Finding an apartment is always a difficult thing to do. Ottawa adds a particular twist: there’s such a wide range of neighborhoods and most of them are affordable. Sometimes, this can lead some tenants to make choices that aren’t a perfect fit for their lifestyles. Here are some tips to help you find that hidden gem:
Tips for Finding an Apartment in Ottawa
- Narrow down where you want to live
- Choose between walking, driving or mass transit
- Scope out the area electronically
- Check an area’s crime statistics
- Walk or drive around the neighborhood in person
- Use the power of the internet
- Get a real estate agent
- Leverage your social network
- Check what others said about a property
- Make a checklist of your “must haves”
- Viewings are like job interviews
- Be ready to close on the spot
1. Narrow down where you want to live
Ottawa is a sprawled-out city. Before rolling up your sleeves and getting down to the nitty-gritty of looking for an apartment, you need figure out in which area you want to live in.
If you like the hustle and bustle of city life, Downtown and Westboro are your spots. Those wanting a bit of green space should consider LeBreton Flats, New Edinburgh and the booming Little Italy. Finally, the major suburbs of Orleans, Kanata and Barrhaven offer a balance between work life and proximity to work areas.
Unsure about the amenities offered by each neighborhood? Check out the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The tool compiles statistics and metrics that provide valuable insight into an area’s livability.
2. Choose between walking, driving or mass transit
Over the last 10 years, the city has invested in mass transit, bike lanes, sidewalk improvements and green spaces. Ottawa is losing its reputation as a city built for cars.
For those who shunned personal vehicles, WalkScore is a great resource. The Commute Time features even helps you narrow rentals near your work based on your desired commute time. The feature can also be used by cyclists and mass transit users.
Tenants with vehicles can check how much traffic they can expect on the City of Ottawa’s traffic site.
3. Scope out the area electronically
Now that you’ve got an area narrowed down, time to do some electronic reconnaissance. If you aren’t familiar with a neighborhood, check it out on Google Street View and see if it’s to your liking. Some renters prefer to live in gentrifying neighborhoods. Others may prefer living in the concrete jungle. By doing a bit of electronic research, you may be able to weed out areas that aren’t suitable for you.
4. Check an area’s crime statistics
If you’re new to Ottawa, you might not be familiar with the good and bad spots. The Ottawa Police Service geomaps their crime data on CrimeReports. Remember that more isn’t better when reading the ‘Quality of Life’ stat. A 0 means no crime while 75+ is something you’d expect out of any major city. Unless you’re Batman, a low number is generally ideal.
5. Walk or drive around the neighborhood in person
If you’re unsure about an area, consider walking or drive around in that neighborhood. Take a stroll and get a feel for the residents, the flow of traffic, if it fits your lifestyle and demographic. The opportunity shouldn’t go to waste. Take note of any “For Rent” signs.
6. Use the power of the internet
Nowadays, finding a great apartment in a specific neighborhood involves so much more than Kijiji. Directories like ours often have listings that may not be on Kijiji or Craigslist. Not only will you get more information at your fingertips you may also get virtual 3D tours.
You can also use the power of Google to your advantage. Setup a basic Google Alert with keywords relevant to the neighborhood you plan on moving to. Whenever the search engine finds them on a new page, you’ll get an alert. Want to live in the heart of Westboro? Try “Apartment Walking Distance Wellington Westboro Ottawa”. What about a swanky 2 bedroom condo? Try “New Construction Condo 2 Bedroom”.
7. Get a real estate agent
So many renters think that real estate agents will only help buy or sell properties. However, a real estate agent can help find an apartment. The great thing is that it’s at no cost to you. It’s the landlord that pays for the commission. You can contact a local Ottawa realtor through OREB.
Nervous about contacting a real estate agent? No problem. It’s becoming increasingly popular for landlords and investors to list their rentals on Realtor.ca. You can peruse the inventory before committing to a realtor.
8. Leverage your social network
Ask friends, family and coworkers if they know of any good rental units available. Who knows, you might also get insight into the neighborhood you’re thinking of moving to. You may even stumbleupon that one person who knows the city inside and out, and where all the trendy areas are.
Social media is also a great spot to find information. The Ottawa/Gatineau House & Apartment For Rentors and Apartment Rentals OTTAWA are active groups that have helped hundreds of landlords connect with tenants.
Finally, a post on Facebook asking for help or information costs you nothing. Put those 400+ friends to work!
9. Check what others said about a property
Nowadays, peer review sites exist in almost every industry and real estate is no different. You can check if the property is listed in the bed bug registry. The property and landlord may even have been reviewed by previous rentals on RentItOrNot.com.
10. Make a checklist of your “must haves”
List all your requirements on a piece of paper, especially those amenities you aren’t willing to live without. The day of the visit you may forget one of them. Next thing you know, you’re living in a new apartment without that high-pressure shower head you’ve been longing for.
Landlords will notice you came prepared with this list. Preparedness will make you stand out as a potential stellar renter. If it comes down to you or someone else getting that one in a million apartment, the landlord is likely to remember who came well-organized.
11. Viewings are like job interviews
In most viewings, you’ll be meeting the landlords. While you’re there to see if the apartment fits your needs, the landlord is also assessing you. You need to instill a sense of trust that you’ll take good care of the rental unit and won’t be a hassle for him or her. It’s the same dynamic as in a job interview.
Here are key points that will make a good impression on a landlord:
- Arrive on time. If you’re going to be late, text them the reason and when you plan on arriving;
- Be friendly and polite;
- Take your shoes off when entering the unit;
- Shut off any lights behind you, close any cupboards you open and put anything you move back in place;
- Look reasonable. A suit and tie aren’t necessary, but the jogging pants can be worn another day.
During the visit, be attentive to the questions the landlord asks you. Did he or she forego a proof of employment, reference or credit check? Those checks may not have been made on your future neighbors either. This might be a sign the building isn’t properly managed or that you have a few sketchy neighbors.
12. Be ready to close on the spot
Bring a proof of employment (2-3 pay stubs over the last months), references and cheques to any viewings. Imagine finding that perfect rental and losing it. The reason? You had to go home to pick up missing documents while someone else came in and swooped the deal. In some competitive neighborhoods, that little detail could make a big difference.
Remember to take your time and not get carried away with emotions. Any lease is negotiable so don’t be afraid to ask for a discount, no matter what the market is like. And of course, before signing read the lease from start to finish. A good landlord will be more than willing to clarify any points you’re unsure about.
When it comes to renting in Ottawa, you have lots of options. As one of the most affordable cities in Canada, finding a great apartment is in everyone’s capacity. So what are you waiting for?