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Renting Stage 2 - Finding the Rental You Want

Updated 5-10-2023

This Expert Adulting Module Will: 

  • Help you find a rental that you can afford and will enjoy living in

Most Important Things to Understand

  1. Renting is a huge commitment of money, and the place you choose to rent will affect your happiness for at least the length of your lease. 

  2. Where your rental is located, how you are treated by the owners, what the surrounding area is like, and many other factors will affect how happy you’ll be living in your new rental.

  3. The information here will help you decide whether a rental meets YOUR primary needs and keep you from wasting money paying application fees for places you don't qualify for. 

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Questions For You to Answer

(see info below for how)

  1. Have I figured out where I want my rental to be located?

  2. Have I done the right amount of research to determine if I’m likely to be happy in the place I’ve chosen? 

Renting Module Format

To help you find, qualify for, and enjoy your new rented apartment or house, I’ve mapped out all the steps involved and then broken them into 4 Renting Stages to make them easier for you to understand & work on:


Stage 2 - Finding the Rental You Want (this page)
Stage 3 - Understanding the Lease / Rental Agreement
Stage 4 - After You've Signed the Lease 

Step by step

FINDING the Rental You Want

A little bit of strategy and research can make a BIG difference! Follow these 6 steps to find a rental that you can both afford and will enjoy living in! 

STEP 1:   Figure Out WHERE You May Want to Live: Cities, Neighborhoods 

Your life revolves around certain places – where you work, where you go to school, where your family lives, where your friends live, where you like to hang out. It will save you a lot of transportation / driving time if you focus your rental search on areas that are close to as many of these special places as possible. 

In order to figure out what cities & neighborhoods fall into this area, start by mapping it out. Possible methods: 

  • Create your own personal map on Google Maps. Choose the “Directions” option and add the 5 or 6 places you go to most frequently. Now re-order the places until the recommended driving route overlaps as little as possible. This should end up as sort of an outline of the areas that may be the most convenient to live in. At this level you can see the cities you may want to explore. If you scroll in, you will be able to see specific neighborhoods. 

  • Get a physical map of your area. These are getting harder to find but State Visitor / Welcome Centers and AAA offices usually still have them. Put an “X” on each of the places you go to most frequently and look for the cities, towns, & neighborhoods that are located between the X’s. 

Now you have a list of cities, towns, &/or neighborhoods that would be most efficient for drive time. 

Google Outline Map
Hooded sweatshirt - crime

To whittle it down even more, you may want to check out the crime rates. To do this, search “crime rates, City, State.” Some cities provide their own crime maps - those are probably the best. If there isn’t a crime map produced by the city, there are other sites that provide this for free (Neighborhood Scout is one I saw often). Once you find the city crime map, you can scroll in to find the different neighborhoods & specific streets. Remove any areas that you wouldn’t feel safe living in from your list.

Lastly, consider the actual driving / bus / subway routes you would have to take to get to your favorite places. Is it easy or hard to get to where you want to be? If you drive, questions could include: does the route consistently have a lot of traffic congestion? A lot of left turns (which take more time)? More than the usual amount of traffic lights? Those all contribute to or detract from your happiness. 

This probably feels like a lot of work (and it is) but a couple of hours now could save you a year of unhappiness &/or fear and many hours of driving / transportation time. 

Frustrated driver

A Couple Real-Life Stories

The "Joys" of Traffic     

     A woman I know lived in Myrtle Beach, SC. When she first moved there (and didn’t know any better) she had to drive on S.R. 501 every day to and from her job. S.R. 501 is the main road to get to the beach so it is always packed with tourists who don’t know where they’re going &/or are gawking at all the touristy attractions along the road. This significantly slowed down the flow of traffic and caused a lot of erratic & dangerous driving. It would take 30 minutes to drive just a couple of miles. When her lease expired, she moved someplace where she WOULD NOT have to drive on S.R. 501 and saved herself an hour of daily frustration! 

Sometimes Money Isn't Worth It

     A young man was offered a job at an Amazon facility that was a 40-minute drive from his apartment. We talked about the drive time before he accepted the offer but he didn’t think it would be that big of a deal and that the wages that Amazon was offering would be worth it. After driving in significant traffic for almost 2 hrs. per day (because the 40-minute drive estimate didn’t account for traffic congestion), he decided that his time and his sanity were worth much more than Amazon was paying. He then went and got a job much closer to where he lived.

STEP 2:   Decide WHAT You Want to Rent

What kind of rental home do you want or need at this point in your life? Most people think of renting an apartment but you could also rent a house or a condominium or a townhouse or just a room. Each have their good & bad points. Questions to consider: 

  • Do you want to live in a community or have separation from your neighbors? 

  • Do you want to live on 1 level or have an upstairs & downstairs? 

  • Do you want to do outside maintenance (yard, snow) or would you prefer that be taken care of for you? 

Housing Options

You may want to look around a good rental website (see Step 3) to see what each of the options include. You can then decide what you need for your life right now & even where you may want to move next time if you decide to stay smaller / less expensive for now. 

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TIP:  Don’t nix a rental option thinking it will be too expensive without researching it first.  Many times you can rent a house for about the same price as an apartment in a complex. 

STEP 3:   Find Some Places to Consider 

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TIP:  It’s time to clear your schedule as much as possible. You will need time to find and check out new rental listings and you will need the flexibility to quickly go look at the places that interest you.

Calendar empty

You now know what kind of rental you are looking for and what cities and neighborhoods you’d be interested in, so it’s time to find some potential rentals! There are 2 main methods: 

  1)   Ask for Referrals

Referrals for good places &/or property management companies are like GOLD. Talk with trusted friends, relatives, and co-workers. Does anyone have a place they really enjoyed living (e.g., apartment complex)? Did anyone have a good experience with a particular property management company (the organizations that usually do the renting of single-family homes)? Can they give you the name & phone number of the right person to contact? Can you use their name as a referral? 

Friends talking over meal

You’ll probably have the best success if you directly call the contacts you are given. Tell them that “person’s name” had a lot of good things to say about them and referred you to them. Ask if they have any openings now or coming up soon that meet your criteria. If not, and you think you’d like living there, ask to be put on their waiting list in case something opens up unexpectedly. 

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TIP:  Pay serious attention to any places &/or property management companies THAT PEOPLE DON’T LIKE. This information is also as good as gold. Landlords, maintenance crews, neighbors, and groundskeepers will positively or negatively affect your life for as long as you live there. Some organizations don’t treat their tenants well - you want to know who they are so you can make an informed decision later! 

Gold bars

  2)   Search Online

Do a web search for “Best Websites for Renting a Place to Live.” Look down the results page and you will start to see websites that are referred to again & again. Those probably have the best search tools and most listings. You can also find places being offered by individuals (rather than large companies) on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. 

Most of the larger rental sites will allow you to filter the results based on your specific needs (e.g., maximum rent, number of beds/baths, if they allow pets, move-in date, etc.). 

You may be able to set it up so that you get a notification when a new place that meets your requirements gets listed – this method is much easier than checking the site every 15 minutes for new listings! 

Notification Bell
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TIP:  When you first start looking, pay attention to how long the place has been available to rent. Since the best places / best deals usually go quickly, the ‘less good’ places are the ones that are left. 

If you are interested in a place that has been available for a while, try to figure out WHY IT IS STILL AVAILABLE during your research in Step 4 below. Is the rent higher than it should be for the area? Does it look better on the website than it does in person? Is the area that it is located in less than ideal? Is it downwind from a pig farm (smelly!)? Is there a lot of street traffic? There are reasons that it didn’t go quickly. If you figure out what those reasons are, you can then make an informed decision if they matter to you or not. After your first time going through the rental websites, you will only need to pay attention to the “new” listings as they are posted but the same questions still apply. 

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TIP:  While you’re researching, you may want to search “What should I look for when inspecting an apartment.” Many organizations provide checklists of the important things to look for and ask when you are visiting places that you may want to rent (the same checklists can be used for rooms and houses). Using these checklists will help you notice potential problems so you can make an informed decision on whether you want to deal with them or not.

Knowledge is Power

STEP 4:   Save Yourself Time - Research ‘Interesting’ Rentals ONLINE (before visiting)

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TIP:  Good places / good deals usually get rented right away! Quickly (but thoroughly) do the research described below and, if you’re still interested, contact the rental agent ASAP.


Landlords, property managers, and people listing a rental on Facebook or Craigslist are SALES PEOPLE. They are there to protect their own interests – NOT yours. DON’T take what they say as the truth – do your own investigating (see below). 

Warning Light

When you find a rental you may be interested in, these additional steps may save you from making a ‘wasted trip’ out to see it when it’s really not what you want. 

  • Search “Reviews + the name of the complex / renting organization + the city & state where the rental is located” (e.g., “Reviews XYZ Apartments Springfield IL” or “Reviews ABC Property Management Seattle WA”). 

4 of 5 stars

Now look through the results to see what people are saying about them. Look for things that come up again and again e.g., great maintenance people or ones who never seem to do anything, infrequent rent increases or major jumps every renewal period. Repeated items are probably true. Are you still interested? 

  • Plug the address into Google Maps and click on the picture in the upper left corner (if there is one). Then use the directional arrow to ‘walk’ up and down the street. Does the area look good to you? 

If there isn’t a picture in the upper left corner, click on the “layers” button at the bottom of the page and look at the satellite picture to see what the overall area looks like. Does this look good to you? 

Extra Trick:  Sometimes there is the option to see these pictures from previous years also. Looking at the older pictures can show you if the area / rental is getting better or worse. 

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  • Search the address online and look at any additional pictures you find (e.g., other rental sites offering the same listing, the apartment complex’ site, etc.). Do you still like what you see? 

If everything still looks good, calling the phone number provided is more personal and will likely get you information quicker than if you send an email or submit a form online. Since renting is typically 1st come, 1st serve, making personal contact as soon as you possibly can may help you out.  

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TIP:  Another way to save yourself from making a ‘wasted trip’ is to ask the rental agent what their tenant screening requirements are when you first talk with them (minimum credit score, minimum monthly income, length of employment, rental history, etc.). Since you know your own information (from going through the steps in Stage 1 – BEFORE You Start to Look), you will know if you qualify or not. If you don’t qualify, there’s no reason to take the time to go see it. 

Caution Light

CAUTION:  If they say you have to pay the application fee and apply before they show it to you or say you have to pay any kind of fee in order to see it, be very careful. They should be happy to show it to potential tenants. If they are not, there is a significant chance that you will find a big issue with the rental &/or it’s a semi-scam to get them money from a bunch of people even though they will only rent it to one. 

Caution Light

CAUTION:  Be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when it comes to the cost of renting a place. $1000 monthly rent + a $1200 NON-refundable deposit is really an $1100 monthly rent for a 1-year lease. If they add a $25 / mo. Administration Fee then rent is really $1025 / month. If they include trash and water in the monthly rent maybe that reduces it by $50 / mo. compared to someplace where you have to pay for those services in addition to your rent. It’s the TOTAL cost of living in one place versus living in another that gives you the real comparison.

STEP 5:   Go Take a Look! 


Piggy Bank - save money

What you see on rental websites shows the place at its best and makes it sound as good as possible. They are not going to show you anything bad – that’s why you need to go see it for yourself!

It’s finally time to go see the place in person! If you like what you see, you may want to do just a bit more research to make sure it really is a great place for you. Some suggestions: 

  • Go through one or more of the Rental Checklists you found in Step 3 so you have all the information you need to make the correct decision for you. 

  • Decide if you like how the rental agent has treated you. How they treat you BEFORE you apply is probably the best you’ll ever see. If you aren’t impressed, you may want to look for someplace else.  

  • Talk with some people who already live there. (You may have to ask the rental agent for “a few minutes to think it over” so you have the opportunity to do this without them standing there waiting for you.) Knock on doors or talk with people by their cars. They are probably nice people and if not, it’s better to know BEFORE you move in! (see Story below)

Tell them you are thinking about renting there and ask if they will answer a couple of questions. Ideas:

  • How long have you lived here?

  • Do you like it here? Why or why not?

  • Have you had any problems with noise or bugs or neighbors or anything?

  • How’s the maintenance? (if they rent from the same apartment complex / property management company)

  • Is there anything you wish you had known before you moved in here?

  • Do you feel safe here?

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Real-Life Story

     A couple years ago I rented a house in an 'OK' neighborhood. The houses looked decent, there were working streetlights, and it was pretty safe according to the crime map. I didn’t expect to have any problems so I signed the lease & moved in. Unfortunately, I didn’t talk with any of my soon-to-be neighbors beforehand and that was my BIG mistake. I could have saved myself a lot of problems if I had.

     The neighborhood was generally quiet – at least until about 11:30 at night – that’s when the cars started coming and going from the house across the street. Other than the cars with noisy mufflers, the cars weren’t the problem. The problem was the people in the cars! They would get out, slam their doors, talk to each other, and lock their car doors until the horn honked. Then, a couple minutes later, the whole process repeated as they left. Every night, all night long, the cars and people would come and go and come and go. Oh my gosh! 

     The reason I’m telling you this story? The very first time I spoke to my neighbor, he almost immediately started complaining about the nightly noise from the neighbor across the street! If I had just spoken to him BEFORE I rented the place, I could have saved myself a year of sleepless nights, the cost & work of moving to a new place just a couple miles away as well as lot of aggravation and stress!! That’s why I suggest that before you rent a place, talk to the people around it and find out the REAL story of what it’s like to live there.

STEP 6:   Double-Check that You Qualify BEFORE Submitting Your Application 

Double-checking that you meet all their requirements BEFORE you pay the application fee could save you some money. 

Ask the rental agent what they require, specifically, for a rental application to be approved (e.g., minimum credit score, minimum monthly income, length of employment / employment history, references, good renter history, etc.). Some rental agents resist answering this question (because they make money off your application fee even if you don’t qualify??) but you may want to keep asking until either 1) they answer or 2) they explain why they won’t. Another way of accomplishing sort of the same thing is to tell them your information and ask them if you qualify. 

2 Green Checkmarks



If you apply and don’t qualify, not only will you lose your application money, you will also get a “hard inquiry” on your credit report which will lower your credit score so then your credit score will be lower when you try to qualify for the next place! Learn more: Your Credit Score

Warning Light
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What To Do Now

  1. Find your own answers to the Questions for You to Answer.

  2. Review the Most Important Things to Understand.

  3. Continue to Renting Stage 3 – Understanding the Lease.

  4. If you haven’t already, check out Renting Stage 1 – BEFORE You Look to give you your best chance of success.

  5. Share this with any friends / family / co-workers who could use it.  

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