Yes. How to rent a home in three days. I did it. Together with my husband, we spent 3 very stressful days finding a place to rent in the very pricy San Diego area. Mid-January hubby was offered a promotion, which we immediately accepted. Knowing that it would mean a move from our home of 8 years in Las Vegas to San Diego. This was a good thing. While we loved our friends in Las Vegas, and had an amazing community there, this move not only meant a promotion for him, but also a move closer to our family.
Once we knew the move was certain, we had about a month to find a new place, pack, and move. Not a lot of time. So we got started. If you have a big move in your future, here is how we did it (and some thoughts on how we would have done it differently).
Day 1: Prep Work
The first day was preparing for our rental-hunting trip. Thanks to the internet and telephones we didn’t have to be in San Diego to get started. First, we had to decide on our wants and needs. We decided we needed 3 bedrooms (or two and a bonus space), we needed pet-friendly to bring our cat, and we needed garage space (attached or not did not matter). Wants included a yard for the kids, space for our furniture, on-site laundry (preferably in the unit) and a location close to hubby’s new work. We also set our budget, and knew we wanted to consider what school the rental was zoned for. We were pretty confident in our credit scores, but if you don’t know yours – now is a great time to check.
I went to websites to find locations. I started a list with the details: Address, rooms, cost, amenities. Then added the school district, school, and the school’s rank on GreatSchools.org. I checked with family to find out the areas to avoid. I tried to keep within our price range while still giving us as many options as possible: apartments, townhomes, and free-standing houses when possible. Having a list kept me from “finding” the same place twice – some were listed on multiple sites. I also added a couple that were more than we were willing to pay – it is always interesting to know what extra dollars can buy, and some of those amenities might make you re-consider your budget.
I printed out the school district maps, and bookmarked just about every website I visited so I could more easily find it again later. Google doesn’t always give you the same search results – especially if you don’t type in the exact same search term. I scoured property management websites. I made appointments where possible for Day 2 – our first day of searching.
One last important thing: I measured all of our furniture, and wrote down the measurements. We knew that we would be renting a much smaller place (about half the size), and we would need to know what furniture we would be taking with us, and what we’d want to sell/gift/donate before moving.
Day 2: Hunting
We started day 2 at a free-standing house in a fair neighborhood, about 15 minutes from hubby’s work. It had a lot of what we were looking for, but we didn’t want to jump on the first house. In retrospect, filling out an application and paying the fee would have been a good idea. It would have given us first right of refusal if we found something better. Even though it would have cost us about $50 in fees, it would have been money well spent for peace of mind.
We went through our list, taking photos as we went. I wish we would have taken more photos. Learn from my mistake: TAKE ALL THE PHOTOS. Take photos of everything. Take video as you walk through the space. It is all digital, you can delete what you don’t end up needing. You’ll think that you remember, but you won’t. Measure walls, and record them so that you’ll know later what furniture fits. Treat each place as if it might be THE ONE. There are no second dates when you’re house hunting with a tight deadline.
Our plan of attack took us across the valley. We started at the West end and moved East. This was an important time saver. Hopping around, on and off freeways in an unfamiliar city would have been a huge waste of time. Instead, we took it as systematically as we could. At the end of the day, we were exhausted. We decided that of all the places we looked at, the first place was the best. We called to get the paperwork started, but someone else beat us to it. We missed out on the first house because of our hesitation. Nothing else had us excited, but we had an idea of what the rental market here looked like.
Back at “base camp”, my Aunt and Uncle’s home, we got back to work. Hubby re-scoured all the rental sites for new listings or listings we might have dismissed too early, and I googled for property management sites. It was the beginning of a new month, and I wanted to see if they’d posted new properties. I also wrote down the name and phone number of each property management company to get us started on Day 3.
Day 3: Desparation
We had 4 days set aside for house hunting, and we were only in Day 2, but we felt like we’d already seen most of what San Diego had to offer. And though we knew that our new home would be much smaller and much older than the beautiful new-construction home we were coming from in Las Vegas, the reality was more stark than we’d realized. I began the day at 9am calling the list of property managers I had created the night before, asking if anything new was available that wasn’t on the website yet. After half a dozen calls, someone said yes, and off we went.
The apartment was newly renovated, and they were adding the last touches, installing a new fridge as we looked around. It was also tiny. 900 square feet. I measured the living room and started to cry. I didn’t own a single piece of furniture that would fit. My sofas, my tables, nothing would fit in this apartment that was barely larger than our master bedroom suite back home. Yes, I knew we’d been spoiled at the price of real estate in Las Vegas. Yes, I was ready to give up furniture and live in a smaller space as we made this step forward as a family. But as a work-at-home mom, I couldn’t see myself living, working, and raising my family here. I cried the ugliest cry right in front of that poor property manager and my baffled husband. It was the rock-bottom of house hunting, y’all.
We left. Not sure where to look next, we were close to a home that we weren’t allowed to schedule a tour for until we had driven by. With nothing else to do, we drove by. As we pulled up we noticed “open house” signs out front. Taking that as our invitation, we parked and walked through a cute little bungalow. The property manager was working in the kitchen, so we didn’t wander in there. We walked through the rooms. It was a little more than we had planned on spending, but not by much – and it had everything on our want and need lists – 3 bedrooms, an attached garage with washer-dryer hookups, 5 minutes from hubby’s work and walking distance from a school rated a 9 out of 10. It was expensive… but possibly worth it? We had a “maybe” house.
We spent the rest of the day calling property management companies, and looking at what was available. We went by a condo that was zoned for an amazing school – but it was hard to see the beauty in between the mess of the tenant who was still trying to move out. In the end, the maybe house won. We called, and submitted our forms. The house hunt was over.
Epilogue: The Days After
We were approved for the house, so we headed back home to the kiddos. My Mother in Law had watched them while we were house hunting so that we could focus on our task. Before leaving town we picked up an enrollment packet for school.
When we walked through the “maybe house”, we hadn’t taken any pictures. We weren’t seriously considering it at the time. We took a few basic measurements, but didn’t record any. This was a mistake. We knew our big couch would fit, but not which table. We should have done a better job recording these details, even on a house we didn’t think we were seriously considering. Relying on our memories – especially mine which was barely 30 minutes out of meltdown mode – was not a good plan. Especially… well, especially considering what we missed.
As the movers were bringing in the big pieces, I was taking smaller things out of my car. Including the boys’ sippy cups. I brought them into the kitchen to put in the dishwasher… the dishwasher… there … is … no … dishwasher. Our beautiful 1950’s bungalow did not come with a dishwasher. Luckily, we’ve moved one in – me.
There were other things we should have looked at. Like outlets. In Vegas, each wall had at least 2 outlets. Here, you’re lucky to find one per wall – and it probably doesn’t have ground.
So now, almost exactly a year later, we’re starting to feel settled. I thought I’d bounce right back in a month. Maybe 3. It has taken a year. I think it is all the firsts that makes it so hard. The first Christmas (where will we put the tree?). The first day of school (will he like his classmates?). The first Halloween (how much candy do we need?). It is also all the things that I never thought I’d have to decide again. After trying three different preschools with my oldest, I knew exactly which preschool would be perfect for my younger son – but I had to audition preschools all over again.
It has taken a while, but I no longer need Google Maps to tell me how to get to my favorite fabric shop. Or to the beach. I still need help getting to Ikea or the airport… but we’re making progress.