Nancy Simmons Starrs is president and founder of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment search service.
A major portion of my work day is spent finding homes for people who are relocating to the Washington metropolitan area from other parts of the country.
Many have only been to the area once or twice. There are many things to consider when you are relocating to an area you not familiar with, especially when you have a very short time frame to secure a rental home. It is a good idea to start your search two months prior to your move date, but you may not have that luxury.
Here are some tips on how to help you in your search for a new home in unfamiliar territory:
• Think about the major priorities you need in a rental home. Do you need a short commute time, a certain amount of square footage? Make a list of your mandatory items that you need in a place to live and your maximum budget.
• Think about qualities you like in a neighborhood. Do you want to be walking distance to shopping or a gym? Do you need walking or bike paths? Do you need to be near schools?
Do some research on neighborhoods in the area. Check out the Walk Score of various buildings you might be considering. Google Maps Street View is a great way to explore a neighborhood before you arrive. Ask friends, co-workers, fellow alumni, anyone you know with local knowledge of the area for neighborhood suggestions. Ask for a few suggestions in case some neighborhoods are above your budget or won’t work for you. Look for neighborhood listservs, message boards and groups to ask potential future neighbors questions about their neighborhood and its benefits. Check out Yelp reviews for restaurants, shopping and night life.
• Do some research on what average rents are in each neighborhood to see which area will work best for your budget.
• Once you have narrowed down your choices to neighborhoods that are the best fit for you, your home search can now begin. Take your list of priorities and search for the options that are available when you need them to be, within your price, with as many items from your wish list as possible. Make sure you have as many choices as possible as some options can get rented while you are searching, before you have a chance to see them depending on the time of year.
• Schedule a time to come to the area to view the home options you have found. Allow a little time to have a cup of coffee or a bite to eat in the local neighborhoods of the apartments you like best. This will help you in the process of deciding which option is the best fit for you.
• If you aren’t able to come to the area before your move, you should enlist someone to view home options on your behalf, once you have narrowed your choices down.
Ask a friend, co-worker or family friend. Some properties do require that someone come to view a rental home on your behalf, so in some cases this will open up more choices for you. It is always best if someone can see the property in person, ask questions, measure a wall or turn on faucets as needed.
If they are able to do a Skype tour this will give you a better feel for what the rental home looks like. Any feedback from someone who has personally viewed the property will be helpful in choosing which option is a wonderful place to call home.
Read Nancy Simmons Starrs’s previous columns: