How Long Does it Take to Find an Apartment?

Whether you're moving out of your house for the first time, crossing the country for a job or for love or finding a new apartment with more rooms or a better price or in a newer neighborhood, the task of looking for and acquiring a new apartment — even the thought of doing so — can be daunting.

From the first moments of casual searching right up until moving day, the more you plan, the better your chances of everything going off without a hitch. So, how long does it take to get an apartment? Here's how long you can expect each step of the process to play out.

saving money

Several months before move-in day: Save up enough money

Truth be told, the apartment search begins long before you actually start searching. Moving can be pricey, so you'll want to start saving up about six months' worth of rent and expenses in advance. But let's be honest — you may not know you want to move because of a change in circumstances until just a few months (or less) before your lease runs out, so it's best to always be saving for that eventuality.

Renting a new apartment comes with a lot of expenses. Signing a lease can require as little as your first month's rent plus an application fee, or it can be as much as your first month, your last month and a security deposit equal to another month, an application fee, a background check fee, a move-in fee, an HOA fee and a parking or pet deposit. It can really add up.

So, once you have enough cash on hand to handle initial fees and six months of rent and expenses, you're ready to put together an action plan and find an apartment. This is also a good time to decide if your budget dictates that you're going to need a roommate, and if so, start finding one.

apartment search

40 to 60 days before move-in day: Conduct your search

Even once you're ready to start searching (and know your financial situation), your quest to find a new place may take several weeks. In fact, more than half of respondents to a recent Rent.com survey said it took more than three weeks to find a new apartment (with less than one in five reporting it took them less than a week), and nearly a third of responders reported looking at more than 20 apartments before finding the one (with 20 percent of women viewing more than 30).

Search time varies from person to person, so leave as much time as possible. Take your time and be sure you've found the apartment that strikes the right balance between location, affordability and meeting your needs.

Online search and virtual showings

With so many apartments out there, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin, but if possible, it's a good idea to start surveying properties online about three months before the big move. Begin by targeting neighborhoods you are interested in and get googling what those areas have to offer to see if they're right for you before you start looking at actual apartments. Then dive into researching and viewing the apartments you're most interested in.

During the coronavirus crisis, the mechanics of apartment hunting have changed drastically. Gone for now are the days of driving from apartment to apartment taking tours and talking with the landlord or manager. The majority of your search will now be done online. Apartment management and owners have pivoted from in-person viewings to online virtual 3-D tours.

The good news is that not only can you complete your search from the comfort of your living room without the need to drive around from site to site, this also has evened the field for those conducting their apartment search from another city or the other end of the country.

In-person visits are still a thing

More often than not, your impression of an apartment can change drastically when you see it in person. Just like most pictures, angles are everything. The pictures you see of a potential property online are usually taken by a professional, who knows how to position the camera and let in just the right amount of light to make the place appear larger, cleaner or brighter than it really is. Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, an in-person visit is still possible.

If after your virtual visit you wish to see your potential new apartment in person before signing anything, call and ask for a no-contact appointment. Ask if the building can leave the door unlocked, put a key in a dropbox or have security buzz you into a building, so you can visit the unit without having to be in contact with another person. At the very least, you can even just drive by the apartment or complex without getting out of your car.

Schedule appointments for apartment viewings so that it only takes two or three outings in total. Scheduling a few at a time helps with efficiency, but it also helps you spot a deal. If you're viewing within your budget, you'll notice how they compare to each other in terms of quality. Print out this apartment checklist and take it along with you when you're viewing properties (or use it when viewing virtually). It includes questions you might not have thought to ask.

Or get a live-streamed tour

But don't fret if you can't or still don't want to venture out, or if you live out of town and travel just isn't in the cards right now. Many locations offer live video chats with landlords or leasing agents via FaceTime or Zoom who will talk you through specifics and go over lease terms and amenities and can even walk around the apartment and kick the tires for you while you watch on video. In fact, a Kingsley Associates survey stated that 63 percent of those who used a virtual tour reported that was enough for them to make their decision.

paperwork

30 to 40 days before move-in day: Complete paperwork

As soon as you know you want an apartment, it's time to move quickly because that perfect apartment that's available now might not be in the morning. Applications and approvals are never fun, but hopefully, an easy but necessary process is in your near future.

Lead time

How long does an apartment application take? A lot of it depends on lead time. The lead time is essentially how far in advance you can (or should) sign a lease for a new place. Depending on the market, you can't always sign for a new place right when you know you're going to move.

A great deal of the lead time depends on where you're searching. In big cities like Chicago and New York, you can find a place that's ready literally within days. In many areas like this, it's impossible to sign for apartments more than a couple of months in advance, if that.

In smaller suburbs and college towns, however, you'll be able to, and consequently should, sign much sooner as everyone else will be doing so, as well. Be sure to research the lead time in the area you're moving to before you begin hunting, as it will inform you about when you should start perusing places online.

Documents to have ready when you apply

Now that you've zeroed in on the apartment you want, you know your lead time and you've saved up enough money, it's time to apply for your future home. But before you apply, you'll need to get a number of your credentials ready to show to a potential landlord.

Prior to applying for an apartment, you're going to have to start collecting a few materials you'll need during the application process. Good apartments go quickly, so you're going to want to be ready at a moment's notice.

One thing nearly all apartments check for is proof of income. Though they may take you at your word or check with your company directly to verify this info, you should bring a pay stub to prove you receive regular income. Don't worry if your paycheck is directly deposited into your account. You can ask your employer to provide paper documentation.

Other items to be sure you have ready include bank statements, proof of identity like a drivers' license or passport, Social Security card, résumé, rental history, vehicle registration and possibly recommendations and references.

Time to apply for your apartment

Now that you've finally found your dream apartment, it's time to begin the application process. During the time of coronavirus, you can submit and complete much, if not all, of this process through the company's web portal and a secure financial transaction platform.

There are multiple moving parts to an apartment application. Most apartments require payment of a (sometimes hefty) application fee (and possibly other fees) that's non-refundable even if you don't get the apartment, along with submission of some of the documents you previously collected and the actual apartment application. With all this information, your potential landlord will then conduct a credit check, background check and employment check and follow up on references.

The entire process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the leasing company. This can be a frustrating wait, but don't worry. If you were the first to apply for an apartment, your application takes priority over any submitted after yours.

packing

Less than 30 days before move-in day: Pack and prep

You've found your dream apartment, applied and have been approved. Now is time to sign your lease. Congrats, you're moving. If you've planned well, you've left yourself at least a month between finalizing your lease and moving.

Now all of your (apartment-related) energy should turn to packing and moving. While you'll have a ton of other things to deal with, especially if your move involves changing jobs or moving to a different state, packing up should never come last as it's often more time-consuming than you think.

Prepping for moving

You probably have at most a couple of weeks before your big move. You may have started your packing, but now is the time to decide how you're going to move. Are you renting a truck? Are you transporting your stuff in your own vehicle or using a portable storage container? Are you hiring a moving company?

Start pricing the best moving options for you and which ones you can handle the best during your move. If you're not hiring movers, begin contacting friends and family and asking who's free and would be willing to come to help you on moving day — on both ends. And maybe gather up some pizza coupons.

During this time, you may have some more paperwork from your landlord as moving day gets closer. Be sure to also get a copy of your keys (don't get to your new place with all your stuff and have no way to get in) and find out the parking situation, both on moving day and permanently. Contact service providers and financial institutions and give them your new address. Figure out what you need to cancel and change from doctors to cable companies.

Be sure to take time off from work if necessary so you can pack and move without the worry of shuttling to and from the office or dealing with working from home while moving. And if you haven't — and you should have — inform your soon-to-be-former landlord that you're moving or not renewing your lease. You'll probably have some paperwork to sign on your way out the door, and you might want to discuss the return of your security deposit and turning over your old keys.

Packing

Don't save packing for the last minute, and be proactive by starting your packing preparations. Start collecting packing items like boxes, bins, packing peanuts, tape, labels and all sorts of other moving detritus.

Packing always takes longer than you think it will. Do your best not to put it off. Set aside scheduled days to concentrate on packing. Be organized when you pack and be sure to label every box so you know what's in everything when you start unpacking.

Also, begin thinking about decluttering and paring down by deciding what of your belongings, both big and small, don't need to make the move. Donate or toss items you don't need anymore, won't need in your new place or don't have a strong attachment to, or consider renting a storage unit.

It's time to assess big items, too. Will your current furniture work in your new place? Do you need more or something different? If you're able, this is also the time to start purchasing or at least researching new furniture or appliances you may need to move in and trying to schedule delivery on your moving day.

Start making a list of items you'll have to have with you during your first few nights at your new home like cleaning supplies, toilet paper and food, and decide if you'll bring a box of essentials with you or make a trip to the store in your new neighborhood on the big day.

Moving day

You've done it! It's time to leave one life and start another. It's moving day and with all your planning and organizing, your move will be smooth and controlled. The last box is on the truck, you've said your last goodbyes to your neighbors and you've closed the door behind you for the last time. Well done.

Planning will help ensure a smooth move

There are no simple answers as to how long it takes to get an apartment. It could happen in a matter of days or stretch out over weeks. You could hit the jackpot on the first unit you see or be 20 deep before finding the one.

And even then, you're at the mercy of an application and a bunch of checks into your financial and personal past. But no matter what path your search takes, a little planning and a lot of paying attention to the timeline go a long way to a smooth move.

But when you begin your search, make the smoothest move and start with rent.com for good advice, neighborhood-level listings, pricing estimates and a slew of coronavirus-safe virtual tours.

This article fits under the following categories:

Michael HochmanMichael is a Philadelphia-based writer with a variety of interests, including music, TV, politics, travel, and sports (Fly Eagles Fly!). His background includes a decade as a programming executive in network television, six years as a marketing executive at a technology company, and time at two magazines and two advertising agencies. He also sits on the board of a non-profit law firm that assists veterans with disabilities. Michael is a proud Syracuse grad (Newhouse) who has lived in Kansas, Chicago, Saratoga and beyond.

Recent Articles

New York City is a packed metropolis with many hidden nooks and crannies and surprises. As you can imagine, New

Maximizing space is key to living with baby in a one-bedroom apartment.