Looking for a new space to live can be exciting. You get to experience a new area and create a home that’s entirely your own. It’s important while apartment hunting to not let the excitement of a new place overshadow the necessary steps you’ll need to take to ensure it’s a good place to live. Once you begin to narrow down the apartments you like, you’ll need to consider things like the neighborhood, safety, budget, additional costs, and lease terms. Knowing the best places to look and the right questions to ask can save you from being stuck with an apartment that isn’t right for you.
The absolute worst thing you can do to yourself when apartment hunting is to look outside of your price range. While it may be fun to see the higher end apartments on the market, you will end up setting a higher expectation for your own apartment. Falling in love with things that are out of your budget will just set you up for disappointment and set unrealistic expectations for your own space. Set a budget and stick within it.
Know Your Budget Beforehand
Before you even begin your search for renting an apartment, determine what your budget will be. The standard rule is that your rent should be, at maximum, 30% of your income before taxes. For example, if your salary is $40,000, you should be setting your maximum monthly rent at around $1,000. Make sure to factor in moving costs when setting your budget. If you are moving in-state, you can expect to spend around $200-$300. Moving out-of-state will cost significantly more.
Use a Variety of Housing Sites
Often, a landlord will not post their listing on more than one or two different housing websites. Make sure to check a variety of apartment hunting websites to give yourself the largest pool of potential apartments. Look into websites like HotPads, ApartmentFinder, PadMapper, and even Craigslist to find the latest apartment listings. Sign up for daily email notifications so you can always be the first person to know about any new apartments on the market.
Make sure to also use your network. Tell your friends and family that you are moving so they can be on the lookout for any potential apartments. It may lead to places that you wouldn’t be able to find online.
Don’t Ignore Listings Without Photos
Postings of apartments without photos tend to get passed over. If the apartment is in your price range and is located in a good area, reach out and see if they can send you photos. The results are often better than you’d expect, and you’ll have way less competition since most people don’t reach out to photo-less listings.
Keep a Spreadsheet
As you begin to find apartments that interest you, start a spreadsheet to keep track. Include columns like price, location, amenities, nearby businesses, if you’ve reached out, the link to the listing, and any additional notes. This will help keep your apartment hunting journey organized, and allow you to quickly compare potential apartments. After you tour the apartment, go back, and add any important notes to your spreadsheet.
Make Sure Your Furniture Will Fit
Measure all large furniture that you plan to take with you before you go to tour any potential apartments. This includes couches, beds, dressers, and any other bulky pieces. When you go for the tour, bring measuring tape with you. Measure the width of any hallways, elevators, stairwells, and door frames to make sure you can get the furniture into the apartment. Ask the landlord for a floorplan of the apartment so you can determine the sizes of each room to understand how much furniture will fit.
Scout the Neighborhood
Drive around to the various apartments you’re considering. Get a feel for the neighborhood, parking situation, and surrounding businesses like restaurants and shops. Knowing what you’ll be living near for a year will help determine if the place is a good fit.
Read the Reviews
If you are looking into large apartment complexes, do a quick Google search to see if they have any reviews. As you read through the negative reviews, be on the lookout for any trends in those reviews. If there is a consistent issue being brought up, it may be a red flag.
Bring a Friend
Enlist the help of your most honest, trusted friend to join you while you go apartment hunting. They’ll be a great neutral party to provide unbiased opinions about the various apartments you tour. Your friend may think of questions to ask that you wouldn’t and will be able to keep you from making a quick decision on an apartment that may not be the right fit.
Rent During Winter
If you have the flexibility to choose the season in which you will be moving, opt to move during winter. Typically, rent prices decrease during the winter months so you will get a better yearly rate. Moving companies also tend to charge less during the winter and have more availability for staffing and dates.
Have Your Information Ready
Quality apartments get snatched up pretty quickly, so it’s important that you have everything you need at the ready so you can snag the apartment you want immediately. Pull together a folder with recent pay stubs, W-2, dated bank statements, rental history, a government-issued ID, past landlord contact info, and a checkbook. The sooner you submit the rental application, the sooner your dream apartment is yours.
Be Prepared with the Right Questions
This is the last, and most important step of all. Being prepared with the right questions when hunting for an apartment can make or break a good experience. Knowing what to ask when speaking with your landlord will make sure you are picking the right apartment for you. Consider asking some or all of the following questions:
- What are the lease terms? Is it month-to-month or a set amount of time? What is the penalty for breaking the lease?
- What are the income requirements for this property? If I do not meet those requirements, are guarantors allowed to co-sign?
- Is smoking allowed in the building? This is an important question even if you don’t smoke, as people in other units may and the smell could reach your apartment.
- Are pets allowed? If so, is there an additional charge? Would it be a one-time nonrefundable flat fee or a monthly cost? Are there any breeds that are not allowed?
- What utilities are included in rent and which am I responsible for? Are they one flat rate, per unit, or split equally across all tenants?
- Is there additional storage space in the building? Does it cost extra?
- Do you require renters’ insurance?
- Is there a freight elevator in the building for moving large furniture?
- What changes, if any, am I allowed to make to the apartment?
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you like the place you will be living in. By keeping your apartment within your budget, in ideal locations, and having transparent knowledge of the space, you should be well on your way to a great place to live. For more tips on moving, sign up for our once-monthly blog newsletter.