Nail down a few basics: Do you want roommates? Where do you want to live? Townhome, hi-rise or garden-style building?
Peruse listings online and in newspapers to get a sense of the market in the neighborhoods that interest you.
Plan how you will tell prospective landlords about your rental and credit history. You may need to sell yourself as a reliable tenant.
Spend time in the building to get a feel for it. Ask extensive questions of management. Landlords are business people and may not give you straight answers, but asking these questions will help assess their management style.
Don't feel obligated to sign a lease on the spot. Be sure to read it, understand it and know all the fees and policies associated with your agreement -- especially the penalty for early termination.
Choose a neighborhood with care. Visit during the day and night. Check crime reports and practice your commute.
Make a list of apartment features and amenities you (and your co-habitants) need and desire.
Physically inspect prospective properties carefully. Check for signs of poor maintenance, rowdy residents, safety issues and parking problems.
Visit the building on your own (without a management escort) and talk to residents about their experiences with maintenance, noise, rent increases and parking.
Pay attention to any red flags that pop up during your search. Never get so caught up that you forget that you are a consumer with choices.