Jeff and I are moving to London, Ontario in August and I have been going crazy with preparations all summer. I tried to find an apartment while I was still in school, but I didn’t have any luck.  However, after months and months of searching, I am so pleased to announce that we’ve finally found an apartment. Since this was such a difficult process, I thought that I would share some ways that can make it easier.

Know When to Rent
As I mentioned above, I tried to find an apartment while I was still living in the city during the school year, but I couldn’t because of the way landlords list apartments in London.  Halifax is home to seven universities, so the major rental periods are May and September, as a result, you can sign a lease for September as early as February.  London is a university town too, but their major rental period is just May. Because we wanted an August or September lease we had to wait until June or July, since tenants are required to announce their intentions to move at least 3 months before. Looking at listings months before you can find one that you like will just stress you out

Know the Housing Market
What is the average rent for a one-bedroom in the city? Do utilities usually come included or will you have to pay your own power? Are there a lot of rental properties in the city, or do you have to move fast to get a place? Will they ask for first and last month’s rent or just a damage deposit? Do your research about renting in the city, and read the province’s Residential Tenancies Act to find out what your rights are and what isn’t legal. For example, in Nova Scotia most landlords ask for a Damage Deposit that is returned to you after you vacate, minus any repairs the landlord had to do, but in Ontario a deposit has to be put toward the tenant’s last month’s rent, any other use is illegal. If I hadn’t done my homework, I might have been scammed by a predatory landlord.

Know What Neighbourhood You Want to Live In
If you’ve never been to the city before, do some research about which neighbourhoods you might like to live in.  How close are they to work or school? How easy is it to get other parts of town? Which neighbourhoods are the most interesting? The most affordable? Knowing where you want to live can make looking through listings much more manageable.

Ask your Friends
Social Media is great for so many things, but one of its most useful features is that it acts as a giant hive mind of information and services.  A woman I know calls this “friendjiji.” Ask your friends if they know of any listings or tips about living in your new city, or if they have any friends that can help you. Even something as simple as “avoid this landlord” or “This neighbourhood doesn’t have a good grocery store” can make a huge difference.

Know Exactly What You’re Looking For
This is super important, since you don’t have the luxury of going to a ton of viewings. Know what you can and can’t live without in an apartment and don’t be afraid to ask if it isn’t mentioned in the listing. Nobody has time to sort through listings that won’t work, but when you aren’t in the same city, you have even less time.

Have an Agent in the City
Find a friend or an acquaintance who is willing to view apartments for you.  Ideally, you would be able to visit ahead of time and do a bunch of viewings yourself, but when that isn’t the case, it’s important to have someone honest who can report back to you about the apartment.  Remember that listings focus on the most attractive parts of an apartment, you need to know about everything else too

Focus on Larger Apartment Buildings and Property Management Companies
This is just my opinion, but it is way easier and more comforting to work with companies that have dedicated staff, office hours, and good websites.  Some larger companies even have people who specialize in long-distance applications. With apartment buildings you also have the added benefit of floorplans, so you know the layout and size of the apartment, which is super helpful for things like figuring out whether or not you can fit all your furniture in it.

Make Phone Calls
If you only take away one thing from this article, it should be this. Emails are fine up to a point, but eventually you are going to need to speak to the landlord or property manager in real time.  Everything gets done so much faster that way. Forget about long distance charges and time differences.  Those sacrifices will be worth it when you have the peace of mind that comes from getting all the information you need all at once, and especially when you finally get that apartment.

Are you moving to a new city? Have you ever had to go long distance apartment hunting? Do you have any more tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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