Do your research
Determine what area you would like to live in. Walk around those neighbourhoods and ask residents if they like it. Find out if the type of place you're looking for is actually available in that particular area i.e. three bedroom apartments or four-bedroom houses. Don't waste your time looking for something that might not exist.
Talk to your roommates
Sit down and have a conversation with potential roommates to make sure you're all looking for the same thing, and in the same price range. Figure out beforehand which items are must-haves or deal-breakers.
Give yourself some time, so that you don't have to jump at the first possibility that comes along. It's good to begin your search a couple of months before you plan to move in if you can. Some places may not be available that far ahead, but it's good to know what's out there and helps you check out neighbourhoods during your search.
Ask lots of questions before seeing the apartment
Rental ads in the newspaper and online can be misleading. Get the precise address to see for yourself where it's located. When arranging a viewing, ask if it has all the things you need. If it's not a place you can live in, save yourself V and that landlord V the effort.
Don't look at apartments alone
Bring your roommate(s) with you. Many landlords want to get a feel for potential renters. They want to meet you, just as much as you want to see the apartment. Two sets of eyes are always better, and another voice of reason helps too.
Talk to the existing tenants, as well as the landlord
If the tenants are in the apartment while you're looking at it, ask them why they're leaving. The answer is usually quite revealing. Tenants have been through the apartment-hunting process already, and will usually sympathize with your plight. They'll be the most honest source of information about an apartment.
Go over the fine details
Don't be shy. Look in the cupboards. Flush the toilet to see the water pressure. While it might seem obsessive, it helps to get a full picture of the apartment. Many landlords will take it to mean you care about the state of the apartment, and would probably take care of it.
Bring your digital camera
Having a visual record of the apartments you've seen helps to look back and compare, since one place tends to blur into the next when you've toured a number over a short period.
Approach it like a job interview
Dress nicely. Be polite. Landlords want to get a feel for who will be staying in their apartments. In some cases, they too will be living in the building or house, so they want neighbours they can get along with. And they want to gauge if you will take care of the apartment once you move in.
Nice apartments, clean, and nice and in a good area, are hard to come by. If you find a good apartment, trust your instincts and put in an application. Now.
There are many online resources to assist you with apartment hunting. The following websites contain tip sheets, legislative overviews and general advice:
Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Service Alberta - Information for Landlords and Tenants