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How to Find an Apartment Out of State

By: Justin Chaplin and Davina Ward
June 9, 2021

Life happens and sometimes we need to find an apartment remotely. You might have accepted a job offer and need to rent an apartment out of state, but can’t meet with the landlord to physically sign the lease. Or what if you decided it is time to move cross country, you know where you want to live but don’t have time to check out apartments before you arrive. Is it impossible to find a place remotely without visiting? The answer is no.

Renting an apartment out of state and even out of the county is completely possible and can save you time and money by forgoing a trip to the new city. Moving to a place you haven’t seen in person can be risky, so follow these tips to ensure you end up in a home you love.

Things to Know When Searching for an Apartment in Another City

If you're looking for an apartment in another city, you'll need to become a world-class detective.

Although you may not be able to visit the city in-person before making your move, you can still get a good feel for the city by conducting a thorough investigation.

It all starts with the internet — there are tons of online resources that will help you get a better understanding of the new city that you want to call home.

Here's a breakdown of the things to know when searching for an apartment in another city.

  • Start on social sites. Whether you're active on Facebook, Reddit, or another social platform, firsthand reviews from current city residents will be a powerful asset in your search.
  • Compare the city to nearby cities. Every city is unique and has different things to offer a prospective resident. Start your research by examining your lifestyle. For example, if you're an avid cyclist you'll need to compare different city bike scenes and infrastructures.
  • Try a quick Google search. We're living in a digital age with infinite information at our fingertips. A simple search can go a long way to helping you get started on your city investigation.
  • Figure out the city's walk score. If you plan on getting around the city without a car, the city's walk score can help you plan the best mode of transportation. If the city has an exceptionally high walk score, you might want to invest in a comfortable pair of sneakers before making your move.

Do Your Research

If you are moving to a city you’ve never been to, you’ll need to do a ton of research about the city before deciding on an apartment. Check out our local guides to find the neighborhood that suits your lifestyle.

Have any friends or family living in the new city? Give them a call and pick their brains. After finding a few neighborhoods that you’re interested in, you can begin searching for apartments in those areas. You can also ask questions on City-Data forums to get advice from the city’s locals.

Determine Your Budget

Regardless of any other plans you have, your budget will give you the final go-ahead on your move to a new city.

It’s crucial to ensure that your budget can support your move, as moving drains your bank account.

As a start, you'll need to evaluate your expenses as a renter in a new city. Moving costs vary based on your destination, your belongings, and the distance to your new locale.

If you are making a long-distance move for a one-bedroom apartment, expect to pay anywhere from $900-$1,200 in moving costs.

Moreover, you'll need to consider the average costs of an apartment in a new city.

Start with the rental process. You may be expected to pay application fees, first month's rent, and a security deposit.

As a security deposit is generally one month's rent, you should be prepared to pay at least two month's rent upfront when renting a new apartment. You may also have to pay a pet deposit and pet rent for your four-legged friend.

These costs will vary greatly based on your location, so it pays to do your research to find a cost-effective solution.

Of course, you will also need to consider costs for furnishing your apartment and getting established in the new city.

If you're new to budgeting, the 50/30/20 budgeting rule can help. It's simple. You dedicate 50% of your earrings toward necessities, 30% to wants, and 20% to savings.

Decide on Amenities

Apartment amenities are those extra features that make apartment-living better. They can range from a simple room with a view to the rarer (unexpected) amenities, such as an indoor golf simulator.

When you're considering which amenities you want in your next apartment, be sure to consider your current lifestyle and habits.

If you're always on the go, you'll need amenities that support efficiency, such as a dishwasher. However, if you're a homebody who loves streaming Netflix, you might prefer free WiFi service throughout your building.

Regardless, it's important to create an apartment checklist, including your preferred amenities. We've got you covered. Here's a breakdown of some of the most popular apartment amenities.

  • Fitness Center/Gym: No gym membership fees. No commute. An apartment building with a fitness center or gym on site can help you work up a sweat without breaking the bank. Moreover, it's a great way to meet your neighbors!
  • Laundry Facilities: Laundry is a pain no matter how you do it. However, when you live in an apartment with laundry facilities or are allowed in-unit laundry machines, it's a game changer. Laundry is still the worst, but at least it's more convenient.
  • Central Air: In the warmer months you can grab an A/C unit and run it for 4 months straight. In the cooler months, you can invest in a portable heater that follows you everywhere. Or, you can rent an apartment with central air, a cost-effective, eco-friendly heating and cooling solution.

Plan Your Commute

Use the power of Google Maps to map out your commute. If you know what your new schedule will be, you can see how traffic will look during your commute times. If you’re driving to work, simply plug in the neighborhood and your new office address during the times you’ll be commuting.

If walking, do the same, but the time won’t matter as much. Also, consider using public transportation. A simple search Google search will give you tons of information on transit options.

If you don't feel like spending out on Google Maps, just take Apartment List quiz! Just enter the address of your new workplace, how much time you'd like to spend on commute, whether you prefer to drive, bike or use public transit, and we'll put together a list of apartments that fit your criteria!

Visit the Surrounding Area via Google Maps & Yelp

Visiting a city costs money, takes time, and can be challenging during the pandemic. On the flip side, the internet is a low-cost way to take a deep dive into a new city if you have the right tools.

Google Maps is a great way to explore a city without ever having stepped foot in it. Just use Google's aerial street view to move through the city's streets.

One hidden use of this feature is that it allows you to check out the roads of an area and plot out specific routes.

Why not get a preview of your commute to work? Or perhaps, you're interested in touring the nightlife options in your city?

Regardless of what you want to explore, Google Maps can help you feel more comfortable exploring the city when you get there, rather than being completely overwhelmed.

If you consider yourself a foodie, Yelp is the way to go. The review platform may not seem like the best way to learn about a new city, but it can provide you with an in-depth look at the city's restaurants and shops.

Yelp allows you to search from the top spots in the city and review some of their most famed or obscure locations.

You can check out the reviews for the most popular nightlife scenes in the city. Moreover, you can find some of the most entertaining spots to visit.

In short, between Google Maps and Yelp, becoming immersed in another city is easier than ever!

Contact the Landlord

For the apartments that make your shortlist, get in touch with the landlord. Calling instead of emailing will probably be more efficient. Let the landlord know of your current situation, that you are trying to rent an apartment out of state, and how you can’t visit in person. Most will be accommodating, and have methods for lease signing for these situations.

Ask for Photos

Yes, you will see photos of what a unit looks like when searching the apartment online. However, this could lead to some issues. They might be displaying a freshly redone unit, and you could be in for a surprise when you open the door to an outdated unit. Ask for detailed pictures of the apartment that capture the layout, appliances, and apartment details. If possible, see if the landlord can take you on a video tour of the unit.

Consider the Lease Options

After doing an extensive amount of research, hopefully you end up in a neighborhood and apartment you love. If things don’t go as smoothly, you can always consider shorter leases.

Short-term leases aren’t offered by many landlords, but if you can find one, it could be worth it. This will allow you to test out the neighborhood and get a feel for it. If you don’t love it, you can move on after a short period of time.

If it’s everything you’re looking for, you can commit to a longer lease. There are some downsides, so know the differences between long and short-term leases.

Read Online Reviews

When it comes to reviews, it's easy to get lost in things like star ratings on apartment listing sites and Google Reviews.

To avoid getting caught up, it's important to know what to look out for among the sea of reviews. Here are the most important details to consider when you are checking out apartment reviews.

  • Repairs and Maintenance: If there's an issue in your apartment, it's important that it gets handled quickly and without fuss. If you're reading tons of negative reviews about a complex's communication speed, efficiency, and effectiveness, it's not a good sign.
  • Complaints: While it's important to take negative reviews and complaints with a grain of salt, there's usually some merit to them. Whether complaints regarding noisy neighbors, pests, or broken down appliances make their way online, it's usually a result of a complex's inability to resolve an issue.
  • Staff: Many apartment complexes have staff members that handle things like cleaning, maintenance, and administrative tasks. Keep an eye out for reviews mentioning staff for some insight about who you'll be encountering from day to day.

Now that you know what to look out for, you can take an even more eagle-eyed look at the reviews. Here are some helpful tips to get you started with reading reviews.

  • Read old reviews, though more recent reviews should hold more weight in your assessment.
  • Check the number of reviews. The more reviews, the better.
  • Read as many reviews as possible to build the most accurate picture of an apartment complex and community.

Go on a Virtual Tour

Virtual tour popularity boomed during the pandemic. However, they are here to stay.

The rental industry has come to embrace the virtual tour as a means to connect landlords and apartment managers with prospective renters so they can show them an apartment unit. You won't find this option at every unit you visit, but many units will offer a virtual tour if you ask!

During a virtual tour, you can take a walk-through of an apartment you're interested in, ask questions, and try to envision your life in the unit.

Once you've had your virtual tour, you can decide whether you want to move forward in the apartment application process.

As great as virtual tours are, there are some important limitations to consider.

Although virtual tours are meant to be as accurate and in-depth as possible, there are just some things you can’t help but miss when you're not viewing a unit in person.

The light may not be as bright as it seems. A room may not be as large as you thought. But worse of all, an apartment might not be in as good of shape as the virtual tour would suggest.

For example, if you are concerned about bed bugs, you should visit an apartment in-person to put your mind at ease. You simply cannot see pests during a virtual tour.

Understanding these limitations can help you set more realistic expectations about your next apartment unit.

Use Apartment List to Rent an Apartment Out of State

Just take our short quiz, answer a couple of questions on your your preferred amenities, price range, and commute, and we'll find the best matches with up-to-date pricing and availability and rent specials.

Prepare Your Paperwork

Your landlord will be requesting documents from you if you decide to apply, so make sure to have everything in order.

If you are starting a new job, have the job offer in your application to prove you’ll have a stable income. Also, include pay stubs from your previous employer with your application.

For all the paperwork you’ll need, check out our comprehensive guide to apartment application process. You might also be asked for rental references, so make sure to have those ready with proper contact information.

With today’s technology, finding an apartment remotely has never been easier. Just be sure to do your research, and be proactive in communicating with your potential landlord. You’ll be able to find a home you love without being able to physically see the apartment.

Beware of Rental Scams

No one wants to learn that they have spent thousands of dollars on an apartment unit that they will never rent.

Rental scams are very common, especially in large cities like New York. Moreover, they are easy to fall into if you don't know how to avoid rental scams during your apartment hunt.

In many cases, rental fraud scam victims haven't done anything wrong beyond not being extremely cautious.

However, if a self-proclaimed landlord provides keys to a unit and takes you on a tour of the unit, it's nearly impossible to avoid being taken in.

Whilve victims aren’t always necessarily naive — a little bit of skepticism goes a long way toward defending yourself against rental scams.

Here are some of the most effective ways to avoid rental scams.

  • Never wire money to a prospective landlord or property manager. Using digital money wiring services such as Venmo or CashApp can be just as harmful as handing over cash. Use a check to leave a paper trail in case you are scammed.
  • Always be skeptical. Generally, being skeptical saves you from being a victim. If an offer sounds too good to be true, such as you don't receive a credit check or the listing lacks pertinent details, stay away from it. Even if it's not a scam, you don't need the headaches in your life.
  • Reverse search all images. Some of the most popular scams involve using images and details from real apartment postings and reposting them with different contact information and other details. The goal is to put you in contact with the scammer. A simple reverse image search can help you identify a photo's source and ensure that it is legit.

Additional Resources

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Justin is a Content Manager and contributing author at Apartment List, helping people navigate the world of renting. Justin previously spent his time earning his BBA in Marketing from Boise State University. Read More
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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