Looking for an apartment is never an easy task—especially when you live in a hot real estate market like San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles. Habitually checking listings on apps like Zillow or Trulia can help you locate your dream apartment, but how do you ensure you're the one who actually signs the lease?
"The first complaint I hear from clients is the place they want is gone by the time they get there or find it online. They call and the landlord says that it's already rented out," says Noelle Gayral, one of our favorite Los Angeles-based realtors. The key to landing your first-choice apartment, besides being on top of the market, is to show up overly prepared for every appointment. We've put together the ultimate apartment hunting checklist to help you can sign the lease for your dream apartment.
Scroll through to make sure you’re always one step ahead the next time you’re on the lookout for a new home.
In order to prove your eligibility, it's imperative that you show proof of employment. That means you should bring pay stubs or a copy of your W-2 form.
Generally, you only need to bring pay stubs or bank statements. Both do the same thing—prove that you have the funds to pay your rent on time every month. However, we think it’s best to be doubly prepared in case your potential landlord prefers one form of evidence over the other, so include both on your apartment hunting checklist.
You need to bring your driver's license, passport, or any form of government-issued photo identification in order to be considered an eligible lease candidate. If you love an apartment and are able to submit an application, your landlord will make a photocopy of your identification for her records.
Letters of Recommendation
In most scenarios, references are more than enough to verify your respectability and validate that you have a stellar reputation. However, some landlords require written letters of recommendation as well. These letters of recommendation are from your most recent landlord and perhaps any of your past landlords. This apartment hunting checklist item should emphasize how exceptional you are as a tenant.
Vehicle Registration and Proof of Insurance
It may seem silly to include your vehicle registration when looking for a home, but often (especially in car-centric cities like Los Angeles), your apartment will come with a parking spot in a subterranean garage. Having your registration and car insurance with you can help ease your prospective landlord's mind and assure them (yet again) that you are a reliable tenant.
Social Security Number
Your Social Security number should be tattooed in your brain, but if it isn't, make sure to memorize it before hunting for an apartment. You don't want to keep this number saved in your phone, online, or even in writing because if someone steals it then it's incredibly easy to steal your identity. Property managers use your Social Security number to run a credit check.
Rental applications will always ask for your rental history. If you're just out of college and this is your first apartment, don't worry. Landlords are aware of that. But this is something to consider if you are a current renter. You want to maintain a pristine reputation as a tenant so your rental history never has a negative impact on your future housing.
This apartment hunting checklist must-have shows your job history, which in turn demonstrates your financial stability and reliability as a tenant. If you have a solid work record, you're more likely to pay your rent on time and keep a "normal" schedule that will cause little disturbance to your neighbors. Make sure to update your résumé with your current position.
Before you start the apartment-hunting process, ask two trusted people for permission to list them as your references. You'll want to have a personal reference and a professional reference to put on your application if the landlord asks for it. These people should be people who you trust to paint a flattering portrait of your character.
A cover letter is by no means a requirement for an apartment application. However, it is an effective way to emotionally appeal to the landlord and to distinguish yourself from the plethora of other applicants. Think of an apartment cover letter like a pain letter—you want to appeal to your potential landlord's biggest hardships. You want to demonstrate that you are the safest option for the space and that you will be incredibly grateful for the opportunity to rent his/her property. If you are applying as a couple, talk about your love story. If you have children, daydream about how much your children will enjoy creating memories in the space.
What's the number one apartment hunting checklist item you should never forget? Your checkbook. You'll likely have to pay an application fee or a holding fee to take the unit off the market while your application is being processed. And you always want to be prepared to put down first and last months' rent.
Usually, you can find the apartment's application online prior to visiting the space. If you can, bring a completed printout with you so you don't have to waste time filling out an application with a group of other potential renters. If you can't find an application online prior to your visit, spend a little time researching standard applications so that you are prepared with answers and can submit your forms as soon as possible. Timing is everything when it comes to nabbing your first-choice location.
You can also beat the landlord and/or property manager to the punch and arrive at the apartment showing with a copy of your credit report at the ready. That way, if you love the apartment, you can wow the landlord with your impressive credit score and over-preparedness, making it one of our apartment hunting checklist must-haves. You'll also save them the hassle of having to request it.
Apartment Hunting Essentials
This story was originally published on October 28, 2015, and has since been updated.
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for snagging a prime apartment? Share them with us in the comments.