If you’re new to Los Angeles, then start doing your homework, because the first thing you need to do when looking for a cheap place to live is know where you want to look. No, it’s not impossible to look everywhere, but LA can quickly become overwhelming. Plus you need to always keep in mind your commute: if you know nothing else about this city, you know about the traffic. Do you need to be somewhere central like West Hollywood? Or are you more than happy to live your whole life west of La Cienega?
The other reason to figure out where to look, is that you’ll be able to get an idea of what’s cheap, and what’s not. For example, in the Los Feliz/Silverlake area, you can probably find a decent two bedroom for under $1400 fairly easily. Whereas in Santa Monica, you’re lucky to find one under $1800 – and even that may need a lot of TLC. In Echo Park, I have a fantastic three bedroom house for $1500 – with a yard and a peach tree. What was it that Einstein said? It’s all relative? Well, he was right.
So now that you have an idea of where to look – eastside vs. Westside, or maybe even the valley (god forbid!), you can begin the hunt. And it really is a hunt. You’re just not going to find the apartment of your dreams sitting on your couch married to your TiVo.
First order of business: ask around. Get the word out (to everyone) that you’re in the market for a new place to live, because some of the best places are handed down by word of mouth. A friend of a friend happens to be moving out of a rent controlled apartment on 4th Street in Santa Monica and guess what? You just hit jackpot.
Next stop: online.
a.You’ll find sections here covering everything from buying a home to renting an apartment, and most of the listings have pictures. In fact, I would recommend only paying attention to those that do. These days, even if they don’t own one, everyone has access to a digital camera and chances are, if they aren’t putting pictures up to show off their gorgeous place, there’s a reason. It probably isn’t pretty.
b.If you are looking for a roommate, this is a helpful site as well. Just remember to do your best to pre-screen before you go through the trouble (and risk) of meeting in person. There are some oddballs out there, and you don’t want to get yourself into trouble.
c.Perhaps the most helpful listings craigslist provides are the posters who are selling their Westside Rentals password. You can really get a bargain, and Westside Rentals is the biggest and most well known rental agency in town. See below.
2.Westside Rentals (www.westsiderentals.com)
a.This site is a gold mine, whether or not you’re looking on the Westside. They list properties all over Los Angeles in all sorts of price ranges, and have most of the best rentals in town. The catch? You need to buy a password, and they’re $60 for 60 days, which is expensive if you’re trying to stay on a tight budget. Your best bet is to go buy one off of another renter on Craigslist before it expires, and save yourself some money.
Finally, now that you’ve got some feelers out and are getting a good idea of what kind of price range you’re hoping for, hit the ground running. No, seriously. Go out there and look. This probably needs a good Saturday, and maybe Sunday too, devoted only to roaming the streets looking for “for rent” or “for lease” signage. These signs will rarely post the price, so you’ll have to call the number listed to find out, but it’s worth it. Often, if the apartment is in a really great location, the landlord or property manager won’t even bother posting it on a website because they know they’ll rent it out quickly without going through the hassle. This is how you find some of the best steals. If you want to be really efficient, bring your digital camera with you, and take notes. That way, when the landlord calls you back about the price, you’ll know which property he’s talking about, and whether or not you are still interested.
After all this work, you should have at least four or five great apartments within your price range to choose from. Spend a little time around each place – checking out the neighborhood coffee shops and bars, and get a feel for your neighbors. Are they going to be cool with you having parties until the sun rises, or are you going to be okay with their four barking Pomeranians? Think about the day-to-day.
Finally, once you’ve signed a contract and put up all your pictures, have a housewarming party…if only so that all your friends can come by and marvel “You pay how much for this amazing place? How did you ever find it?!”