Our new skyline is Dallas. Image courtesy of Melinda Clemmer.
There are countless reasons why you may have to find an apartment without being able to visit first. For me, my boyfriend found his first job out of grad school in Dallas, TX. It was an area neither of us had ever visited, let alone lived, having spent most of our respective lives on the East Coast and in the mid-Atlantic.
Long story short, we didn’t have any time or money to visit the Dallas area before moving there. Whether it’s because of a new job (or the job of a loved one) or just because your heart desires something new, sometimes moving is the only option, yet visiting first isn’t an option at all. Here’s what you can do to ensure that the apartment you find is the one you’ll love.
Think about what you want/need
Lists are my best friends. If they’re more like acquaintances for you, find some other way to organize what it is you want and need in an apartment. Starting the search without understanding your own desires is a sure-fire way to miss out on something in the long run.
Do you want a pool on the first floor of your building? Do you absolutely need a washer and dryer in your unit, or are you okay with taking your laundry to a laundry room? It wasn’t until late in my search for an apartment in Dallas that I found out many complexes in the area don’t include appliances. I was on the phone with a leasing agent who also happened to be a Pennsylvania transplant who explained, very seriously, to be sure to ask places if they included a refrigerator, dishwasher, and microwave. Apparently, it’s fairly common in this area to pay extra for these “necessities.”
Obviously, you know best what you need. Just take a few days to keep your eyes open in your current living space and those you visit to gather a list of the things you’ll want to have in your new home.
Learn about the location
Every area has its characteristics and quirks. Unfortunately, these can be difficult to uncover when you can’t immerse yourself, or even dip your toes, into the neighborhood. So do your research. Regularly check local news sites leading up to your visit to learn about the pros and cons of your new home. Talk to leasing agents about the safety of various areas, and take their information (opinions) with a grain of salt. Read reviews, but remember that mainly those who are upset write them.
If you are moving for employment, your employer should have some resources you can use to learn more. My boyfriend’s employer sent out an Excel spreadsheet listing where new hires chose to live, their commutes, and how they liked their choices. This was helpful for narrowing down some options we had found on our own and giving us brand new ideas.
And, believe it or not, Google Street View helped my boyfriend and me to narrow down our decision to three places. We had pretty much decided on a location in downtown Dallas until we checked it out on Google Street View. Despite having a DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) station right across the street, the area was barren, and not at all what we were looking for.
Meet the locals
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, How am I supposed to meet the locals if I can’t visit? That’s where the Internet comes in! Visit any site where people gather, and you’re likely to find a few, if not thousands, of people who love the place you’re headed to, or at least have first-hand opinions about it. Reddit has subreddits for specific locations. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the people there to get a feel for the locals, a significant aspect of any place.
Meetup is also a great site for getting a feeling for an area. It features groups of people who have specific interests and gather where you’re about to live! From folks who like to see Indie bands to German conversation groups to Frisbee clubs, you’ll find it all and get ahead of the friend-making game.
Go Girl Travel Network is another great resource, and we’ve got Meetups too (from the US to Canada to Brazil)! If you’re not already a member of the Facebook or Twitter groups, get on it! These ladies are ready and willing to provide their opinions on and tips about a variety of locations worldwide.
It may be intimidating to call apartment complexes for information. It’s even more intimidating when you hear the surprised tone in the agent’s voice when you explain that no, you can’t come visit. So be prepared with some questions to keep the conversation focused. Quite often the agent will either describe every single aspect of the complex, which can be distracting, or be entirely silent, which can be really awkward.
Also be prepared to leave a clear message and to take return calls when you may not be expecting them. One thing I did not anticipate was the number of calls I received from complexes “courting” me. Keep in mind, that agents are often paid on commission.
One thing I wished I had known about during our search is the option to FaceTime or Skype with a leasing agent. They may not advertise it, but if you tell an agent you won’t be able to visit in person and ask for a FaceTime tour of an apartment or complex, they may just be willing to oblige!
Like I said, my organization consists of making lists. I started a Word document and organized each entry with its address, phone number, proximity to public transportation, amenities, and the commute my boyfriend would have to work. My boyfriend, on the other hand, scoffed at my Word doc and suggested moving everything into an Excel spreadsheet with a column for our individual ratings on a scale of 1 to 5.
The ranking system worked great for us, and we ended up in a place we really love. While we’ll only be here for a limited time, it’s awesome to have parks nearby, to be able to walk to cafes and pubs, and to be just a short drive from downtown Dallas. The process of moving here taught me even more about what’s required to find a good place. But the truth is, it’s always a gamble. You calculate the stakes, read the room, and roll the dice.