Thoughts on apartment hunting

• ~700 words • 3 minute read

I'v e been going through the process of looking for new apartments. It's a staunch departure from last year where I knew any place I'd stay would never be more than a month at most. In fact, a lifestyle where I bounce around from place to place via Airbnb is not entirely unappealing, though it is perhaps unrealistic and logistically burdensome.

But that's a different writing topic for another day. Today I've got apartments on the mind. Some idle thoughts and observations:

Things are always open to negotiation

This may be a hold-over from visiting so many countries where bargaining and haggling are the norm, but it's almost always worth trying to negotiate the price. Particularly if you're dealing with a smaller property, like a converted home, or a property manager who only owns a couple properties. Some people people bristle, some people politely say no and others might knock $25 or more off the rent if you can make your case ((I emailed someone on Craigslist regarding an apartment I honestly didn't want, but the price seemed too high. I inquired about renting it for $100 less. The person declined, but I've noticed in the subsequent reposting the next day the price had dropped. I also flat-out asked if I could rent an apartment for lower price once and they complied, though that was probably rare.)).

How background/credit checks work

The variable pricing of background/credit checks is both infuriating and fascinating to me. Years and years ago I was contracted to do a little work fixing an online background service website. It was a service that charged per-lookup and was built on-top of another service that did the actual lookups — essentially serving as a middleman. I have to think nearly all background/credit services take this approach, as they're ultimately getting their data from the same sources.

So what you're paying when you give your prospective property manager anywhere between $30-60 is the fee they're paying another service ((And, depending on the scruples of your prospective property manager person, maybe a little padding, though I would not be surprised to find out that's illegal. I hope.)) that's more than likely built on-top of the primary service that does these lookups. It reminds me a little bit actually of the slew of "free" credit report services and websites out there; they all ultimately cull their reports from the same places and charge arbitrary fees ((For the ecord, is the official one that the government pushes. It can be used once per-year for free, as I understand it. They'll still try to up-sell you like GoDaddy though.))

Why is this frustrating? Well, it's frustrating when you're applying to more than one apartment. If you apply to three or four you might be looking at $200 for the right to find out who you'll soon be owing more money. What's particularly frustrating — and what adequately sums up my current predicament and incited this post — is that you cannot simply reuse a background/credit report and bring it with you to the apartment you're applying for.

How background/credit checks should work

There should be a service out there where prospective tenants can run their own background/credit report. They get a number and a summary document. They then take that with them when applying for apartments and include that along with the usual paperwork regarding employment, rental history, etc.  The property manager can then review the already printed report, check that the date is recent enough for their liking and even run the report's ID number (or some such thing) into the website to verify its authenticity.

With this approach we'd only have a one-time fee for people looking to apply for apartments. Property managers could advertise that they use this particular background/credit service on their postings; providing more incentive for people to apply knowing that $45 fee is something they've already paid or could reuse for other apartment applications.

Does something like this already exist? Is there a reason it's a terrible idea or something people wouldn't go for?