Whether for an internship or an unexpected life event, finding a short-term rental can be stressful. How to find a place to live---for just a little while.

You’re staying in a city or town too long to pay for a hotel or crash with a friend, but not long enough to sign a year-long lease. What’s the best way to find a short-term rental that meets your needs?

Start looking immediately

Though some rooms may not open up until a month before the rental period, or even later, it’s good to look around before then. This is especially essential if you’re unfamiliar with your destination. You want to see what’s out there, and you want to allow time for the rental process – reference-checking, rental negotiations.

Research neighborhoods and see what the locals say online. If you know anyone in the area, ask their opinion.

Scout a sublet on the Web

Airbnb allows you to stay in a host’s apartment in your destination city. You can enter specific criteria, though matches are contingent upon availability. It’s a widely used site, so you have a good chance of finding a rental that works, especially in large cities. Be sure to follow Airbnb’s safety tips for short-term stays.

Craigslist has a section specifically for sublets and temporary housing. They also have a “housing wanted” section where you can post your details.

Craigslist can be hit or miss, but there are usually lots of choices. Look for postings that give as much information as possible (pictures, details about the neighborhood, info on who the sublessor’s looking for) since those are more likely to be trustworthy.

It’s also a good idea to find a Craigslist sublet listed by a third-party agent or rental company. Look the company up online to make sure they’re legitimate. Don’t send anyone money through Western Union or wire transfer—these are the hallmarks of scams.

Nestio is a matchmaking site for both renters and landlords. Like Airbnb, the site allows you to enter specifics and see if there’s a match.

Similar sites include Trulia, Apartments.com, Sublet.com, Apartmentguide.com, and the Listings Project.

For a smaller city or town without as much of a Web presence or housing turnover, try looking up rental companies specifically in that location.

Know what you want

A few items to consider before and during your search:

Cost. Know the upper limit of what you can afford for rent. Find out what housing typically costs in the area to make sure you’re getting a reasonable price.

Transit. Do you need parking or quick access to public transportation—or both?

Location. If you’re commuting to classes or work, how far away can you afford to be? Housing near the city’s center may be more convenient, but also more expensive.

Furnishings. Would you prefer a furnished rental at a higher cost, or can you take an unfurnished place and purchase your own basics, which may add up cost-wise, too? This depends on your comfort level and the length of your stay. Also, consider what you’ll do at the end of your sublet with any furnishings you buy (sell, give away, take with you).

Roommates. Are you willing to live with roommates or housemates?

Access to essentials. If you’ll be cooking, for example, you need a kitchen and a grocery store you can access. Look for laundry facilities close by, too.

Keep your options open

Depending on the area and time of year, short-term housing may be either abundant or tough to find. In a popular destination city in the summertime, for instance, demand and prices will be higher. Consider what you’re able to compromise. Can you live in a nearby neighborhood for a discount? Can you leave pets at home with a caretaker? Can you take a small room with just the basics, particularly if you won’t be there often?

In a college town where all the students leave in the summer, supply will be plentiful and you’ll be fending off offers from frantic tenants and panicked landlords. Take your time, negotiate, and you’ll be able to get a great place at a low rent. (Beware the college-town slumlords, however.)

If you’re renting quickly due to an unanticipated life situation, you may need to take the first available sublet while you regroup and figure out next steps. Still, look for a place where you’ll be safe and comfortable. You’ll want to find a sublessor or landlord who’s flexible about the length of your stay – ask beforehand.

Go through your network

Send an e-mail to the student or alumni listserv at your college. Ask friends and relatives. Put out a call on Facebook.

If your temporary move is work-related and the job doesn’t provide housing, ask your job’s point person (or HR representative, when in doubt) about housing options in the area. In some cases you can get a corporate rentalhousing designed for work-related relocations.

If you’re moving for coursework or a university program, check with the housing office on campus. Most campuses, especially large research universities, will have short-term housing options for students or a list of off-campus neighborhoods with available rentals.

Communicate with the current tenant or the landlord

When you’re looking for short-term housing in a faraway city, it’s not always feasible to see the place before you rent it.

Information is especially key here. Request pictures of the rental. (Do not take no for an answer. Pics or it doesn’t happen.) Find out the perks and drawbacks of the neighborhood. Ask for the subletter’s contact information and references, especially if you’re renting from an individual and not an organization. Try to have a Skype or phone chat in addition to e-mail.

Both you and the subletter are investing trust in a sight-unseen short-term rental. (They haven’t met you yet, either!) So it’s important to be up-front, both about what you need and what you can provide.

Let them know your timeline and your budget. Especially for a temporary rental, rent prices can be negotiable. Check out these tips on how to negotiate for a better rate. 

If possible, send a friend or colleague you trust in the area to do the pre-move walk-through for you if you can’t make it. Note any unusual conditions or damages that are there before you arrive, so you won’t be held responsible.

Finally, get any lease or rental agreement in writing. No matter how short your stay is, you always want to have the terms on paper.

Summary

Looking for a flexible rental for an unexpected or short-term situation can be stressful. But starting early, being open, and using the resources at your disposal can make it a lot easier.

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Amy Bergen Writer
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Amy Bergen is a writer and editor based in Portland, Maine. She's interested in technology, literature, and how the world will change in the future. You can reach Amy on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.