AT on... Apartment Hunting

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I used to wonder which was worse, job hunting or apartment hunting. I still think they're both horrible, but after having done the apartment search twice in just a few months, I think that apartment hunting is actually worse. Not having a home that works for you, and having to look for one that does, is very unsettling. We all need nests.

I was surprised to find that the market's like the dot.com days. Rents are higher than they've been, and everything's snapped up very quickly. I was disheartened to find that many landlords have adopted a no pet (or no dog) policy -- and I'm concerned that many tenants will surrender their pets to the SPCA rather than continue to look for a pet-friendly rental.

A few months ago I started apartment-hunting. I was living in the hayloft of a converted barn, and because my dog was going blind, the stairs were unsafe for her. When she went completely blind, overnight, I couldn't leave her home alone at all. I intensified my search, checked Craigslist constantly, drove around every day, looking for signs, and contacted everyone I knew. I found a great apartment. . .and the tenant decided not to move.

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More searching. It was depressing, exhausting, stressful. I finally found a pet-friendly apartment I liked. Within days of moving in, I discovered severe mold. More (full-time) searching. I expanded my search area and found an apartment that I could make work. Just before move-in, the company announced that I had to wait another week, and raised the deposit. I turned it down.

Soon after, I found the perfect place. It took me a long time to persuade the landlord to rent to me because she didn't want a tenant with a dog. I finally ended up offering additional rent, which is something I've always been against.

Here's what I learned:
• Make a list of your absolute priorities
• Network
• If you see an ad or a sign, respond right away
• If you don't hear from the landlord, call or email again within a few hours
• Most landlords won't respond at all, and often won't delete the Craigslist ad -- if you see a posting that's a few days old, go ahead and respond, but it's likely the apartment's been rented
• Don't assume the outside of the building reflects the inside
• Put together a packet of information, including credit report, references, pet references, resume, copies of bank statements; offer a pet deposit
• Take your packet to the (full) open house, ask sensible questions if you're interested in the apartment (what do utilities average? what's the real parking situation? will I feel safe if I have to take my dog out at 2 am? how long do tenants stay?). Fill out the application and submit it right then
• Persevere. The right place is out there

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