Finding a place can be overwhelming. Don't let it get you down.

If you're like me, the thought of finding a new apartment is both exciting and dreadful at the same time. The idea of a new place is symbolic of a new beginning, but sometimes leaving the "old end" behind can take on a stressful life of its own. Luckily, here are a few tips I've found most helpful in my most recent apartment hunt:

1. Make a list. What are your must haves and can't stands (much like a dating website). Should the apartment be near public transit? Do you care if it's near an university, housing a large population of barely-legal loud college kids? Do they offer on-site maintenance? Is there a fitness center? Doesn't matter what the answers are, as long as the answers are ones that you are comfortable with.

2. Google Maps are GOOD! One of the most helpful things I did, was to look for apartments in a particular zip code. Google Maps allows you to do this without (accidentally) omitting places that might be perfect for you.

3. Drive around (if you can). One could interchange this step with the Google Maps step, but it is HIGHLY recommended. Anywhere can look AMAZING in photos. (Hello, Photoshop!) I'm not suggesting that you pop into places on your first drive around, but taking your own photos of properties (names & phone numbers to help you remember) will help a lot. Especially when you get to the next phase. Take a note of what time of day and day of the week you're passing by. Are there lots of people around? Do the cars look like yours? Would you be comfortable with your mom or dad visiting you there?

4. Research. I'm not so much into sites like or like - they don't really tell me anything different from what the apartment community website tells me. The real research comes in the apartment reviews. Many people will tell you that the only people who leave reviews are the pissed-off ones OR members of the management team (trying to make a place look more desirable). I disagree that this is standard across the board. I like to see that if there are complaints (and there should be) the management has acknowledged the comment. More than what the solution offered, it is important that a management company keeps up with what's going on at their property. 

5. Crime stats. Tools like Truila have maps that will show you the crime in the area. You should also google the city's crime statistics for that area. You might be surprised at how safe (or not) a place is.

6. Rank the places you've chosen. Remember that list you made at the beginning? Here's where you put it to the test. Rank the places you'd like to visit: 1 = Perfect. 5 = Oh God, Please No!

6. Go visiting. Now that you've narrowed & ranked, take a friend (if you can) and go visiting. Start from the lowest of the rankings and then end with the best on your list.

7. Keep an open mind. I'm not suggesting you opt for the place that had a double-murder-suicide last month, but remember there's always more to the story. During one of your visits, if you see someone outside, ask them about their experience. Would they live there again? How attentive is the management? Do they feel safe?

Other tips:

* Always ask for discounts or specials. Many complexes have special rates for preferred employers, teachers, students, military, police, fire department and other public servants. (It never hurts to ask!)

* Don't let yourself be pressured. This is a big decision, if you're not feeling it - say so. Better to feel a little uncomfortable for a minute than extremely uncomfortable for 12 months!

* Enjoy the experience. It's one of those learning, growing, coming of age pain-in-the-ass experiences that everyone goes through at some point in their life. Try to have fun. At the very least, that despot you saw first would make a great first-date story!