Five things to look for in a great apartment locator

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Erin Lipinsky
Aug 7, 2020

We obviously talk about apartment locating a lot here at Smart City – It’s the core of our business services. But, what we don’t convey often enough is that it’s actually an entire industry! Apartment locating is this niche little part of Real Estate and how it works is that, on the front end, licensed real estate agents (the locators) connect clients with apartment properties that meet their client’s criteria. Once the client completes an application and signs their new lease agreement, the properties use a portion of their marketing or promotional budget to pay the locators through an approved broker for helping them find a new tenant. That’s how apartment locating services remain free to the client, keep the locators in business, and help properties lease-up vacant units!

First things first – no matter who you decide to use to help you find an apartment, their locating service should always be free and the only specific ask they should have of you as their client is to name them as your ‘referral source’ on your application to lease. But, just because the service is free, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have high expectations of your apartment locator. 

Here‘s how you can spot a great apartment locator from a mile away, whether you’ve used one before or not:

1) Impeccable communication

Whether you filled out a form online, clicked an ad on a webpage, or inquired about something through social media- it should never take longer than an hour or two before you’re chatting with your personal locator (overnight inquires excluded). From the time you get connected with an apartment locator, it should feel like you’ve been matched with a talking and texting extraordinaire. The ideal apartment locating agent will introduce themselves, ask a few initial questions, including how they can best respect your time and preferred communication schedule, and most likely see when you have time to get on the phone to chat. The majority of our business is done through text, which is probably the same for many locating services. So, getting on a quick call with your agent allows you to know for sure they’re not some automated robot and gives you time to talk through things that are most important to you in your next apartment.

As your personal apartment search journey continues, you should expect your agent to touch base and fill you in on where they are so that you’re not left wondering the next time you’ll hear from them. If they say they’re going to call or text you within a certain timeframe, your expectation should be that that’s exactly what will happen.

2) Intentional listening and thoughtful explanations

A great apartment locator will always confirm what they heard communicated from the client, and ask questions based on the information their client gives. The personalized list of properties and apartment units they send you as a client should reflect the things you’ve mentioned are important. Because your locator is listening very intentionally, they might also throw in a property or unit you may have otherwise bypassed because it offers something unique to your specific apartment wants or needs.

This can also go vice-versa. Let’s say you happen to call or text your agent suggesting a property you found on your own or that was recommended to you. They should be able to combine their expert knowledge with past conversations to thoughtfully explain if that option could be a solid match. If for some reason your locator needs time to do some in-depth research, you should expect they’ll be getting back to you with useful information in a timely manner. If you happen to question why a certain property didn’t make the list of units your locator sends you, they should definitely have an expert reason as to why, which leads us to our next “great locator” criteria…

free apartment locating service

3) Realistic expectations and market knowledge

This might surprise you, but a great apartment locator will more than likely not say “yes” to everything a client wants. Don’t get us wrong, “unicorn deals” definitely exist and we’re skilled at finding them, but for the most part, calculated compromise often has to happen for renters to get what’s most important to them. More often than not, you can walk through our offices at any point in time and hear agents having open and candid conversations around meeting the needs of their clients and realistically educating them on what’s currently attainable based on the flow of the market. Similar to residential real estate, the apartment market has ebbs and flows that reflect a variety of pricing and specials being offered.

Maybe you’re looking for a studio apartment in the middle of the city with floor-to-ceiling windows and a rooftop pool for $1000 per month. Something your locator should do is educate you and set your expectations on all the aspects of your request – the location, the finishes, and the price. We use, what we’ve coined, the apartment triangle to help clients understand how they can get the most out of their next apartment. A great locator will always shoot it straight with you about what you’re looking for and lead with market knowledge. That’s why we’re all here – to be the apartment experts so our clients don’t have to!

4) Sense of urgency

Fun fact: apartment pricing changes daily. Yes, you read that correctly. Market pricing is set based on supply and demand, then properties will combine that with the number of vacant units of a certain floor plan to adjust certain specials. Working with a sense of urgency is absolutely essential to put renters in the perfect place at the perfect time. As you’re working with your apartment locator, don’t be surprised if they call or text you asking how quickly you can get to a certain property to tour. They’ve probably identified price-for-location or price-for-finishes that match exactly what you’re looking for. If your apartment locator acts like “okay, I’ll get to this when I get to it,” then it might be time to reconsider who’s providing your service, honey!

Let’s quickly talk about the other side of urgency that maybe deserves more explanation than it gets – tour scheduling and client action. We’ve obviously established that a great apartment locator will relay when a situation is dire, but what about when they send you a list of available options? Since pricing is sensitive and fully dependent on the season in which you’re looking to move (spring/summer is the height of moving season and fall/winter is slower), your locator should be emphasizing the importance of scheduling tours in as timely a manner as possible. That part should never come off as pushy, but more so as very deliberate. This way you don’t get stuck with a list that has expired pricing because some sense of urgency and planning wasn’t expressed by your market expert.

5) Question masters

There are truly no stupid questions when it comes to an apartment search. If you’ve never used a locator before, you really don’t know what you don’t know (and there’s a lot to know)! A great locator will either be able to answer your questions or direct you to a source that can. Sometimes locators will defer questions around apartment applications and lease agreements to properties since those things are specific to them. From another aspect, your locator will also have a few questions for you. If they’re sending you suggestions without asking what it is you’re looking for that means the list you receive probably isn’t super tailored to your search specifically. Even if you’re using an online assistant to produce a list of apartments, the criteria used to produce those lists typically come from checkboxes which leave you with a very long list of apartment options, little to no context, and no human resources. 

If you’re not into wasting time or lots of trial and error when it comes to finding your next apartment, there’s that route, too – it’s called Smart City. If you’re moving in or to one of the cities listed below, stalk us and reach out when you see something that’s exactly what you’re looking for!


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