Interstate Apartment Hunting (When You don’t Live There Yet)

Interstate Apartment hunting is hard.

This entry will be long. If you’re looking for a place to live out of state for whatever reason, be armed with the following:

  • Rental/Housing listings
  • Credit Score
  • Debt to Income Ratio
  • An idea of where you want to live
  • A friend in the city (optional)
  • A tech-savvy property manager (not optional)
  • The downpayment.

Caveat #1: Our circumstances will not match. I’m aware of several exceptions my landlord made in order to get me into the space I’m in now. Also, be patient with this process.

That’s not a suggestion.

Interstate Apartment Rental Resources

This is a very little list. There are truly thousands of ways to find an apartment, but here are the few I used during my own interstate apartment hunt:

  1. Craigslist: Where I found my space. It’s helpful to search a) with the pictures on and b) below and a little above your price range. Utilize those filters to help you narrow down your criteria and if you see a space you adore – REACH OUT immediately. Here in Seattle, the rental market is hours of a listing going live to a listing immediately dying as over 10,000 people arrive here in Seattle every day.
  2. Padmapper: Pulls from Zillow and other resources to show rental listings on a map, a la Zillow and Craigslist. You can filter the listings via price and other amenities.
  3. Zillow: Not just for house-hunting, but also wonderful for rental hunting as you can fill out your own profile – giving property managers/owners a chance to “get to know you” before they actually get to know you.
  4. Word of Mouth: If you have friends in the city, loop them into your search. People talk and they want their friends to live in their neighborhoods too. It may hurt your pride to ask them, but ASK. don’t forget to tell them your budget. A studio costing $1350 with all utilities included may sound like a great price, but if all you can afford is a 950$ micro-suite or a house-share – it makes things a little awkward.

Your Credit Score (Yes, It Matters)

Question: Do you even KNOW your credit score?

If you do, that’s fabulous! If you don’t, you need to know. Now. Head over to annualcreditreport.com to get your free, yearly credit report.

I happen to have a 675. It’s not the best. Average at best, but it could be worse.

Now the reason why it matters? Is because if I were to search for an apartment right now and another applicant had a higher credit score than I do, I am immediately disqualified from the search because the score is lower.

Of course, this has nothing to do with your ability to pay rent so much as it proves absolutely nothing. It’s just yet another application criterion property managers can use to knock you out of the running in favor of more “savory” applicants.

I ran into several listings where they requested a credit score of 680 or higher and quite a few of those where the companies were asking for a score of 700 or higher.

So where did you fall?

700 or higher? I’m impressed. You should have no issues finding a home here in Seattle. You may even be offered smaller security deposits since your credit report looks pristine. But don’t let this go to your head. It’s so easy to lower that score than you think.

600 to 699? Welcome to Casa Average! It’s okay to be here, but our goal here is to lift our scores by paying off our debt. In my case, it’s credit card debt. I used a personal SoFi loan (Affiliate Link – details below this post) to combine three of my credit cards and pay them off.

599 or lower? You may have some issues finding residence in Seattle proper, so you may want to avoid property management companies and go straight for Landlords with ADU (Additional Dwelling Unit) spaces. Be patient with yourself as debt payoff takes time and energy.

Debt to Income Ratio (I’m not kidding)

So this is a thing. It is a thing I did not know until I started my own interstate apartment hunt because Cincinnati is definitely NOT Seattle. Each city even has different rental criteria. Cincinnati uses “can you pay rent?” Seattle uses “how can we see who we like best?”

MortgageCalculator.com gives the following formula to figure out your Debt to Income Ratio: To determine your DTI ratio, simply take your total debt figure and divide it by your income. For instance, if your debt costs $2,000 per month and your monthly income equals $6,000, your DTI is $2,000 ÷$6,000, or 33 percent.

Which is great!

When you’re hunting for a house.

In order to help skim the best of the best applicants, property managers/owners are now using Debt to Income Ratios as applicant criteria.

You will want to know your own ratio before entering the application process. Because once you’re in there, it’s a race against time between you and Amazon Joe!

Your Ideal Neighborhood(s)

Have you figured out where you’d like to land your new pad? I used Google Maps and Street View enough to figure out which neighborhoods I liked. Wikipedia played a starring role to figure out the fun factoids behind those neighborhoods.

I knew that I wanted to land in either:

After further research and some random circumstances, I almost committed to Northern Seattle, so I was able to eliminate Queen Anne (oh my god, the Hill) and Belltown (too close to Downtown) and still be able to afford a space!

My first three options quickly whittled themselves down during to sheer circumstances and the Universe intervening to focus my search on Fremont and Wallingford.

That all changed when I found a listing on Craigslist in a neighborhood I lovingly call Wallingmont.

Optional: A Friend in the City

When I was doing my interstate apartment hunt, I had about six folks in Seattle that I was friendly with, but not super close to. Save one, but their schedule didn’t allow my calling them up to be like “so, could you please go see this apartment for me?”

A lot of the listings I contacted required an in-person tour in order to be considered. If you think you’ll run into this, you may want to reach out to your friends and GET FRIENDLY. You may need them to check out your space in order to even apply for it.

I got lucky. I had a Tech-Savvy Property Manager who liked me enough to do video calls. Head to the next section!

Required: A Tech-Savvy Property Manager

Now I looked through 95 apartment listings during my interstate apartment hunt. Well, more than just 95, but 95 applications and only two…

TWO…

Two property managers out of all of those listings offered up a video call in lieu of my physical presence during the visit.

Just two.

Yvonne, being the tech-savvy woman she is, figured out Google Hangouts long enough to show the studio and actually see she and Ed in person. Well, sort of. They needed to see if I would vibe with both them and the house and I wanted to see more than the kitchen I had pictures of.

If the manager of the space you love is willing to do a video call with you – that will help you narrow down your search by, well, a lot!

The Down Payment

Full Disclosure: I had a two-fold reason for getting my Sofi Loan in the first place.

  1. To pay off my credit card debt and lift my credit score.
  2. To afford my actual downpayment since my income moved too quickly for my credit report to feel comfortable about it.

The payments were more management than my credit card payments were. I don’t even see the money leave my account – it’s an automatic deduction which takes out a lot of the guesswork and stress of potentially missing a payment.

Most landlords ask for First Month’s rent and the security deposit (usually equaling to the first month’s rent) before you move in. Other properties may ask for more. At the time this entry was written, a law here in Washington was being rolled around making owners and management companies asking for First Month’s Rent, Last Month’s Rent, AND the Security Deposit illegal, but as the amazing interstate apartment hunter you are, you’re researching that via Google, aren’t you?

My landlord asked for First Month’s and a small security deposit, which I did via bank transfer (which I can rant about in a whole different entry). My bank hated the move – but when your landlord is in Washington and you’re in Ohio, sending him a check isn’t the smartest idea.

Summing it All Up

When you’re hunting for an apartment out of state, or even out of town, you’ll want to be armed with:

  • Your research
  • Your down payment
  • Your credit score
  • Your neighborhood(s)
  • Someone to go on tours for you or a property manager who doesn’t mind a video call
  • Patience

You’re going to need that last one.

Until Next Time!

Affiliate Disclosure

SoFi Loans: The link present in this entry that once you apply for a loan and are approved, you receive $100 and I receive $300 in compensation for the referral. For more details, please visit Sofi.com.