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When to Start Looking for Apartments: Timeline and Tips

By: Susan Finch
March 17, 2020

Renters enjoy the freedom of moving on, moving up, and scoring a new apartment when their lease ends. But there is a sweet spot to figuring out when to start looking for apartments to ensure a smooth transition.

As a rule of thumb, renters should start looking for apartments one to two months before moving out. If you look too early, the same unit you found probably won't be available. You’d be doing more legwork than necessary. 

If you wait too long to start looking for apartments, your options are limited. In that case, you may end up settling for an apartment that is less-than-ideal.

Of course, sometimes we have no choice but to look for an apartment at the last moment. If that's the case, check out these tips on finding an apartment in one week or less.

Not sure when to start your apartment search? Make the most of your apartment-hunting experience with our best tips and strategies.

Things to Know Before You Start Looking for an Apartment

Come prepared and ready to pounce on the apartment of your dreams. Bring along a list of what to look for. You’ll want to prepare ahead of time in case that sparkling pool distracts you during decision-making time.

1. Consider the Amenities You Want

The right amenities can make or break your apartment experience. Come with a list of priorities from "must-haves'' to "nice-to-haves." Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Walk-in closet
  • Hardwood floors or carpet
  • Updated appliances
  • Master bathroom
  • Outdoor space
  • Views
  • Free parking
  • On-site fitness center or gym
  • Pool

2. Plan Your Budget

Get your budget in order before you start looking for an apartment. Follow the 50/30/20 rule to begin planning. 

This rule states that you should spend no more than 50% of your after-tax income on necessities including: 

  • Rent
  • Utilities 
  • Food
  • Car payments 
  • Gym memberships 
  • Cell phone
  • Cable bills

The other 30% is discretionary, like traveling and entertainment. Then, 20% goes towards financial security.

The next question is, how do you plan for that 50/30/20 rule and succeed? Check out our Rent Calculator. This will give you an idea of the rent you can afford and show your apartments within your budget in your desired city.

3. How to Apply for an Apartment

Now you've figured out how far in advance to look for an apartment and how much to budget. The next step is coming prepared to apply for an apartment. Applying for an apartment requires: 

  • Submitting an apartment application
  • Bringing identification like a driver's license or state ID
  • Previous rental information and address
  • Employment information
  • Proof of income
  • Possible cosigner application 

Find out everything you need to know about the apartment application process.

4. Apartment Pricing and Availability Fluctuates

If you're asking yourself, "when should I start looking for an apartment?" remember, time is of the essence. 

Winter months typically yield lower rents in most parts of the country. Rent prices are more likely to spike during spring and summer.

You also may find the rents spiked while trying to decide whether or not to sign a lease. Come prepared to jump on a great deal in a neighborhood you love. 

Here are 5 things you should know about seasonality in apartment renting here.

5. When to Start Touring Apartments

Trying to figure out how far in advance to look for an apartment? Start lining up appointments to tour apartments one to two months before your lease ends. 

Whether you're on a month-to-month lease or annual lease, check your rental terms to confirm how much notice you need to give your landlord to vacate the property. 

Try your best to schedule tours on the same day. Take a day off of work if necessary. 

That way, you can get all of your tours done in a short period of time. Then, you can easily compare and contrast your options.

Many apartment complexes don't host tours on weekends. Availability is usually also limited in the evening. 

Things to Look Out For on Apartment Tours:

  • Noise
  • Odor
  • On-site and off-site parking availability
  • Turn on faucets to check the water pressure
  • Make sure windows open and close
  • Scrutinize the appliances
  • Check the locks to see that they work properly
  • Take notice of the lighting throughout the complex
  • Look for mildew and mold
  • Check for the cleanliness of common areas like the lobby and laundry room

It's also a smart idea to come prepared with a list of questions to ask before renting an apartment.

Final Thoughts

When looking for an apartment, it's all about timing and preparation.

Found the perfect apartment and ready to start packing? Use an apartment checklist for a smooth transition.

You can also simplify the apartment-searching process with Apartment List. We make it easy to find your dream neighborhood, amenities, and price point you want all in one place. Just start the quiz on top of this page!

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