The for-rent sign was askew, but the phone number was still readable. I called for days. "Sorry, it's been rented," the landlady said when I finally reached her.
Why was it so easy to move to Los Angeles but so hard to find an apartment? That was 1978. Flash-forward to today. Now, I'm on the other side of the phone line. I'm the landlady trying to rent out those places.
"Do you have any vacancies?" is the most common question I'm asked, followed by tales of woe regarding the search. I always feel badly for the callers after the unit has been leased. So over the years, I've created this list to help folks find a place to call home.
* Get a spiral notebook and label it "rental calls log." Keep it with you when driving, and by the phone when you get home.
Log everything--from phone calls placed to details about the unit to conversations when chatting with the manager--and keep track of contact dates.
* Remember, you are making a commitment of time, money and location. Write up a list of minimum requirements. Prioritize your needs, such as size, price, location and parking.
* Get a map, pick a detailed area and start driving. Often landlords only post a sign in the yard. Many old-fashioned landlord types like using this approach; it makes the rental place visible to folks who live and work in the neighborhood.
When you call the number, be sure to speak slowly when leaving your phone number, include the best time you can be reached and then repeat your phone number before hanging up.
Be persistent and patient; some may not call back, and you'll have to keep trying.
* Some management companies handle several places. Buildings with more than five units should have the name and number posted on the property, usually by the mailboxes.
When driving around your desired neighborhood, take down phone numbers and call to see if anything is coming up in your price range.
* Park the car and take a walk in your target area. Bring your notebook. You'll be amazed at what you learn from the neighbors and by walking around the neighborhood.
Check out the parking on the street. Is it crowded with cars? Do you need a permit?
* Pick up newspapers for the area. Take notes. Keep track of calls using your logbook and compare amenities, prices, etc.
* Still no luck and you've pestered everyone you know for leads? Time to engage your wallet.
Several listing services exist in Los Angeles. Some are reputable, have fair refund policies and give you accurate, up-to-date information.
Some take ads from the newspaper and sell those as "lists." Be careful of folks taking finders fees or having no refund policies.
Check out whether the service has a Web site and whether it suits your needs. Good units go fast.
I often list with a service because the ads are very detailed, which saves everyone time, and landlords list for free.
If you don't have Internet access, pick up a printout.
* Review your notes and get ready to pounce at showing time. If you wait, even a day, the place could be gone. Always bring your checkbook.
The market is tough in some areas for tenants right now--not much inventory and rents shooting up quickly--so be sure to read the rental agreement carefully and ask questions.
You're making a commitment of time and money--in writing. I often compare apartment hunting to finding a mate--only it's harder. How many dates demand a written application in advance and run a credit check?
* When you sign on the dotted line, be sure to get in writing anything you might have been promised by the manager or the landlord. Better to jot them down in the honeymoon stage and avoid misunderstandings later.
Promises about parking assignments, appliances and utilities are especially important to have in print.
Good luck and happy home-hunting.
H. May Spitz is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.