The past two weeks we've been in the throes of an intensive apartment search out of state. Although we aren't traveling far (Philly to NYC) our schedules didn't allow for us to go visit any potential apartments. Instead, a lot of the search had to be conducted online. Thankfully, there were several tools and tips we used to successfully hunt down an amazing apartment all within a two week period. After the jump we can let you in on the invaluable tricks which helped us seal the deal.
The first and most crucial website of this entire process is Craigslist. Seriously, we don't know how people got by before Craigslist when it came time to find housing. Craigslist does an amazing job at aggregating the necessary information one needs to go apartment hunting in a different city. In our case, many brokers will come to the site and post a sampling of their offerings. You can then find more listings through their individual companies advertised on the Craigslist posting. Another extremely helpful service Craigslist provides is the ability to find roommates or post "housing wanted" ads. People monitor both with great regularity, especially in highly populated cities such as NY.
Once we found a place we liked we had to contact the broker who were our eyes through the process. They go out to the properties and are happy to take photographs for you. Don't be afraid to ask for specific shots or measurements of the space. Remember, if you're signing onto a lease for 12 months, this could be an extremely expensive purchase and you want to know what you're getting into. It is also very useful to create an Excel document or Google Docs file (this is good if you plan on having roommates and need to quickly exchange information). List the apartments you've seen and all relevant information such as rental costs, utilities, broker company, whether you have dimensions, pictures, etc... This will be a helpful reference when it comes time to make a decision. The more organized you are, the more it will likely pay off in the end.
Using Google Streetview is another extremely important tool for an out-of-state apartment hunt. While the broker can provide you imagery for the interior of the apartment, it's very unlikely they have time to take 360 degree photographs of the surround blocks around your house. This is where Google Streetview comes in play. Thankfully, you'll be able to navigate your entire city through Streetview. Check out the surround blocks, take a look at the neighborhood, the people walking around, the trees blooming, the trash on the street, etc.. Our favorite way to use Streetview is to blow up the view to fullscreen and navigate with the keypad using the up and down arrows to progress forward/backward along the streets and the left and right arrows to look around. Another way to speed through Streetview is to use the mouse and place the cursor as far into the distance as you'd like and click. Rather than take you step by step (click the arrows along the path) through the map, you'll be quickly transported to the destination.
Google is also very helpful for gauging time. Take a route you typically walk/drive/bike daily in your current location. In our case, we quickly found the directions from our apartment to school and route down the exact milage. Then, go to your perspective house and plot the directions to your new job, coffee shop, etc.. This is an extremely easy way to compare distance of two points relative to one you already know very well. Since you can't physically be at the location during your hunt, this can be a helpful way to get a sense of commute times or your house's general proximity to things you care about most.
Another interesting way to navigate the chaos that is apartment hunting is the website HousingMaps. Powered by Craigslist content, it neatly organizes recent Craigslist postings and spits them out on Google Maps. Sort the results and find places according to their actual locations on the map or number of bedrooms, price, etc... Similarly, iPhone users can use the helpful app Padmapper which will allow you to take HousingMaps functionality on the go (in case you do take a day trip to whatever destination you plan on living in).