LA has many rights of passage that you will learn your first year after moving to LA, one of them being, finding a place to live. And not just any old place to live, your home. Finding a home that is perfect (or damn close) for you, will provide you with a much better experience in LA than it would, if you were to find something that you could only put up with for a year. It will allow you to truly root yourself into the community, as well as give you a chance to stop living out of your suitcases. Of course, there are many different circumstances, but the good news is, there are always options!
First and foremost, before you begin your search (and everyday during it), tell yourself you will do whatever it takes to get your place out here. You will be persistent. You will be brave. You will leave during work if you have to. You will be ready to be disappointed, yet equally surprised. You will stay within your budget. And most important, you will have faith that you WILL find your home on this search.
Figure out your budget (money)
Do the hard math and figure out what you can afford, along with the maximum amount that you can afford to spend per month, if you had to. Always keep in mind that a lot of places ask for various deposits (depending on your credit) including a small deposit plus first month’s rent, a deposit equal to first month’s rent plus first month’s rent, or a deposit of first plus last month’s rent plus first month’s rent (I know, I’m confused, too, and yes, that’s a lot of money). You can also budget $200 per month (worst case scenario) for utilities including internet and renter’s insurance. Most places will usually at least pay for water and trash. You MAY have to buy a fridge and yes, that is weird (I suggest Craigslist). Also, don’t be afraid to barter for a better price. Of course, be careful to not offend the owner or management company and ruin your chances of getting the place.
Figure out your other budget (time)
Ever heard the saying that “time is money”? LA itself has proven this as fact. Simply put, how much time do you have to find a place? If it’s limitless, you’re in luck! If not, you’re going to have to turn up the heat and cut some corners. Be aggressive with a short timeline when finding a place, because it will take you longer than you think.
However, do not just take anything that comes along. I know you’re feeling the pressure at the one month mark, but it is worth it to wait if you haven’t found the perfect place. LA has an endless supply of housing, it’s just a matter of waiting it out to find the place that’s right for you. I found a place with only two weeks left in my search, before I was literally homeless. You’d be surprised at what pops up when you think you’re almost out of time. And don’t forget, you will always have options (you can sublet, stay with a friend or family member, stay in a hotel/motel, stay in an extended living hotel, stay in an apartment with month-to-month rent, or use airbnb.com to snag a momentary place to buy you more time).
You’ve signed up for West Side Rentals (a must, just pay the $60, it’s worth it) and their instant emails (also a must), and you’re on Craigslist and Rent.com like it’s your job. Why have you still not found a place yet?! What gives?! There has to be something else…well, lucky for you there is! There are quite a few other options:
Padmapper.com– An iPhone app and website that allows you to search by zip code and city for apartments. The results are usually pulled from West Side Rentals or Craigslist, but not always. I found many places that I never even noticed on either website (so it proved to be very helpful).
Zillow.com– An iPhone app and website that allows you to see prices in your neighborhood of choice. Zillow has a lot of properties for sale, including some rental properties.
TheRentalGirl.com– A much smaller scale of listings curated by a group of eight women Realtors with amazing taste.
Hotpads.com– I used this site here and there – it’s even more hokey (do you know what “hokey means” than West Side Rentals, but it gets the job done.
You can also:
Ask friends, friends of friends of friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, the barista at your favorite coffee shop (locals!), even a stranger you randomly strike up a conversation with (always be careful though). You’d be surprised at how many people know people who don’t advertise and only rent via reference.
Drive, walk, or bike the neighborhood you want to live in. A lot of people simply put “For Rent” signs up without listing them on the internet.
Read the newspaper. It doesn’t hurt to check out the classifieds section of your local paper.
Hire a Realtor. If you don’t have the time, but you have the money, this is not a bad option either.
Lower your standards
If you’re running out of time and you are not having any luck, you may need to (insert heavy sigh here) lower your standards. You don’t have to embrace the carpet, but you may have to cover it up for a year. You don’t have to love the mirror closets, but if that’s the one thing that’s holding you back from a decent place, then just accept it and move on. A “perfect” place does not exist in LA for under a pretty $2,000 – $3,000+ per month, ESPECIALLY if you want to live by the beach. This isn’t always true, but just know that places by the beach have been lived in A LOT for MANY years. I was able to find a place after 2.5 months of (boarder line obsessive) searching on the West Side – I don’t live on the beach, and I have carpet and mirror closet doors in my bedroom, but it is an amazing little duplex with character, a beautiful vintage kitchen, all utilities paid, five minutes from work, and the landlord is nice.
Also, you can find amazing tips at apartmenttherapy.com to help cover up the small things and really make a place yours.
If the place you’re looking at has been on the market for a while (longer than a month) there’s probably a reason why. Take a look at these printable checklists for apartment and leasing questions to ask and warning signs to look for. If you’re looking on the Westside, ask about mold – it’s known to be a big problem the closer you get to the beach. If the place you’re looking at is in a sort of “sketchy” neighborhood, ask a local or two, they’ll let you know if it really is a good or bad area. Steer clear of creepy landlords and/or “scum lords.” It’s not worth the money you’ll be “saving,” no matter what.
Yelp your Landlord / Management Office!
I did this for a place I wasn’t really sure about in Venice. The leasing office wasn’t answering or returning my calls after I applied for the place, so I decided to Yelp them. Thank god I did. After 12 one star reviews, I was able to kindly turn them down when they decided to so nicely return my calls three weeks later, to let me know I was approved for the apartment. (If you’ve lived on the Westside, you probably know who I’m talking about).
Trust your gut
If it feels right, take it. If it feels wrong, don’t take it. If you need to, sleep on it. You typically have between one and two weeks to sign the lease after you’ve been approved.
Know that you have amazing Renter’s Rights in LA
Check out more details on renters rights here
Home is where the heart is, and if you can get through this, you can wear it as a badge of honor. You will be able to say that YOU have found a home In LA. And not just any home, YOUR home.
Good luck on your search – you will do amazing!