Wednesday, September 4, 2013

HoWDI: Finding a Place to Rent Sight Unseen

I'm starting a new series...with the super lame title of  HoWDI, which, stands for How We Did It..  Get it HoWDI,... Howdy.  Just smile, and pretend to laugh, okay.

Each part in the series will talk about how we did something...and this first one will be about how we found a place to rent, sight unseen in about 24 hours time.   

So....this is How We Did It. 

 Make a list (either mentally or on paper) of things you absolutely want in a place to live...and then (again either mentally or on paper), rate them as negotiable or non-negotiable.
These are the things we wanted.
  • Allows pets (We have a cat.  My parents have so generously kept him for us, for the past three years while we were in Fl, living on campus, but once we moved off campus, we wanted to take our precious cat with us.  Sorry Mom and Dad...I know you are crying buckets over missing William). 
  • Hardwood floors.  Not totally non-negotiable, but fairly important.  Our kids tend to be a bit "rough" on carpet (rough is putting it mildly) and hardwood is so much easier to clean.  We really wanted to avoid carpet and all the cleaning and hassles that comes with having carpet and kids. 

  •  Free-standing house with backyard.  This was more important to me, than to Ben.  In fact, Ben is totally happy in a condo.  In fact we had a bit of an um...disagreement over this.   I really, really, really like the privacy of having our own house and backyard.  Once kids are old enough to play outside without direct supervision, it is just golden if they CAN do so without being in a public area (like in a condo). Call me paranoid, but I'm not too likely to let my kids play outside without direct supervision in a public area, the same way I am in a private backyard.    And, it totally saves my sanity to be able to send everyone outside to play and give me a bit of peace and quiet.  As a bonus, we even found a house that already has a swingset/climbing structure.

  • Safe neighborhood (more on that later).
  • Within 30 minutes drive of Ben's work (the place we found is right at 30 minutes)
  • Within a certain price range
  • At least 3 bedrooms and 1400 square feet.
  • Good place for walking around the neighborhood...quiet, safe streets to walk.  We really enjoy walking and walk A LOT, so living in a safe neighborhood with safe streets to walk on is really important to us.   


Go to and put in the city/town you are looking in.  This maps the number of arrests and crime in a given neighborhood within the last two months.  It's invaluable for finding a safe neighborhood.  Determine which neighborhoods you want to look at and which ones you want to want to stay away from.


Go to and do a search for rentals in your city/town.  You can filter the results by price range, number of bedrooms, allows pets, etc., etc.   Zillow is invaluable....BEST. TOOL. EVER for finding a place to rent (or buy).  It shows you the prices ranges of all the other houses in the neighborhood,  shows you if the house value has increased or decreased over the last few months and maps where each house is, so you can tell at a glance where it is located.   Plus, it has all the information on it you would find if you were looking to buy (age of house/condo, plot size, square feet, etc.)


Once you find a few places you are interested in...put them into google maps and look at the house, look at the street, look at the surrounding houses.  You can tell if the yards are kept up, what kind of houses are in the neighborhood, how far apart the houses are, etc., etc., etc. 


Once you have a few places you are interested up the Realtor and ask questions, questions and more questions.  Ask about the heating and cooling and neighborhood and utility bills and lawn maintenance, and just about everything you can think of.  Explain your situation (if you are in a time crunch, don't have time to look around, etc).  The Realtor we worked with, even offered to make a little video with his phone and email it to us! Now, THAT is service. 


To avoid surprises, think about the time the house/condo/apartment was built and then do research into styles/sizes/layouts from that area.  Most houses built around a certain time, tend to be pretty similar.   The house we chose, was built in the 50's, which means small closets, and less closet/storage space than more modern houses.  I knew this house had been built in the 50's, so this wasn't a total surprise when we got here and saw the size of the closets, etc.

And, that's basically it...thanks to the internet, you can do all sorts of reading of leases and filling out applications and everything all online! I hope that somehow, someday, somewhere, this post will help someone.
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  1. Excellent, Amelia! The place looks great. I will say you missed one step in your process, you no doubt prayed like the dickens. Even with a well thought out process like this, I'm sure you spent time begging that God led you all to just the right thing.

    And the player? Fabulous bonus! That us the kind of thing my mom calls, "God showing off!"

  2. This is amazing! And I wish I had known about neighborhood scout when we were apartment-hunting and then house-hunting.

  3. I'm really impressed at the homework you were able to complete in such a short time to find the best rental possible--sight unseen! Well done! I'm very particular about where we live, and have actually used that neighborhood scout website before. Awesome! It sounds like you scored a great place. I'd love to see some pictures! And three cheers for having a backyard. Our yard has SAVED us-although I wish it were fenced in and more private. Oh, well. It's a place for the kids to run and play and we've been so grateful for it.


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