As a part of my series of posts for those planning to move to Orlando/Work at Disney, I'm going to be offering quite a few tips on finding a place to live. Today, I wanted to show you guys one of my favorite ways to research apartments - Google Maps! I feel like it's a totally under-utilized tool when it comes to apartment searches, so I'm going to give a quick tutorial on how it can help you get info about a place if you're not able to drive right over and see it in person. (Or, even if you're looking for an apartment in a city you already live in, to check a place out a bit closer before you spend your day driving over to see it in person.)
I'm using Orlando as the example for this post, but this will generally work in any city, although smaller towns may not have as many places where you can use street view. You can probably also use Mapquest, Bing's map program or other map sites to do similar functions, but Google Maps is the one I'm most familiar with, so that's what I'm showing here.
I do have some other posts planned with tips on apartment hunting online, as well as what to look for when you visit a place in person. Today's post is just focusing on the Google Maps search alone.
To begin, pick an area you think you'd like to live. For this example, I'm going to pretend that I'm going to be working at Sea World and want to find an apartment close to work. (You could always search Orlando as a whole, but that brings up SO many places to look through, so for the sake of simplicity, in this post I'm focusing on an very small search.) So first, we pull up Sea World...
Clicking where it says "SeaWorld Orlando" (right under the little "A" marker) brings up this box:
Click on "search nearby", and then type "apartments" into the box.
Each little red letter is an apartment place (although sometimes places that don't match your search, like a hotel, might come up, too. It's not a perfect system.) This shows me that there are quite a few choices within a few miles of SeaWorld, mostly along International Drive.
For this example, I'm going to use Google Maps to check out the closest apartments to Sea World (Monterey Lake), which is marked by the A. If I were actually working at SeaWorld, I'd find it pretty appealing that it's basically just the other side of the parking lot! (Just a note- this isn't an apartment community I endorse by any means- it actually doesn't appeal to me. I just needed to pick an example, so I went with the closest one!)
By zooming on on just the apartment complex, we can instantly see a few things. First, there's a bus stop right out front, which would be important if you know you might use public transport a lot. Second, we can see the number and location of the pools and tennis court. We can see that one of the back buildings is REALLY close to I-4 (basically the busiest street in town!), so unless you want a lot of traffic noise, you might make a note to try to avoid that building.
By zooming out just a little, I can see that the buildings to the north are Webster University, and the one on the bottom left part of the photo is the Orange County Sherif community center. Being able to see what's right around your apartment is one of my favorite things about using Google Maps. Are you right next to a fire station, where you might hear sirens going off all night? Or is the building bordered by undeveloped forest on one side?
By going into Street View (done by dragging the little orange guy from the compass at the top left onto the street you want to see- this isn't available for all streets) we're able to see what the entrance to the community looks like. From here, I can tell that there is no gate or guard shack, but there is a lot of foliage that seems to be nicely maintained.
By using the arrows to "drive" a little farther down the street, I can get a slightly closer look at the buildings. This can give you some idea of the parking situation, for one. The only problem is that these photos are taken during the day when finding a parking spot is usually a lot easier than at night. You can also get an idea of what kind of cars the people who live there drive: Is the parking lot full of rusty sedans from the 90s that look like they might not make it five more miles, or are they all brand new sports cars and $40k SUVs? I'm not saying you can judge the residents by their cars, but every little clue helps if you're gathering info from afar.
There is the occasional apartment where the street view lets you "drive" right into the parking lot, which is especially helpful, since you can get a much closer look.
Next, I hopped over to a street view of I-4 to see just how close that back building is to the Interstate. Um, yeeeah. That's close!
From this view, I was able to zoom in on what appears to be the maintenance building. There's a tipped over wheelbarrow, but it doesn't look especially trashy.
Next, I'm going to search for nearby shopping by using the "Search nearby" feature again. You can use this to search something like "pizza", to see who might be nearby that you could order from, or you can be more specific and search "Dominos" to find the closest branch of your favorite pizza place. I usually search to see how far it is to the closest Wal-Mart, Target, and Publix, since those are the places that I shop most frequently. Basically, though, you can search for anything that's important to you. For instance, if you know you'll want to attend a yoga class three times a week, you can search for "yoga studio", and then follow the links provided to the closest places to check out their websites for class schedules, types of yoga offered, price, etc.
Here's what happens when I search for Target:
Now it says it's 7.4 miles instead of 4.9!
Although the driving times might be a little off, I really love to use this feature when I'm researching. If, for example, you *know* that you will be going to Target at least twice a week, how much would it suck to end up moving into a place only to find it's almost half an hour to the closest Target? You can also use it to check the proximity of things you don't want to live next to (such as a jail, or a cemetery if they freak you out).
Let's go back to a feature we kind of skipped over. You may have noticed that when I searched for apartments near Sea World, some places listed in the sidebar had a brief clip taken from a review:
Ahh, gotta love any review that starts with "drug dealers". (And I'm not sure that I want an apartment that smells like moo all the time.) Anyway, clicking where it says "11 reviews" takes us to a Google+ page with reviews of that property. (This place happens to get really awful reviews. Yikes!)
In my next posts about apartment hunting online, we'll cover some other useful sites for finding apartments, how to find honest reviews, neighborhoods to watch out for, and more! If you have any questions, feel free to ask! Hope this helps!