itself as the home to many blue-collar working families in the 19th century.

Today, Fishtown remains a working-class neighborhood to its core, though an influx of young professionals has shifted the trademark Fishtown vibe. Now, you’ll find hipsters, college students, and young professionals making their mark on the neighborhood.

Live music, restaurants, art attractions, and watering holes are easy to find in Fishtown’s streets. Better yet, the neighborhood is experiencing rapid growth.

Northern Liberties

Northern Liberties” is a mouthful, which is why locals dubbed the neighborhood NoLibs.

Once among the largest cities in the US, modern-day NoLibs is a bit less impressive in size. However, its culture is booming.

The industrial influences and infrastructure of the neighborhood have been revamped to fit the new hipster aesthetic. It’s another area dotted with breweries in old converted buildings, trendy boutiques, and dive bars.

Foodies flock to NoLibs’ many ethnic eateries for an excellent assortment of food and drinks.

With a plethora of new luxury and old renovated apartment buildings in the neighborhood, be prepared to find yourself among a younger crowd.

Manayunk

Situated on the easternmost edge of Philly’s borders, Manayunk is a trendy neighborhood with an excellent location. Manayunk residents love the 15-minute distance to downtown Philadelphia’s Center City.

Moreover, the neighborhood is quite walkable, so long as you’re able to climb hills with ease.

Luckily, these hills will come in handy when you’re walking off some of the calories from the delicious meals in Manayunk’s many bars and restaurants.

If you’re concerned about safety, then Manayunk is the place for you. The neighborhood boasts one of the lowest crime rates in Philadelphia.

2. How Much Are Apartments in Philadelphia?

Philadelphia is a relatively affordable city, especially when compared to other similar-sized cities. At $1,174, the median two-bedroom rent in Philadelphia is just $37 higher than the national average.

Moreover, according to our average rent report for Philadelphia, 69% of Philly’s apartment units are priced at $1,999 or less.

Like most cities, Philadelphia’s rent prices were negatively affected by the pandemic, which is great news for renters looking for lower rates.

However, as of the start of 2021, these low rent prices are now on the rebound.

Here’s a look at the average rent in Philadelphia by the number of bedrooms.

3. How to Find A Cheap Apartment in Philadelphia

Finding a cheap apartment in Philadelphia starts with determining how much you can afford to pay in rent each month. With this number, you can narrow down your apartment hunt.

Check out apartment listing sites (good news, you’re already on one!) and use their search filtering feature to find available apartments within your price range.

However, the best way to save big on your apartment rental is by finding move-in specials. These apartment listings will feature some sort of discount, freebie, or alternative incentive to attract renters.

Whether it’s a month of free rent or a discounted long-term lease contract, move-in specials can make a big difference for your bank account. Fortunately, Philadelphia move-in specials are easy to find.

Another surefire way to rent at a low cost is to rent with roommates. There are some drawbacks to renting with roommates, with sharing your space as chief among them.

However, renting with a single roommate can cut your rent bill in half. Renting with three roommates can cut your costs down by as much as 75%. Many consider the savings a fair trade-off.

Finally, keep in mind that rent prices tend to increase as you get closer to City Center. Choosing to live in one of the city’s suburbs or further from City Center can help you save big on rent.

4. What’s the Best Time to Find an Apartment in Philadelphia?

The best time to move to Philadelphia is during the early fall months when market activity decreases.

  • In recent years, rents in Philadelphia have risen an average of $22 each summer, a 2% price increase, which is an additional $264 in rent annually.
  • In recent years, rents in Philadelphia have dropped an average of $20 each winter, a 2% price drop, which is $240 less in rent annually.

This is a result of the seasonality of the rental market1, which is an evaluation of market activity over the course of a year. Here are some rental market trends to know:

  • Starting in December, apartment searches grow and reach the peak in July.
  • Move-ins increase starting in March and reach their peak in August.
  • By late summer and early autumn, market activity sees a decrease before cooling in the winter months.

If you have the flexibility to make your move to Philadelphia at the most opportune time, you may benefit from discounted rental rates, increased rent specials, and less competition.

Waiting until the right time to rent is one of the best ways to get the most out of your Philadelphia apartment hunt.

5. Determine Your Philadelphia Budget

Your best starting point should be your pre-tax income. Most Philadelphia landlords and property managers require prospective tenants to earn a pre-tax income of at least three times the monthly rent.

You’ll have to review your pay stubs to get an accurate number, but once you arrive at your pre-tax monthly income, simply divide it by three to find the upper limit of your rent budget.

If you prefer a simpler method, check out our rent calculator to figure out how much you should pay in rent.

Learn more about the cost of living in Philadelphia.

6. Set Your Apartment Priorities

The best thing about an apartment hunt is choosing what you want in an apartment. You’ll get to make choices that will help you get closer to landing your dream apartment.

It is crucial to set your apartment priorities. For example, if you’re a daily gym-goer, you’ll likely prefer an apartment with an in-unit washer and dryer. If you plan on moving with your four-legged friend, you’ll need to find a pet-friendly apartment.

In short, when setting your priorities, you’ll have to consider your current/future needs and lifestyle to find an apartment that best suits you.

7. Consider Your Commute Time

The thing about commute time is that it adds up.

According to data from the Census Bureau, the average one-way commute time in Philadelphia is 33.6 minutes, which means more than an hour of your day might be spent in traffic. Dramatic as it may sound, that time equates to 12.13 days out of the year spent commuting to and from work.

It is important to make the time somewhat enjoyable. As Philadelphia boasts a 79 walk score, you might be able to get some exercise and finish your favorite podcast while walking to work.

If walking isn’t your thing, driving or taking public transportation might be the way to go.

Regardless, before moving forward in your Philadelphia apartment search, don’t forget to consider your commute!

8. Prepare for Apartment Tours

Apartment tours are an important part of the rental process. Not only do you get to _see _yourself and your life in the apartment, but you’ll also get a feel for the state of the apartment.

Online apartment photos are meant to make the apartment look as good as possible. As a result, you might find the in-person view of the apartment to be somewhat lacking.

Rooms may be smaller than you anticipated, the natural light might not be as prominent, and so on. Preparing yourself for the tour is crucial.

You’ll want to bring a tape measure and a list of questions to ask your prospective landlord during the tour, however obnoxious it may seem.

Of course, how else will you accurately visualize how your new couch will fit in the living room or know who covers the utility bill?

9. Applying for Your Philadelphia Apartment

Once you’ve found a suitable apartment unit, you’ll be ready to begin the application process. As there’s no guarantee that filling out an application will land you an apartment, it’s important to be proactive and attentive during this process.

Doing so may help you increase your chances of landing an apartment, especially if you are up against a lot of competition.

That said, there are many steps to move through. Here’s a breakdown of the apartment application process and what you can expect at each step.

  1. Prepare for your Application: You’ll need to gather documentation during this stage. Identification such as your driver’s license, social security card, or passport, may be necessary. You’ll also need proof of income, rental history, and employment documentation.
  2. Completing Your Application: Use your documents to fill out your rental application. Be sure to thoroughly complete the application and double-check before submitting it.
  3. Tenant Screening: At this time, your prospective landlord or property manager will be working to confirm your identity, evaluate your references and rental history, assess your income, and review your credit history.
  4. Meet with Landlord: Once your application has been approved, you may be asked to meet with your prospective landlord to finalize your tenancy agreement. This is your time to ask questions and voice any concerns.
  5. Sign Your Lease: If you choose to move forward and lease the apartment unit, you’ll be asked to sign a lease agreement. Have your funds prepared, as you’ll be asked to cover the first month’s rent and a security deposit upfront.
  6. Move-In: Congratulations on your new apartment!

10. Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

Rental scams are a real threat during your Philadelphia apartment search. Victims of rental fraud can lose money and experience significant setbacks during their apartment search.

Protecting yourself against rental scams means sticking to a reputable apartment listing website and never following up with an apartment listing that seems too good to be true.

Scammers have to work hard to create a seemingly legitimate listing that draws in victims. That’s their weakness.

Reputable listing sites respond to scam reports by removing those listings immediately, making it less likely that others will fall for the same scam.

Moreover, most scammers will target those who are seeking low-cost living, so their listings will offer units at seemingly impossible prices.

Stay diligent!

Using Apartment List to Find Your Philadelphia Apartment

Ready to move to Philly? Apartment List is here to help you find your dream home.

Here’s how it works: First, we get to know you. You’ll answer a few simple questions and we’ll find the best matches – just for you. Then, we mix and match your personalized results, making it easy to discover places with the perfect combination of price, location, and amenities.


  1. These estimates rely on data from January 2017 to February 2021. Starting March 2021, price changes break dramatically from seasonal norms as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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AUTHOR
Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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