Your lease is expiring, you tried a house but renting suites you better, you need a  change, you are moving to a new city- there are plenty of reasons to start apartment hunting. No matter your reason, the things you need to pay attention to are the same. With these eight considerations in mind, you will be more prepared throughout your hunt and more likely to snap up your ideal apartment before the competition (while avoiding any “ugly under the surface” traps.)

Know what you need – and what you want.

The first step to apartment hunting is making a grand list of what you want and slowly whittling it down to what you need. Needs and wants are not the same for every person. If you are cooking in for your family, a dishwasher could be a fantastic time saver. If it’s just usually you and takeout every night- those dishes would grow mold before it would be worth switching on.

Highlight any special considerations.

Do you have pets? Can you handle long flights of stairs every day? Do you need a short of long term lease? Are the local schools right for your kids or would homeschooling be on the menu?

Some conditions will make it easy to filter out most listings. Make sure to clarify, too. Even if an apartment is listed as “pet-friendly” it might have a height or weight limit. Or it might be code for “cat and hamster” friendly. Sometimes a landlord can be persuaded otherwise for a fee or proof of good behavior (like an obedience class certificate and demonstration.)

Make use of online and local sources.

Not all apartments are listed everywhere and plenty of sites that call themselves “comprehensive” are far from. Your best bet is to find a real estate office in the area- that specializes in this field. You can browse the internet for listings, too but nothing beats what a specialist can offer.

And don’t forget print! Newspapers might seem antiquated, but you never know if they might be offering just what you’re looking for.

Get an inspection even if you have to DIY.

Don’t be afraid to get to know an apartment. Ask about amenities and updates- check corners and cracks. Smell something off? Ask for an explanation. You can hire a  professional to perform an inspection, but in most cases, you are better off doing it yourself (maybe with a little guidance from an experienced real estate agent.)

If there is an issue, but you love the apartment. Otherwise, it’s not necessarily a “cut and dry” situation. Sometimes the apartment owner or manager is genuinely unaware of the problem- they’ll want it to be fixed just as much as you do. In other cases, the cost to repair might be minor, and if you’re willing to oversee them, you might be able to negotiate a temporary discount.

Interview your potential landlords.

Landlords and apartment managers can be a wealth of information about not only residence policy but also the local area. There are dozens of great questions you could ask but some good ones to start are:

· What are utility bills like? Can you show me some?

· Which appliances are included? Microwave, dishwasher, etc.?

· Are there parking fees? Where can I park?

· Are there any included amenities? Additional fees for any?

· How much noise is there usually? Neighbors or traffic?

· What sort of decorating is allowed? Can you paint and hang things on the walls? Penalty fees?

· What sort of maintenance am I expected to perform?

· Can you sublet? What’s the penalty for breaking a lease?

Can you negotiate?

If you are a model tenant and can prove it, you might have a little room to negotiate. That, and lack of competition, necessary repairs, or even lack of proof can be enough reason to ask for special terms.

If you haven’t been renting long or are without references, you could offer a shorter lease agreement (for now) or a better deposit. If you can’t move in right away (due to your current housing arrangement), you might offer to pay a portion of the rent or negotiate to sublet your current lease temporarily.

Before you settle, know what the local market is like- find comparable properties and prices so you have an idea about what you can (reasonably) ask for and why. Negotiating for apartments for rent in West Palm Beach is very different from negotiating with them in West Virginia- different people and different values.

What’s the neighborhood like?

Though an apartment or apartment complex might be lovely in and of itself, the neighborhood is where you’re living. If walking out of your building makes you uncomfortable or unsafe, if your favorite shops and restaurants are prohibitively far away or you can’t find a job with less than a 2-hour commute you might want to reconsider.

Finding a great neighborhood is a crucial and frequently overlooked step in the apartment hunting process.

Don’t forget about your current housing arrangement.

That’s right, you’re living somewhere now and moving will require either selling, letting your lease expire (or just negotiating when and where to leave the spare key.)

Moving from a house to an apartment can be tricky- not only do you have to sell, but you’ll also have to downsize. Apartment to apartment can be tricky to do with perfect timing but with careful planning, or a little negotiating will go as well as can be expected. Just don’t go apartment shopping and sign on before you’ve figured out what to do with your current abode.