Miami Apartment Hunting Guide
Still scratching your head trying to figure out the Miami apartment rental market? Each city around the world has its peculiarities. As world travelers and current transplants who have moved more than a few times in Miami, we will give you local tips on finding an apartment. And we answer that question of "Do I really have to give three months' deposit!?"
Get descriptions of the various areas and where you can expect average rents to be higher or lower, where to start your search, meet one of our favorite real estate agents (she's a Miami Social Girl!) and get a sense of how you work with real estate agents.
1. What area of Miami should I live in?
Here’s our quick’n’dirty summary of each neighborhood in Miami.
South Beach: $$$ Heavily touristy, noisy, fun, never sleeps, can be a bit dangerous at night. Highly walkable. High theft. You pay a premium to live in South Beach because it is “the famous” South Beach, but you can still find decently-priced rents but you compromise on square footage.
MidBeach, North Beach, Normandy Isle $$
A much cheaper, residential and cuter version of South Beach. Less dangerous. Lovely and the further north you go the less expensive, however they are usually older apartments. Walkable. Has the Bandshell outdoor amphitheater, a great little venue with interesting events.
Surfside/Bal Harbor $$$
Just north of North Beach, Surfside is a quaint, walkable neighborhood with a mix of buildings from the 90s, 40s, 50s and one or two luxe buildings that have been built within the last few years! It still feels like Miami Beach. Bal Harbor, however, is quite exclusive and tiny. It has a very different “look.” One side is full of tall luxe buildings and the other side of the street are smaller apartment building from Miami 50s era that are impressively kept up on the exterior. Walkable.
Sunny Isle / Hallandale Beach $$$
A good area if your work is north. These beaches are just north of Bal Harbor. Sunny Isle is a bit walkable. Most of the apartment buildings in Sunny Isles are large and luxe and have a water view, but you’re quite far from the action. Large strip malls offer you everything you want close by in both Hallandale and Sunny Isle. Sunny Isle is walkable. Hallandale Beach is not walkable, must use your car to get most places.
Miami’s tiny “downtown.” Yuppie, small city-feel, young, energetic in the center. If you’re on the outskirts can be a bit dangerous. Lots of metro lines and bus lines converge here. Walkable.
Little Havana $$
Very Latin neighborhood. You will have to be the adventurous type who enjoys feeling like you are not in the USA to enjoy living here. Lots of tasty reasonably-priced restaurants, art galleries and activity centered around Latin American lifestyles. Strategically close to Brickell/downtown. You can still find decent rents here, although homes look a little run-down, apartment buildings are usually acceptable – high-end.
North Miami Beach / North Bay Village $ Don’t be fooled, there is no “beach.” Don’t get this confused with North Beach. “North Beach” (see above) is actually on the beach. “North Miami Beach” is around the 79th Causeway, just on the mainland side. The positive are that it’s not too expensive, but it’s not beautiful, either. North Bay Village is on a set of islands in between and offers inexpensive rents for decent-sized apartments. People do run on the causeway but if you like walkable neighborhoods, these are not really walkable.
Wynwood $$ It’s been called “up-and-coming” for years. Wynwood used to be an underground type of art district and has now exploded into a more commercial art district. People who love the arts, live music and activity will enjoy living here. Walkable.
Coral Gables $$$ Posh yet very residential. Amazing for families, there are plenty of medium-sized apartment buildings in decent shape as well as large, unique homes and mansions. Apparently, the governor lives there and, of course, the police is vigilant. Low crime, very safe, calm. Has a walkable, cute, busy restaurant district. If you’re single and energetic it’s great to live for a year, but you’ll soon get bored. 15 minutes south of the airport.
Coconut Grove $$$ Beautiful marina in the harbor, pricey, lots of unique medium-large homes and fewer apartments than in other places. No beach, but it’s a calm and beautiful area. It also has a quaint restaurant district that’s always abuzz and a true pleasure to walk through.
Doral $$ Near the airport. Homes are cookie-cutter suburban, new, green lawns, etc. and despite it being so far away from the center, it’s surprisingly not cheap. It’s developing, though and if you like the reassurance of an American suburb, you’ll find that here. Definitely not walkable. You must have a car to get around.
A general note about transportation: if you live and work on the beach, then busses, free trolleys and rideshares are easy to come by. However, if you plan to live on the beach and work inland, it would be irresponsible to state that you can get to your work on time reliably using public transport or ridesharing systems.
Likewise for the Brickell/Little Havana, Overtown area, you can take the public transport and rideshares to get around if you are living and working in this area. If you are living and working in two different areas, we suggest having your own car.
Any other inland area, we also suggest having a car.
For more information, ratings, etc. take a look at the Niche website.
2. How do I start my search for an apartment in Miami?
A search engine will bring up all kinds of competing websites, like Apartments.com, Renters.com, Zillow.com, Trulia.com, Forrent.com, ApartmentGuide.com that all get fed by a singular database here in Miami. All agents use a real estate database system called MLS to post their clients’ apartments for rent. If you go on one site, that’s all you need. You won’t get any different listings, so don’t waste your time. That’s the easiest one, but you almost always have to deal with real estate agents who are a bit flaky because they are juggling too many calls at once.
Call real estate agents directly. Sometimes they have listings that they don’t want to put out to the public on MLS because they would have to split the commission with another real estate agent, because it’s super luxe or because the owner doesn’t want it published.
If you see a luxury tower you’d like to check out, take a two-prong approach: 1. Call the building itself, sometimes they have one real estate agency that takes care of all of the units in the building. 2. Search for the name of the building and usually the search results come up with real estate agents that are renting individual apartment units.
Craigslist: sometimes you actually connect with the owner! Of course, as with anything on a site where anonymity can easily be kept, you should watch out for red flags and go with a friend to see the apartment.
If you’re interested in renting an apartment in small apartment buildings, drive through the areas where these buildings are and jot down the numbers on the For Rent signs. Half of the time you will get to speak directly with the owner, and the other half you will get a real estate agent.
Speak to one of the Miami Social Girls!
Sandra Payne is a Miami Social Girl and a Miami-based real estate agent that does not charge the renter / buyer!
3. An agent is asking me for a deposit, first month’s rent … and to pre-pay the last month! Is this normal!?
Most people's first reaction is ... What the....!? But in Miami, when a real estate agent is involved in the transaction, then it is, indeed, the norm. Firstly, it’s how most real estate agents make their commission! Many times the owners don’t even live in Miami, so they give the real estate agent that “last month” of rent for having arranged the cleaning, preparation, marketing, contacts, showing appointments, contract writing, etc. in absentia.
Another reason is that Miami is such a magnet for people from all walks of life that occasionally the owners have gotten burned by a reckless tenant. That last month of rent sometimes only barely covers the damages to the physical property or when a tenant has simply ghosted and left without notice.
Real estate agents will often also request anywhere between $20 - $125 for a “background check,” which supposedly includes a police report, credit check and more.
That being said, you can reach out to Sandra, our Social Girl, because her business model truly is the exception in Miami. But here are some tips try to get around having to pay the last month’s rent.
Sometimes an owner doesn’t want just any random person to fill their apartment, but are desperate to rent to a zero-drama, responsible, long-term tenant. Even though they supposedly run a background check you should be willing READY to prove that you are worthy of their trust!
Provide proof of stable income by sending them your paycheck stubs
Email the owner/real estate agent a copy of the offer of employment letter so that they can see how long you’ve been working for the company
If you are self-employed, send them your bank statements for the last 3-6 months and if you have a very professional-looking website, encourage them to go to your link
Request referral letters from previous landlords, especially if they are in the South Florida area
Try to find some acquaintances through small talk, such as finding out if they are affiliated in some way to a particular company, university, religious institution that you are also affiliated with.
And – obviously - speak in a kind and respectful manner at all times to the real estate agent as well as to the owner. Arrive on time to your appointments, communicate whenever there is an issue, smile and show willingness. This goes a long way.
Reach out to the Social Girls if this was eye-opening, or if you’ve had similar experiences, anything we should add to the apartment finding guide, if there’s any other questions you’d like answered in the blog… anything at all. Comment below!