Finding an Inexpensive Apartment

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The Problem: Looking for an Inexpensive Apartment

We are a young married couple living in Southern California. We just got a notice today that in two months our rent will be raised significantly. We live in a bad neighborhood far from USC where my husband is a graduate student and our total income won't support the increase. We have a cat, no children and are non-smokers. We would like to move someplace nicer and preferably cheaper but are having trouble finding an apartment. We have searched all over the internet but most places list minimal information and then expect you to pay anywhere from $30 to $100 in membership fees to get the real information.

Searching through various papers here is like finding a needle in a haystack. We have only moved twice before and each time we relocated for my husband's job so our apartments had already been located for us. We have no idea how to find a reputable realtor or which rental agencies are worth paying membership fees to. Can you or your readers suggest tips on how to wade through all this information and find a decent apartment in southern California (Pasadena, LA, etc)? We don't care about amenities like pools and tennis courts, just a safe place for us and our cat to live that is preferably within forty five minutes of the school. Thank you for your time.

Schools Offer Inexpensive Apartments

Since your husband is a graduate student at USC, have you tried to find out if the university has married graduate student housing available? If so, it may be a lot closer to his classes and more reasonable in cost. Of course, at some of the campuses I have been to, the married student housing was definitely no fashion statement and definitely not something you would see in House and Garden.

Location, Location, Location

Go to the campus bulletin board. Maybe you can find something, now that school is about to start. Go through the newspaper and start hitting the streets looking in areas that you know have rental places. Get the map out and draw a 20-mile circle around the campus with a compass and then you know the location you want.

Safety First

I suggest checking out first for apartment rent, layout, pet policies and amenities. If something looks good, the address appears on the introduction page for the complex. Copy the zip code and telephone. Then check the neighborhood crime statistics. You may have an application fee for the apartment complex unless they are running a special.

An additional suggestion would be contacting your local Better Business Bureau. Some terrible rental experiences could be avoided by contacting the BBB before signing the lease.

Internet Search

One place to try in an apartment search for many major cities in the US is Craig's list at Choose your geographical region from the upper-right hand corner popup list and then click on Apartments under Housing. This list was begun for the San Francisco / Bay Area mainly as a resource for tech-heads but has expanded to all kinds of free classifieds for all over the country (and a few international too.) You don't have to pay anything to access the info and you contact the advertiser directly. I'm not sure of your particular area but it's worth a try.

I looked on it as I was doing an apartment hunt here in NYC (always an overwhelming task) and there were new listings everyday, but not so many as to be unmanageable. Price range was all over the place, but every now and then there was a deal. One useful thing was that I got in touch with a guy who was interested in going halves on a membership fee to a listing service, such as you have already encountered online. I paid $125 to access a listing service and it turned out to be a scam. Maybe it was my bad luck but there were never any of the listings such as they had advertised in the paper, throughout several months of my apartment search. I have a feeling these listing companies are mainly scams. Brokers are a different story, since you don't pay them anything until after you sign a lease. They have an interest in finding you a place as much as you do.

Additional Web Sites

The best place I have found apartments online is and

Select the College, City and State etc. They are very user friendly and some even show floor plans and walk through! For your information, I live in LA. and by law, rent can increase three percent each year.

Take a Drive

My sister went through this same thing looking for an apartment in Southern, CA. She has always had the best luck just driving around in different neighborhoods and writing down the phone numbers from the signs in the windows. She actually found a one bedroom with a garage cheaper than in any of the apartment guides.

Try Talking to Landlord

Don't take your apartment's rate hike as a given! My husband and I lived in one apartment for four years with no rent increase. Each year when we got the notice we went back to our landlord and objected. Finally, in the fifth year they made us pay a higher rate, but in return they agreed to replace our carpet. Try talking to your landlord before deciding you need to move.

Insider Report

I am a landlord of a home that we own in San Diego County. I don't go through a rental agency because their charge is ten percent. When I look for new tenants, I advertise in the paper. The paper is sorted by neighborhoods. An agency will not be interested in someone wanting to pay such low rent, as their fees are too low. I really recommend that you look at the paper, determine which neighborhoods are closest to USC, and then get a feel if they are affordable. Housing costs are ridiculous here. I charge more for my home than what we could afford to pay! So you will not find a "nice" neighborhood for your price range. What you will find is a nice street in a bad neighborhood. You will be amazed how one street can be so different from the next. And do visit on the weekends and evenings to really get a feel for a neighborhood. This is one situation where driving around is better than the Internet.

The other alternative is to get a roommate. That is what my current tenants did, and it has really worked out. The roommate is a girlfriend of their buddy and she loves to garden. They are all gone a lot with work and school so they don't get on each other's nerves. But by putting up with a roommate, they could afford a home instead of an apartment. They charge almost half the rent but made it include all the utilities so that they didn't have to split every bill. Finding a place to rent is a needle in a haystack when the vacancy rate is low.

Take the Next Step

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