Before I got my feet wet in SEO at SpareFoot, I worked as an apartment locator in Austin, TX. Oddly enough, working in real estate was why I chose to pursue a career in SEO. It wasn’t because the job was so bad; I just discovered I had a knack for generating web leads. While I don’t miss my time as an apartment locator, I am happy that it led me to my real passion.

During those three years as an apartment locator, I learned a ton about the leasing industry. I lived and breathed apartments. My goal with every client was to address his or her needs and find the most suitable apartment. While this is easier said than done, I picked up a lot of knowledge with every client I had and every property I viewed.

Here’s my list of the top five things to consider when searching for your dream apartment.

1. Don’t Rely Solely on an Apartment Locator.

I know this tip will appall my former real estate colleagues, but it’s true. As an apartment locator, you should know that your clients have access to a ton of information online. While I do believe using a locator offers plenty of benefits, you also should do some research of your own. Most of the properties a locator will recommend are likely great options. But keep this in mind: There are a lot of properties your locator will not show you.

Apartment locators typically will take you only to properties that pay them for move-ins, and sometimes only those that are paying the most. Apartment locating in Texas is typically all commission-based, which means locators don’t make money unless someone leases and moves into an apartment. A landlord then pays the real estate broker an agreed-upon percentage of one month’s rent, which the broker then splits with the locator. Most properties pay commission 50 percent to 100 percent. Locators are encouraged to frequent the properties that pay more and boycott the ones that pay less. This results in a limited view of your leasing options.


While many properties work with locators, there are lot that don’t. Be aware of this when your locator is recommending properties. If you have places you’re interested in visiting, tell the locator which ones you want to see. If you think the locator is trying to avoid showing you those apartments, ask whether the locator works with those properties and also how much the locator would receive in commission if you lease there. The best locators will be upfront about properties they won’t show.

One of the best tips I can offer: Be cautious when browsing Craigslist. Locators load up Craigslist with spammy ads in attempts to get you on the phone. I rarely leased a Craigslist-advertised apartment. I posted only those ads that generated the most leads and then sold the apartment hunters on other properties. Typically, photos in Craigslist ads are from model units taken months or even years ago. In these ads, prices and availability rarely are updated. If a price looks too good to be true, it usually is.

Look for ads posted by individual owners or property managers if you want to avoid the locator sales pitch. In Texas, agents must disclose their state licensure in these ads, so it should be easy to tell when you come across one posted by an apartment locator who doesn’t have a state license. You also can use tools like or to compare rental properties that might not be on apartment locators’ radars.

2. Don’t Get Stuck Moving During the Summer.

This can be tricky to avoid, since summer marks the peak of moving season. Because this time of year is so busy, apartment availability becomes scarce and prices soar. You often can find the same unit for a couple of hundred dollars less if you sign a lease during the winter, when the supply of units is healthier and rents tend to be lower. By the time summer rolls around, properties have leased a lot of units thanks to those lower prices.

To avoid this, try moving during the off-season. Take a longer or shorter lease if it’ll help you avoid a summertime move. One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to always think about the end of your lease when you’re signing it. If you don’t, you could end up paying higher rent when renewal time comes around. If your leasing options don’t allow for shorter or longer terms, then you might want to consider moving earlier and subleasing your unit for the duration of your lease.


3. Research the Location.

Be aware of the neighborhood you’re looking at moving into. Locators can offer opinions about neighborhoods, but keep in mind that their main goal is to make money–not to worry about your long-term well-being.

Plenty of unbiased resources can help you choose the right neighborhood. For example, is a great tool to look up all kind of statistics about any U.S. ZIP code. You can check things like average apartment rent for the area as well as how many registered sex offenders live there.

Don’t pick an apartment based solely on price. If it seems way lower than what you expect, it might be a sign that the apartment is in a not-so-desirable neighborhood. Take notice of the cars in the parking lot. If you notice a lot of old or broken-down cars, this is a good indication that you might not be in the best area. Ask leasing agents whether a property allows tenants with felonies or evictions. If the answer is “yes,” avoid this place. Places that have relaxed leasing qualifications attract people with “issues.”

4. Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations.

One of the biggest pet peeves I had with clients when doing apartment locating was that most of them had crazy, unrealistic expectations for prices and amenities. If you think you can get a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Austin with wood floors, a washer and dryer, and stainless steel appliances for $1,000, then you’re wasting everyone’s time. Research median rent prices for areas you’re targeting. Remember that every additional amenity a unit or property has means it’s going to cost you more in rent.

The best way to approach a move is to set a budget. Think of an amount of rent you’re expecting to pay, an amount of rent you can afford based on your current income and a maximum rent you would pay for the perfect place. The average of these three is usually a good starting point.

Another way to look at it: Have a rental amount you can afford, then pick your ideal areas of town and see what your budget will allow. Your $1,000 budget may afford you a lot more space in one area of town than another. Or if you require certain amenities, figure those out first, then see what your budget will bear. Planning your search this way will help you avoid unreasonable expectations.

apartment-deal5. Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate.

Thinking back on my time as an apartment locator reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from “Breaking Bad” when the main character, Walter White, exclaims: “Name one thing in this world that is not negotiable!” While apartment locating is a lot different from producing crystal meth, this statement is still relevant in the leasing world.

For the most part, leases provide some wiggle room when it comes to negotiation. Properties want their units leased with tenants living in them. If something is causing a conflict with this, property owners often will do what they can to resolve it. Between renovation and cleaning fees, as well as the time a unit is vacant, owners can be out a lot of money if you move out. It benefits them financially to keep qualified tenants in their units.

If your rent is getting raised significantly, ask for answers. Don’t rely on the person who answers the phone at the apartment office; this person is not the one who makes the decisions. The person on the other end of the phone will just repeat what he or she has been instructed to tell tenants who complain about rent hikes. Ask to speak to the manager and even then that person’s manager. Keep asking until you reach a person who can give you a solid answer. Ask to meet with them a manager if possible; people have an easier time saying “no” on the phone than they do in person.

Also, if you’re using a locator, ask whether he or she will pay your application fee or other administrative fees. Typically, a locator’s broker will pay all or some of this to get your business. In the end, they’re making money even if they’ve got to cough up a small fee. It never hurts to ask.

Lastly, negotiate in moderation. Don’t expect everything to be open for haggling. Sometimes, property managers just can’t budge on some issues. Depending on market conditions, apartments can set their rates however they see fit. Often, initial rental rates are established by corporate offices, so a specific property may not be able to give you a deal. If you think you can negotiate everything, see Tip No. 4.

  • Lucky13X

    I tried to do #3 with my move, and I failed spectacularly at #2 and #4 this summer.

  • Kathy

    Well that all makes sense! I’ll have to book mark this, I’m going for an extended stay Mcallen

  • Blooms

    “Locators are encouraged to frequent the properties that pay more and boycott the ones that pay less. This results in a limited view of your leasing options.” This is probably why you are no longer a locator. A good locator will show you all the options and places available of your choosing. Most apartments participate in a database much like but for locators where they themselves put in their info, availability and pricing. This way they can be easily found and leased. Some apartments are so low key they do not even show up on google maps! does that mean that google is trying to boycott that property? I don’t think so.
    If I have a customer that needs a certain something and I know where it is, even if they don’t pay me as a real estate agent I have to think about my customer first. So I will show him or at least tell him about the other options. After all, the only way to be successful in this business is with referrals and you won’t get referrals if you’re only steering people towards your higher commission.
    With Apartment Hunters or any locating agency actually, the people that are successful have helped hundreds of people lease in a place where they did not get paid, but they got paid with referrals :)

    I like the rest of the article.

    • Momo

      I talked to a guy at Apartments Now! and he definitely boycotted some complexes. He had them in the database because I saw them on the screen when I visited, but he said they don’t “work with them.” Now I know why, because they sure as heck worked with dozens of others and the ones right next to the one in question. So why not that one?

      • Catherine

        Some times there are other issues that make a locator not work for a property. Most of the time it is money. However, if an apartment complex screws someone out of their commission, then chances are the complex will do negative things to their tenants too. Also tenant feedback is important and some times the type of tenants allowed (felons, etc) factors in as well. Not all locators are greedy.

  • Jwoodley

    Well if you would like call me at 281-302-9519 we have open position and hopefully give you a positive experience. Ask for James Woodley

  • Jason Parks

    We work with a lot of Austin, Texas apartments. Josh, I’d be interested in getting your take on the new website that we launched,

  • Rentwhich

    I moved in to my first apartment with only a weekend of hands on experience in the city and this was a BIG mistake. You really need objective feedback on neighborhoods. For instance, my first neighborhood was BEAUTIFUL but full of undergrads with wealthy parents so the tree lined streets with brownstones turned out to be party central.

  • Kay

    Great advice!

  • Jesicca

    Appreciate Josh. I picked up very important points from this article. For example, to have a option of sub-lease and going for a long term, than ending up in a situation to pay more rent for short term, and pay again during extension.

    If you can keep this article updated, with new information and new links, its great.

  • Richard

    I’ve been apartment located in Austin for 18 years and I’ve never commissioned chased so Josh you’re way wrong brother!

    • Momo

      I went to Apartments Now! and the guy I got was all into his money and wealth and bragging about what he owned. He wasn’t interested in trying to place folks in apartments where they weren’t going to pay top dollar. This is a working class city with families, and he was just all flash. He also never called me back or followed up even though my mom was also looking for a place. That’s pretty bad.

    • Viktoria

      I really think your misunderstanding Josh’s purpose of the article. Just like if I said “Watch the date on your milk at the grocery stores , sometimes the dates are not rotated to sell quickly ” It was a precaution. Many locators are getting defensive. He is not steering people away from locators. He is teaching them how to pick good ones! If you do not do any of these things then there is no need to respond!

    • GaPeach

      I tried to use one of the apt. locator services in Atlanta. It was awful. I couldn’t even qualify my search to indicate that I needed a handicap accessible unit. MANY complexes where not included. It was a big waste of time.

  • Sarah

    Very helpful and straight-forward article. Especially for someone like myself who is just starting to look for my own apartment in a different city, I previously did not consider the option of using a realtor. Until I had exhausted my own online searches, I decided to research other ways to find an apartment and found this article. I always assumed using a realtor would cost big bucks to even speak with them and locking into some sort of contract. However, this article prompted me to call a local realtor to find out how their renting services works and I did find that it is a good idea to explore this option. Thank you for the useful information.

  • Lisasc

    Anybody know of a 2 bedroom apartment for rent in Louisville, KY Sec 8 voucher accepted? Please help me, searching for an apartment over the internet is to overwhelming for me. Plus it would help if there was no application fee. Thank you.

    • Dawn McCray

  • Lawrence L Benoit

    I am an agent locator in Dallas and although I don’t sort based on commission first I will not add to my list the super low paying apartments if I have a full list of available units for the client. I put a lot of time in calling all the complexes and cutting through the garbage that some on site agents must present. I can only imagine how difficult it is for someone who has limited time when the answer rate is less than 50% and the actual published prices never match in this current market. I will provide a full list of options to every client no matter the posted commission. I have had clients find an apartment that pays nothing and I still added it to the list of potentials. My first and most important goal is find a fit for the client. As difficult as it is to have a client that I worked with for months rent an apartment that paid me nothing, it is still satisfying to complete the job.

  • Tara

    Wow! I must say- I don’t agree with this article whatsoever! After reading this, the first question that came to mind was “who pissed you off?”. I work Dallas as a Leasing Manager and I work with apartment locators all the time. I’ve been in the industry for almost 4 years and have never met someone that doesn’t want the best for their client. I do agree with it is smart to do your homework and know your budget and the location you’re looking in, but you made this industry and the people in it sound like a bunch of money hungry thieves. I’m far from that and the locators I know are also far from that. Being in the industry, you should understand the systems that apartments run off of and something called supply and demand. You clearly weren’t a go getter and or had something happen to where you now have to input more doubt into people hunting as if it’s already not hard enough for them searching for an apartment. Or you just down right weren’t good at what you did. Every single locator I know in Dalls loves their job and wouldn’t change it for anything. My word of advice to you is to stop freaking people out more than what they already are during this time. For anyone searching for an apartment- this is far from the truth and you need to forget this read. I’m sure there are bad apples out there but those are around everywhere and it sounds like he may have been one. 99.9% of the locators I’ve met are nice and honest. You just need to do your research and make sure you’re working with the right locator and office. I suggest places like smartcitylocating, Dallas uptowngirls, advancedapartmentlocators, etc… Usually when you google “apartment locators” and the city you’re looking for, the top rating offices will pop up.

  • Tauqeer Maqsood

    Best investment on Earth is Earth. Investment in Property never gown wrong. Real estate has become a profitable business in days. Forget bank interest and find a Real estate to gain profit.

  • MatchLiving Apartment Locators

    I got a beautiful apartment in Houston. So I suggest to use apartment locator service

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