Cool your jets. Yes, you want to move and you are excited to get started. But, before you type a single keyword in your search box, open up Craigslist, or even put the word out on Facebook for leads, there are a few easy things you can do first (aka right now!) that will make a world of difference in your hunt for the perfect apartment.
- Figure out what you really can spend each month on housing...really. Being realistic with yourself on what you can afford is the most important part of finding the perfect place. You don't want to be eating oatmeal for dinner each night in that possibly-too-pricey gourmet kitchen. Factor in your real life spending habits as that are right now, warts and all, not some idealized version of what you think you can do when you are sitting pretty in your (still fictional) perfect new home. Look at your income and expenses as they are and come up with a range, from easily affordable to the absolute maximum that is still realistic and then stick to it like bubblegum. Your know what I'm about to tell you is true: your other expenses will rarely go down and they will often go up, so be kind to your savings account and your sanity and apartment hunt with a strict limit.
- Think about your daily commute(s) next. Start from your place of work, or your school, or your kids school or your favorite pizza place (essentially somewhere you know you are going to want to be, very often) and start making concentric circles out from that point. Make a list of the neighborhoods within those circles that you'd consider living in (which means those you can afford and feel safe in) going out as far from your central point as you are willing to travel on a daily basis. Then, cross reference with whatever your usual mode of transportation is to get a picture of what is realistic, in terms of time, cost and safety. If you take the train, which lines would you use and where are the stops? If you ride a bike, are there bike lanes or safe streets to use? If you'll be driving, what is traffic and parking like? Leave the neighborhoods that best "fit" with your transportation goals on the list and nix the rest of them.
- Make a wish list of features/amenities and then prioritize it. Take a few minutes to think about what you'd really like to have in your new apartment and don't hold back - this is brainstorming-slash-daydreaming, so don't get too serious - yet. From a fireplace to a washing machine, big or little, just get it all down on paper. Then cross off the "can do withouts" or "really probably can't affords" in order, until you have 3-5 really meaningful wants/needs left.
- And now, do the same for your surrounding neighborhood by making a "makes my life better/easier/happier" list. Everyone has different things that makes them satisfied (or not) with their neighborhood. Is a good, non-Starbucks cafe something you seek out? Do you go to a movie every weekend ? Maybe you really could use somewhere to pick up fresh veggies, 24 hours a day? How about if you are willing to travel for a good haircut, but need to be able to hit up your own bank's ATM on the way to the train? Think about what is working for you in your current neighborhood and add it to your list and then think about what you regularly have to go out of your way to do and add them in, too.
- Finally, just start getting rid of stuff. Now. Pretend you are starting to pack next week and get an outbox going. Even if you aren't planning on moving for for another 3 months (or 6, or a year) getting rid of excess stuff will help emotionally start the process of leaving your current place behind and open you up to all the possibilities that you'll come across in your search for a new home. It's always easier to picture yourself in a new place, literally and figuratively, when you have less weighing you down. Even if you end up staying put longer than you think, your life will be lighter and easier and you'll thank yourself many times over when moving day finally arrives.
Do these five things and you'll be in the perfect spot to find your perfect home. Being armed with an affordable target cost, a shortlist of acceptable neighborhoods, the features that need to be in the listing to make it worthwhile to set up an appointment and a checklist of things to tick off when exploring the possible surrounding neighborhood should all make the search simpler and more surefooted. And, once you've gotten rid of all your superfulous "stuff" maybe you won't need that extra bedroom after all...
Good luck and happy house hunting!