I've worked as an apartment locator in Austin for over a decade, so over the years I've picked up a few tips and tricks guaranteed to make sure you get not only the lowest price on a new place, but that you also don't get any nasty surprises when you move in. So, read on if you're ready to take the apartment hunting bull by the proverbial horns.
1. DON'T go looking for an apartment on a weekend but DO plan your day
This is the most common time for people to go and look at a new place, and you'll often end up waiting for hours at popular properties, which means you get to see less places. There are even unscrupulous leasing agents who will intentionally drag out your time at each property so you can't go and see their competitor. They'll say things like, “And next we're going to see the trash chutes and meet Sergio who runs our maintenance team. Sergio will give a brief 30-minute presentation on the ins and outs of his day to day life!”
Don't fall for it. Trust me, I've caught them in the act and dragged clients out of the door before. If all you're interested in is the apartment itself, and not the dog-polishing station, don't be afraid to say so. Ask to see the apartment first, and the amenities second. If you don't like the apartment, just let them know and offer to leave so as not to waste any of their time.
So take a day off work (or pull a sickie) and plan your day out on say a Tuesday, or Wednesday. Mark all the properties you want to see on a map, check their opening times and plan your route. Call AHEAD and check they actually have what you're looking for (don't trust websites) and make sure you don't need an appointment. If you're efficient you can cut the time down to 30 mins per property max, which means you can easily see 10 places in a day. Take a camera and a notepad with you, take notes, take pictures and don't forget to take an ID! In Texas you can't even look at an apartment without a government ID.
2. DO negotiate
While FHA Housing laws dictate that properties have to offer the same deal to everyone irregardless of race, religion, marital status etc. that doesn't mean they can't throw in extras such as free parking, reduced admin fees, no pet rent etc. While properties 99% of the time won't reduce your rent, they will offer lower upfront costs. This is done mainly because the owners of the properties track something called a CAP rate that is based on the average rental rates, not what people pay upfront in deposits etc. If you're too afraid to negotiate, take a bossy friend with you and have them do the talking. Or, if you're working with an apartment locator, let them play the bad guy and try and negotiate something for you.
3. DO take pricing information from other apartments with you.
Let the leasing agent know there is competition, and you're not just looking at their property. Even if you are. NEVER let a leasing agent know you're the last stop of the day, and always tell them “there's one more after this!”. Carry brochures from other properties with you so they can see you've been to other buildings, and always compare. Say things like “Oh, this apartment is much smaller than the one at Unicorn Towers.” and other statements like that. It will help your negotiation when it comes to crunch time.
4. DON'T delay. Pricing and availability changes every day
This is the most annoying thing about looking for an apartment nowadays. Pricing doesn't just change daily, it changes by the second. It's all computerized now and most properties offer people the ability to lease an apartment online. So you can be standing in an apartment admiring the super sweet ceiling fans, but get back to the leasing office to discover that someone leased it out online while you were standing in it. It's infuriating, and it's not fair but I've seen it happen. So if you do find the right place, and you negotiate a great deal, don't sleep on it. Jump on it. Because the way the leasing market is right now it probably won't be there tomorrow.
5. ASK to see the ACTUAL apartment, not just the model, and ASK QUESTIONS.
This is especially true if you're looking at a new building that is in a lease up period. They will always show you the fancy model with $10,000 of furniture and an original Salvador Dali on the wall, with a beautiful view over the skyline. But what they won't tell you is the one you're leasing doesn't have all the upgrades, and faces the freeway. And the dumpster. Always have them point out the actual apartment on a map (if it's not ready to show) and have them explain what it faces and what it's near. Is it right next to the elevator shaft or the trash chute? Because that's not cool. Ask about extras like trash, water, sewer, “valet trash fees”, pest control, service fees, parking etc. Are they included or are there extra fees? Some buildings won't tell you until you've signed a lease and these can add up to an extra $50-$100 per month. Parking is a big one especially in downtown.
So there you have it. There's a lot more that we as locators do to make sure that our clients get the perfect apartment at the lowest guaranteed price, but these are the basics that will get you 80% of the way there. The hardest part for the consumer is knowing which properties actually have what you're looking for as far as amenities, availability, pet policies that will work for you and so on. I hire an assistant full-time just to track pricing in 2 cities, and it's a 25 hour a week job for her. So for an apartment hunter coming in blind it's almost impossible. But if you're determined to go it alone, I hope these tips above will help!
But if you're sick and tired of looking for your next place, and you want us to do all the legwork for you, and drive you around using our gas, and bribe you with cookies and stuff, just give us a shout. It's a free service and according to our reviews, we ROCK! You can reach our leasing team at (512) 518-3517 or you can search apartments here.