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When to Start Looking for Apartments: Timeline and Tips

By: Susan Finch, Kimi Kaneshina, and Davina Ward
June 1, 2021

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.

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

Start Your Apartment Search Months in Advance

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.

When's the Best Time to Start Looking for Apartments?

In a typical year, nationwide, rents increase during the summer and decline in the winter. From our data, we've observed that rents are at their highest from July through September and at their lowest from December through February.

Increased rent prices and interest in moving, during the summer, is driven by renters with children or new graduates wanting to move when school isn't in session. Weather also less likely to get in the way

On the other hand, fewer people move during the winter because winter holidays already consume a lot of discretionary spending. Additionally, inclement weather can get in the way.

There's no perfect time to move, but keep the seasonality trends in mind as you're planning your next adventure!

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

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. Determine Your Move-In Date

Planning your move requires a few logistical considerations. It's similar to a hard deadline on a major project. Everything needs to be done by a certain date.

In this case, that “everything” refers to changing your address, consulting with movers, updating insurance policies, and a seemingly endless list of other essential moving tasks.

That said, your move-in date will influence almost everything about your move, which is why it's essential to consider the following when timing your move:

  • Employment: Will you be moving in haste and leaving your current employer understaffed? Have you secured a job at your new location? Don't make the mistake of burning bridges at your old job or moving without a job lined up.
  • Your Current Lease Agreement: Will you be breaking your lease agreement to make your move? Do you need a subletter to ensure that you don't lose money? Ideally, you'll want to wait until your current lease ends before moving, but life happens — so be prepared to cover your losses if necessary.
  • Rental Industry Activity: The rental industry and several related industries experience peaks in the summer months, meaning you may have a hard time scheduling movers, cleaners, and other necessary services.

Once you've carefully considered your move-in date, you can move forward with a plan that works best for you.

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. Check Your Credit Score

Generally, the minimum credit score required to rent an apartment is 650. You can check your credit score at AnnualCreditReport.com for free once per year.

A higher score will typically put you in a favorable position among your competition, while a lower score may reduce your chances of landing an apartment.

However, it's not black and white. Property managers perform credit checks, which offer a more comprehensive view of your financial situation. Even with a lower score, you're not doomed. You'll be able to rent.

If you have a lower credit score, you can raise your credit score, but there are too many variables at play, which determines how much you can raise it.

Here's a breakdown of some things you can do to improve your chances of renting an apartment with a low credit score:

  • Lease with a cosigner or guarantor.
  • Become an authorized user on another individual’s credit line with a high score.
  • Pay off as much debt as possible
  • Review your credit report. If you notice anything that looks incorrect, report it.
  • Get a roommate (or more than one!), you'll pay less in rent and be able to provide ample proof that your income passes that 30% rule.
  • Inquire about no credit check apartments (but, generally, only if you’re desperate!).

Raising your credit score may cost you some time, but it can also help put you in a better position to rent your dream apartment.

4. 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

5. Understand 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.

6. Research Average Rent Prices

If you're asking yourself, "when should I start looking for an apartment?" remember, time is of the essence. In other words, apartment pricing and availability fluctuates.

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

To get a sense of what the average rent prices are in your preferred area, check out our average rent reports and National Rent Report.

7. 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.

8. Begin Apartment Hunting

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!

9. Watch Out for Rental Scams

Unfortunately, you may encounter a rental scam.

Many renters are unaware of how common rental scams are, so they may not have their guards up.

National survey data reports that over 43% of renters encountered a potentially fraudulent rental listing. Sadly, one-in-three rental fraud scam victims report losing over $1,000.

Worse yet, young people are being scammed and targeted at a higher rate.

Here are some tips to help you avoid rental fraud scams during your apartment hunt.

  • Do additional research, including reverse image searching to identify recycled or duplicate listings.
  • Always visit an apartment before signing a lease agreement or paying a deposit.
  • Meet the landlord or property manager in person before leasing.
  • Use trusted online platforms to conduct your search (you're already one step ahead of the game with Apartment List!).
  • Search public property records to verify the property owner is who they say they are.
  • Don't pay in cash or wire transfer, including PayPal, CashApp, or Venmo. Use a check or another traceable form of currency exchange.
  • Become adept at spotting rental frauds, hone your skills to avoid being victimized.

You can't stop rental fraud, but you can avoid it. Doing your due diligence can make it difficult for you to fall prey to scammers.

If you do encounter a rental scam, report it! Protect someone else from becoming a victim.

10. Inquire about the Lease Terms

Before you sign a lease agreement, you should take the time to review it, regardless of the circumstances.

Seriously, even if you're feeling rushed or anxious. If the property manager or landlord seems upset that you are reviewing the lease agreement — that's generally a bad sign.

Without reviewing your lease agreement, you put yourself at risk of being legally bound to a contract you don't approve of. You may even risk eviction as a result of not following an obscure term laid out in the rental agreement.

Beyond those risks, it's important to review a lease so you know what to expect and what is expected of you. Your lease agreement may lay out the terms for making maintenance requests, parking, laundry, visitors, and much more.

Be sure to come prepared with a list of relevant questions when meeting with your landlord or property manager. You should ask about everything from late rent payment penalties to pet regulations — anything that may affect your living situation. Moreover, clarify with your landlord or property manager whether you'll be signing a rental agreement or a lease agreement.

A rental agreement usually denotes a shorter renting period, usually around 30-days, whereas a lease agreement covers a much longer period, usually from six months to two years.

Final Apartment Hunting Tips

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
Kimi is a Content Associate and contributing author at Apartment List, helping renters find a new place to call home. Kimi earned her BA in Organizational Studies, Economics from Scripps College. 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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