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10 necessary steps to find the apartment you really want

If you are looking for an apartment, what comes to mind: tension, stress, anxiety, fear? Here are 10 tips to diminish those emotions and help you discover your perfect next home.

1. Start your search early — like three months early

Why three months? First, this gives you ample time to prepare emotionally, to allow the sense of adventure to kick in before fear and anxiety try to take over. 

And, to be practical, you can check your budget, websites, talk to friends, investigate options, neighbourhoods, credit scores, and take care of some of the steps below long before you move. 

Also, make a list of what you want and don’t want, then prioritize.

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2. Look at your budget to see what you can afford 

Your monthly rent should not exceed 30% of your monthly income. Plug that number in your spreadsheet and see what comes up. (Add in some utilities and maybe renters’ insurance.) 

If you’re renting in the bigger cities, check out the latest National Rent Report for average monthly rents to evaluate locations based on your budget. 

Looking for the best deal? Find your best place to live in the off season — read cold months when it’s snowing. Apartment managers are more likely to negotiate when there is less demand — like right before or after the holidays. =

3. Check your credit score. Yes, it can be a deciding factor 

Get your free credit score in Canada from

According to the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation, every time you borrow money and pay it back, your credit file is updated and is used to calculate your credit rating or credit score. Your file also contains information on:

  • How you use your credit
  • When you make payments
  • Where you have lived
  • Previous employers

4. What’s online?

Use Google Street View to check out unfamiliar neighbourhoods to find places that appeal to you. It also helps to weed out areas you consider unsuitable. 

Also, check out to determine the safety of the different ‘hoods. 

And, when you are narrowing down your choices look at sites such as and the bed bug registry. ( here’s the site for Toronto)

5. Check the best rental sites offers much more information than sites such as Kijiji or Craigslist. And, some listings offer virtual 3D tours. 

You can put in your requirements — say a two-bedroom in a certain location — and immediately the places for rent and the prices pop up on the map. 

You can also set up Google Alerts with keywords relevant to your prospective neighbourhoods. 

6. Walk or drive your top neighbourhoods

Get a first-hand look at a potential community. Check off the amenities you want such as parks, nearby schools, shopping and restaurants.  

Look for businesses that will be handy such as grocery stores, gas stations and drug stores. But also look for places that could be nuisances such as a nearby hospital (sirens and lights in the middle of the night) parks with lighted softball fields — think 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. games with lights glaring in your kitchen. 

Visit again at night to check out the noise level, traffic, lighting and safety.

And, look for ‘’for rent’’ signs.  

7. See what others have to say about your prospects

Ask family, friends, co-workers, others in your communities if they know of available rentals and have info on neighbourhoods. As you let them know, they might know someone who knows someone. 

Leverage your social networks, but be careful about how public you go to avoid scammers from calling you up. 

When you are serious about a place to live, don’t be afraid to knock on a neighbour’s door and ask how long they have lived there; what are the best features; what are the problems 

8. When you find a perfect place, make sure the place is perfect

Do a walkthrough, take photos of anything that needs repair or requires a coat of fresh paint, or doesn’t work. Make sure the water turns on, flush the toilets, plug-in appliances, check all the outlets, windows, locks. Make a few calls from different rooms on your cellphone to check reception.

Save all your notes, photos, videos and give a copy to the landlord or property manager. If anything is broken or the place needs new carpeting, negotiate this before moving in. 

9. Be ready to close on the spot 

What if you walk into your dream place, and the landlord has to decide among five prospective tenants?

What will make you stand out? Here are a few things:  

Arrive at the viewing on time, have your questions and list of must-haves in hand, be polite, professional and look professional. 

Take your shoes off in the apartment; it shows respect and is a sign that you will take care of the place.

Make sure the landlord/property manager asks about providing proof of employment, and for reference and credit checks.  If you are not asked these questions, your neighbours probably were not asked either – if the neighbours are sketchy, the landlord could be too.

Take a file folder to the viewing with 2-3 recent pay stubs to show employment, reference names and numbers, and a copy of your credit scores. 

Be ready to close, but ask for time to read the lease. In fact, maybe have an attorney check it out for good measure. To best prepare, know what a good lease says

Finally, try to negotiate rent, amenities, or any changes you might want to make to the apartment. Be ready to pay the first and last month’s rent along with a key deposit or access card charge. 

10. There has to be more, right?

Yes: roommates, transportation, recreation, pet-friendly areas — but the above are the important first steps. 

If you want to walk to work, check out  WalkScore

Also, many bigger cities have traffic sites to help determine your commute. But you can usually rely on the app Waze to get around traffic.

Bonus: A few helpful references

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