Researching Houston Apartments Online
Finding an apartment in Houston can be overwhelming with nearly 3,000 apartment communities in the metroplex. Naturally, you will begin your search online, gathering information on area properties to determine how much you can afford. Quickly you realize prices vary greatly from one neighborhood to the next. Houston doesn’t have zoning laws so you could easily pay $200 more a month for practically the same apartment two blocks away.
National apartment websites steer heavily to the apartments who are paying for premier marketing packages. Have you noticed the same apartments come up in the search results? Have you ever wondered, “Are these the only 10 properties in this area that fit my criteria?” The answer is no. There are many more apartments that fit your needs, but if they can’t afford a marketing package on a national apartment website, you will never see it.
You have probably asked friends, family, and co-workers for recommendations, but you may not want to be neighbors. Spending your weekends driving around apartment communities doesn’t sound like fun either. This is when an experienced apartment locator, like Ty Counts at Apartment World, can step in and change your life.
What is an Apartment Locator?
An apartment locator is a licensed real estate agent who refers qualified renters to quality apartment communities. In Texas they are regulated by the Texas Real Estate Commission, and often belong to the National Association of Apartment Locators. The service is free; you don’t pay a broker fee like renters do in New York or Chicago. The apartment community pays the locator a referral fee after you move in. This referral fee doesn’t affect your rent or move in special. The fee comes out of the property marketing budget.
Apartment locators are the greatest source of inside information about apartment communities. Think about it, locators talk to unhappy renters every day. They hear all the sketchy stories people are embarrassed to post on review sites. Apartment locators work with management companies and leasing staff every single day. Locators know the good, the bad and the ugly apartment management companies. An experienced and knowledgeable apartment locator can save you from signing a lease at a property you regret a couple months later.
How to Find a Qualified and Knowledgeable Apartment Locator
A qualified apartment locator will have an active real estate license. In the footer of their website they are required to post their license number. Most qualified locators are also members of the National Association of Apartment Locators (NAAL). NAAL members agree to a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice above and beyond what is required with a real estate license. Like any service provider, you should search Yelp and Google for recent testimonials from clients and make sure they are trustworthy and knowledgeable.
Most apartment locators are going to require a phone conversation with you at some point. During this phone call you should ask questions about their experience and they should spend time getting to know you, and exactly what is important to you in your next apartment. If you have any rental issues in your past, briefly explain the situation so the apartment locator can make quality recommendations. When your locator knows about any special circumstances up front, they can save you time by avoiding properties that aren't flexible.
4 Tips to Find a Houston Apartment
Ty Counts, broker/owner of ApartmentWorld.info is a lifelong Houstonian and has been an apartment locator for more than 20 years. He has helped over 18,000 clients since 1998 and provides these tips for Houston apartment hunters:
- Don’t move in the summer. If you can avoid it, the summer is the busiest time of year for moving as Counts says many people — from college and medical students to families — make their moves in conjunction with the school calendar. He says he has between 400 and 500 active clients during the summer and only 200 to 300 at any other time during the year. Counts says he makes around half of his annual income in the 120-day period from May to August.
- Move around the holidays. Counts says the apartment market is dead from Thanksgiving to Christmas and during the winter months. Fewer people are moving so apartment complexes are more motivated to attract renters. And, if you sign a one-year lease at that time of year, you’ll reap those same benefits when you go to renew your lease the following winter.
- Live in an apartment built after 2001. He gets lots of inquiries from people moving to Houston from out of town wondering if a certain apartment complex or area will flood. If flooding is a big concern, he says one simple factor to consider is when a structure was built. Things built after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, he says, tend to be better constructed to avoid or withstand flooding. Another way to stay safe is to live on the second floor or higher — although that doesn’t mean your car wont flood if you’re parked on the street.
- Crime is random. Crime (like the weather) is random, and yet there are patterns worth noting. If you love the rain, move to Florida. If you hate the rain, move to Arizona. It doesn't mean there will not be some rain in Arizona, or weeks in Florida with no rain. There are things your apartment locator can do to put the odds in your favor. A locator can tell you which properties conduct a proper criminal background check and which one's don't. A locator will know which management companies approve renters with a felony background. A locator will know which reputable management companies take measures to improve their security like keeping access gates working, parking lots with proper lighting, and alerting tenants when there has been a crime. A perfectly safe property does not exist, but apartment locators have inside information that will help you make an informed decision.
*Original article featured on Houston Public Media.