So you’re finally ready to move out of your parent’s house and get a taste of independent living. How do you avoid getting stuck in a rundown apartment on the wrong side of town? How can you avoid being scammed? Adulting is hard and renting your first apartment can be a huge undertaking. But don’t worry, we’ve got you’ve covered. Here are 11 first apartment tips to guide you all the way from budget creation to signing a lease on your very own place.
Have you found an apartment, but don’t know which items you’ll need? Click here for our first apartment checklist.
1. Set a budget
One of our first apartment tips and perhaps the most important is budget. Before you begin searching for your first apartment, you’ll need to determine how much you can afford. Keep in mind you will have additional living expenses every month. For example:
- Trash collection
- Pet rent
If you’re juggling a car note, cell phone, and other bills, you’ll quickly realize that everything quickly adds up. Set a budget you can maintain comfortably over the length of your lease.
Minimum income requirements are common for apartment communities. Most require applicants to earn at least two to three times the monthly rent to ensure they can afford the apartment and avoid eviction down the line.
Income requirements are not mandatory for all properties. Some will factor in your credit and savings.
If you are a student or low income, the income requirement may keep you from renting in certain communities. Consider taking on a roommate that can help split the rent and monthly utilities.
Studio apartments are affordable alternatives to one-bedroom units if you don’t mind an open concept floorplan. If you work long hours and don’t do a lot of entertaining, it may be best to scale back to a smaller floorplan to save money.
2. Create a wish list
Create a list and prioritize your must-haves for your new apartment. What’s most important and what can you live without? Write it down.
The more flexible you are, the greater chance you’ll have of finding an apartment in your price range.
Keep your expectations realistic.
It’s unlikely you’ll find a penthouse apartment in an affluent neighborhood under $1200 a month. You may have to settle for an apartment further away from your desired area to get most of the items on your wish list, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
Your wish list may include the following:
- Swimming pool
- Gated community
- Doorman or on-site security
- Laundry facilities
- Washer and dryer included or washer and dryer hookups
- Pet friendly
- Close proximately to restaurants and entertainment
- Public transit accessible
- Nearby grocery stores
- Assigned parking spaces, covered parking, or parking garage
- Electric vehicle charging stations
- Utilities included
- Hardwood floors
- Extra storage space
- Views of cityscape, beach, etc.
3. Location, location, location
Before you search for a property you will need to decide on a neighborhood. Generally speaking, you want a property that is centrally located to your work or school if you’re in university.
If you’re new to the area, do your research. It’s important to know if you’re moving to an affluent neighborhood versus a crime-ridden one. Your local police department’s website should provide crime statistics for the neighborhood you’re interested in.
City Data is also an excellent resource. Not only does it provide data on a neighborhood’s demographics, but it also has a forum where you can gain insight from other residents in the area.
Do not rely on a property management group to share data with you. Properties are bound by fair housing laws, so they will not disclose the demographics of their residents.
4. Landlord versus property management
There are pros and cons to renting an apartment from a private owner (landlord) versus a property management company.
Landlords are individuals who own and lease properties to others. A landlord usually rents single-family homes, condos, and smaller apartment buildings.
A property management company is an organization that manages a group of communities on a local or even national level. Property management companies are usually responsible for the larger buildings you see with 50 units or more.
Private owners are more likely to work with renters that have previous credit issues, however, the move-in fees are costly. They often require the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, plus a security deposit. Most owners do not have a full-time maintenance crew on staff and may even attempt to repair the property themselves.
A property management group is more structured with a regular maintenance team and full-time staff in the leasing office dedicated to serving its residents.
Renting an apartment operated by a property management group is more affordable as they only require an application fee and first month’s rent. If you have decent credit, you may avoid paying a deposit.
Whether you choose a privately owned property or a property management company will depend largely on your budget and location. In general, a property management company is usually the better choice in terms of competitive pricing and customer service.
5. Begin your search
Now that you’ve created a budget, compiled a wish list, and selected your neighborhood, it’s time to search for your first apartment. There are dozens of popular apartment search websites. Here’s a short list:
Enter your price range, neighborhood, and desired amenities and the system will display a list of properties available for rent.
To make the most of your apartment search, narrow down your list to 6 properties. You’ll likely cross properties off the list after further research.
Understand that apartment leasing is a big business and companies invest a lot in professional photography. Photographers may use creative angles or photograph the pool and other common areas instead of focusing on the actual units. This is why in-person tours are so critical.
If you find a unit that is slightly out of your budget, add them to your list anyway. Rental prices fluctuate and many apartments run move-in specials that are not always advertised online.
Unfortunately, there are many apartment rental scams online. Occasionally you may come across a luxurious apartment loaded with amenities at a rock bottom price. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Never rent an apartment without touring it first and don’t send money to a landlord via wire transfer or another suspicious method.
If you find apartment hunting overwhelming, there are many reputable apartment location services available. Apartment location services are free to use. Agents are paid a commission when you sign a lease.
Your locator will ask for your rental criteria then provide you a list of qualified properties and notify you of any move-in specials. In some states, apartment locators are licensed realtors and can direct you to areas that best suit your budget and lifestyle.
6. Check reviews
Once you’ve created a shortlist of prospective properties, you’ll want to read resident reviews.
It’s extremely rare for any property to have 100% positive reviews. Oftentimes apartments have a disproportionate amount of negative reviews because satisfied residents rarely leave positive ones.
Some residents simply like to vent and post negative reviews to be heard. Remember there are always two sides to every story.
Look for commonalities between reviews. If a majority of the reviews mention a bug or rodent infestation, it’s likely an ongoing issue and you’ll want to cross that property off the list. Ditto for reviews that refer to property theft and car break-ins.
Go with your gut instinct. If you’re on the fence about an apartment, it may be in your best interest to schedule a tour and address negative reviews with management in person.
7. Schedule property tours
Most properties accept walk-ins, but it pays to schedule a property tour in advance. Leasing agents are usually very busy catering to the needs of their current residents, so an appointment will ensure you have their full, undivided attention.
Ask the leasing agent about any move-in specials or discounts for students, military, or other organizations and corporations. Specials can save you money on specific floorplans or even include a free month of rent. If you are prepared to complete an application on the spot you may qualify for a “look and lease” discount.
Inquire about deposits and any other charges you will be obligated to pay each month. Fees such as pet rent, valet trash collection, water, sewer, and cable TV can quickly add up.
Scan the apartment. If you already purchased furniture, will it fit into this floorplan? What’s the condition of the carpet? Have the walls been recently painted? Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinets and look for pests and water damage under the sink.
Pay close attention to the property grounds. Are there lots of trash around the property? Is the security gate broken? These are red flags that the property isn’t well maintained. If a property’s exterior is neglected, chances are the interior is too.
The leasing agent will also show off the property’s amenities. It is their job to showcase all the apartment’s bells and whistles to entice you to sign a lease.
Your property tour will likely occur when most of the residents are at work. Plan to revisit each property in the evening to get a better idea of what the community is really like when everyone is home. Key issues to look out for are neighborhood traffic, loud music, and loitering in the common areas such as hallways and parking lots.
8. Complete a rental application
A standard rental application will ask for your sources of income, previous rental history, and references.
Applications are generally not free. Property management companies charge a standard fee and sometimes an administration fee. Only complete an application if you are absolutely certain you want to rent an apartment.
Sometimes properties will waive the application fee if you complete an application immediately after a tour. Ask your leasing agent if they offer a “look and lease” discount on an annual lease or a reduced application fee.
Often properties conduct background checks. Never lie on a rental application or supply false documents. If you have any reservations on whether you can pass the background check, discuss this with your leasing agent in advance.
False information on a rental agreement can render it null and void. Not only will you not qualify for the apartment, but you’ll lose your application fee, too.
9. Sign your lease
A lease is a legally binding agreement between you and the apartment community. Never sign a lease until you’ve toured your unit.
If the property has issues such as stained carpet, let the management company fix them first. If they refuse or the damage is too great, simply walk away. It’s better to lose your application fee and deposit than get stuck in a year’s lease for an apartment that doesn’t meet your standards.
Long-term leases will give you the best deal. Properties may offer an incentive to sign a one-year lease by discounting your yearly rent or even offering a free month. Rent normally increases annually, so there is little advantage to signing a short-term lease.
10. Get renters insurance
Most apartments now require their tenants have renters insurance. Renters insurance protects your valuables in the event of theft, fire, and water damage. It also covers the following:
- Personal liability if someone’s property is damaged in your apartment
- Living expenses if your apartment is inhabitable due to damage covered in your policy
- Medical payments if a guest is injured on your property by tripping or a dog bite
Renters insurance is more affordable than you think. For $15 to $20 a month you can expect to receive up to $100,000 of coverage. Even if renters insurance is not mandatory, get it anyway. Your piece of mind is worth every penny.
No apartment is immune to damage or theft. You never know when your neighbor’s washing machine may flood your apartment or a pipe burst and damage your furniture and electronics.
11. Final walkthrough and maintenance
After move-in, you may notice your apartment has some imperfections. Bring them to management’s attention right away. Some properties may supply you with what’s known as a walkthrough checklist. Go through each item one by one and document everything in writing and with photos.
You may encounter problems with your apartment during your lease. Check on how work orders are handled by the maintenance team. Some properties require tenants to submit requests via an online form or through an app.
As a tenant, the property management company is required to supply you with a safe and functional apartment. Report maintenance issues right away. Small problems can lead to additional damage and safety hazards down the line.
Management can also be held responsible for criminal conduct on the apartment grounds, especially if they do not provide adequate locks on doors and windows. Check your state and local security laws for details.
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