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Erik Serras, principal broker at Ideal Properties Group shared his advice for folks searching to buy their dream home.

  • Start off by imagining your dream scenarios: Determine your must-haves, and as candidly as possible proceed to retrench your search to figure out what is negotiable to you (central air conditioning versus a window unit) and what is not (washer and dryer in the building versus the same in your own unit).
  • Realistic timeline: It is often easier to find your ideal apartment if you know several months in advance you are looking to make a move.
  • Be honest with your broker: If they are showing you apartments above your means, you may become disheartened by the ones that you can afford. But a good broker will work with you until you find a good fit for your budget.
  • Set Your Budget: Figure out how much you can afford before you start apartment shopping. A good rule of thumb is to not spend over 20 percent of your monthly income on housing, with 30 percent being the maximum.
  • Check Your Credit Score: Many landlords use credit scores to determine whether they will rent to you. Make sure to check yours first to determine if you need to build or improve it. Check out this roundup of useful tips on how to build or improve a credit score.
  • Search Smart: To get the ball rolling, enlist the help of a real estate agent to start auto-receiving listings based on your set budget and specifications. If your heart is set on living in the big city, you may not be able to afford the rent. Try looking outside the area in suburbs to make a compromise while staying fairly close to your job. You can also check to see if you qualify for any HUD Rental Assistance, which helps people find subsidized housing to lower-income tenants.
  • From Off-Season to Subleasing: When searching for a new apartment, you have options beyond the norm that will help you save. Try searching for off-season (for your city) rentals or subleasing situations. Also use a variety of sources, including online resources like Craigslist and apartment finding websites like MyNewPlace, to get the best idea of what is available. There are offline sources also available including community bulletin boards, local newspapers and finding a great real estate agent.
  • Get the Word Out: Tell friends and family that you are actively looking for a new apartment or living situation to score a great deal and learn about opportunities that haven’t hit public listings yet. Landlords often want to get a good-quality tenant, so they’d be willing to take a chance on someone who is referred by someone they already trust.