Renting an apartment for the first time can be a stressful experience. There are a ton of things you have to keep in mind on top of actually finding a place you want to live and can afford. It can be overwhelming, especially if you go into the process not knowing what to look for or expect.
To help you get through the trials and tribulations of apartment hunting, I’ve come up with some basic steps that will help you find your perfect place.
Set a budget.
This is the first and arguably most important step to renting an apartment. Take a look at how much money you earn a month and how much you have in savings, account for current monthly expenses like loan or car payments, and then determine how much you can comfortably spend on rent, utilities, and other necessities like groceries, gas and household supplies. It can be tempting to rent a more expensive apartment that has more luxuries than its less-expensive counterparts, but the last thing you want to do is get yourself into a situation where you’ve signed a year-long lease and figure out after a month or two that you can’t afford it.
Pick a type of place and location.
Do you want to live on your own, or will you have roommates? Do you want to share a bedroom or have one of your own? Do you need to be near school or work, or is commuting okay? These are all questions you have to ask yourself before setting out to hunt for apartments. It’s important to determine if you’re going to look for a studio apartment (which is basically one large, open room that combines a living room/bedroom area and kitchenette with a small, separate bathroom), an apartment with one or more bedrooms (which typically have individual bedrooms, a living room area, a kitchen, and a bathroom), or look to rent a duplex or house.
The wider an area you are willing to search within, the more options you give yourself. If you need to live in a specific town or city, you will obviously have a more limited selection of apartments than if you decided you’d be willing to commute a certain distance. The wider an area you are willing to search within, the more options you will have.
Start the search.
Now that you’ve figured out what you can afford and what type of a place you want to rent, it’s time to start looking! Websites like Craigslist and ApartmentFinder.com are great resources to use when you start your search. Both let you narrow your search by the price of rent, number of bedrooms and what types of pets are allowed in addition to other criteria. You can also use the classified section of your local newspaper to find properties that are available for rent.
Set up showings.
Finally, the fun part! After you find a few places you’d like to check out, call the landlord or contact person and set up a showing. Never rent a place without visiting it first. Online listings can be misleading, even if photos are included. Within one apartment building, there could be many different apartment layouts, or some apartments may have updated appliances or carpet while others have old stuff that may not be as desirable.
If you’re renting with roommates, set up a time where you all can go and check a place out. It’s important for everyone to agree on a place. You don’t want to make an executive decision that one of your roomies ends up being unhappy with, because once you sign the lease, you’re stuck with them for a while.
If you’re renting on your own, bring a friend or family member with. They’ll be able to give you a second opinion on the quality of an apartment or rental property, and bringing someone with you will also lend a measure of safety if you’re going to see a place you found online through someone other than a rental company.
When viewing an apartment, pay attention to the condition it’s in. If a place has a lot of damage or just doesn’t seem well taken care of, it may not be worth considering. Also pay attention to appliances (a dishwasher or in-apartment washer and dryer are definitely worth a little extra money a month) and safety features like intercoms and buzzer systems that allow you to remotely monitor and let guests in.
While some places may not have the most attractive cabinets, wall colors or carpets, keep in mind that the way you decorate is what really makes the space. Imagining the ways you can spruce up the place with your belongings can help you get past potential decorative hurdles that might have you on the fence about renting a particular apartment that is otherwise perfect.
If you have a car, don’t forget to ask about parking regulations. Some rental companies require you to purchase a permit and observe particular rules in order to park your car at your building while others have free parking or include the price of parking in your rent.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything you’re unsure of. Landlords should have a bevy of information available for you such as average monthly utilities or things to do in the area. Often if a landlord sense you’re interested in an apartment but there are problems like worn carpet or chipped paint, you can ask for these things to be fixed or replaced before you move in.
Sign the lease.
Once you find a place you (and your roommates) like, make an appointment to sign the lease. When you set up your appointment, be sure to ask what you all must have with you when you come in to sign. You may need to fill out a rental application or provide various forms of identification (such as a driver’s license and social security card). Some landlords will ask for a security deposit and/or your first and last month’s rent.
The standard lease term is one year, but some landlords offer more flexible conditions. If you aren’t sure you can commit to a full-year lease, be sure to ask your landlord before you sign the lease if options like subletting your apartment are available if you have to move before your lease is over, or if there are any consequences for breaking the lease.
At your appointment, be sure to read all of the conditions in your lease. Don’t be afraid to take your time with this, because there might be odd little rules that could get you in trouble if you don’t know about them. The lease for one of my college apartments dictated things right down to the number of nights you were allowed to house one guest and how many overnight guests you could have. Many leases will explain what types of pets (if any) are allowed and the specific rules for keeping pets, whether smoking is allowed, what is expected when you pay rent and many other details.
Again, if you don’t understand anything, don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s better to ask and find out than to not ask and get in trouble for not knowing later.
Picking a living space is a big deal, but if you keep these basic steps in mind, you’re bound to find an apartment that you can easily afford and fits all of your major qualifications. Just be sure to stick to your budget, don’t settle for anything you really don’t want to live in. and, once you move in, let your inner interior decorator loose to make the place truly yours.
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Hi! I’m Abbie. I’m a Wisconsin girl who just completed a degree in journalism, which I hope will help me achieve my goal of reading books and writing about them for a living. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching Doctor Who and hanging out with my boyfriend and his two cats.
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