There comes a point in any adult’s life when they realize the time has come to start looking at renting an apartment. While some may have the help of a parent or friend, many are stuck trying to figure out how to navigate the world of apartment shopping, and have to settle with an ‘okay’ residence.
So, this week, I’ve compiled a few tips to help clarify a few key points of apartment hunting.
Before setting up a meeting with a realtor or apartment manager, it may be good to identify a few parameters for your hunt.
Start by determining a budget. Usnews.com recommends limiting the budget for rent and utilities to 30% of any budget. So, if you make around $1000 a month, try to find an apartment that will cost around $300 a month (bills included). If you can’t find any apartments that will work on your budget, you may consider bringing in a roommate (or two). While the cost for the units you are looking at will rise, you’ll be able to divide the costs and end up (potentially) paying less per person.
Next, it may be wise to determine your list of must-have amenities. Do you need to have a washer and dryer in-unit, or would it be okay if they are located in the building, or in a building nearby? How about a community pool or rec center? Will they be determining factors in whether or not you rent? Could you survive without a dishwasher or garbage disposal? Once you’ve determined what is necessary and what would just be nice to have, you will be able to narrow down your search.
But where do you search? There are plenty of apartment-listing sites online; realtors’ websites and sites such as Zillow or Apartment Guide might be a good place to start. If you’ve got time to kill and are interested, there’s always the option to just drive around and see what you can find. Or, if you have friends in apartment complexes, you could reach out to them and get their opinions on those complexes.
Don’t be picky at first. Tour places that may be slightly out of your budget, or that may be lacking one of the things on your must-haves list, just to get a feel for the area and for what the town has to offer. Ask questions and jot down the answers so that you can get a good sense of each unit’s value as compared to other units.
I’m serious, ask a lot of questions. Ask about pets, even if you don’t have one. Ask about decoration restrictions and quiet hours. Ask about parking. Ask about problems the unit may have had in the past. Ask about mold, maintenance and security. Ask about your neighbors. Ask about moving fees and dates. Don’t shy away from topics like penalties for breaking a lease agreement, or late fees (just in case something happens). There are plenty of websites with lists of questions you can ask, if you cannot think of anything.
As you start to visit units more seriously, take cash with you to pay any application fees the complex may have. These are not binding, but often a necessary step to renting an apartment. These will also not guarantee that you will be able to live in the unit. Nothing is binding until you sign a lease.
Consequently, any lease that you sign is a legally binding contract.
If you get behind on rent, it can ruin your credit. Don’t sign a lease before you’ve read and understood it. If you have questions, ask them. Have the property manager explain unfamiliar terms, and if you really are not sure, ask if you can take the document home to look over it more. Call someone you trust (an adviser or parent, not a friend) and talk through any red flags with them.
If any topic is not covered in the lease agreement that you think should be, talk to the property manager to get a clear, concise policy on the subject. Make sure they put it in writing, and that you get a copy of the document.
But most of all, just be careful. Don’t let a property manager or realtor take advantage of your inexperience in the area; they may try to pressure you into signing a lease as soon as possible. If you are okay with settling for an ‘okay’ apartment, go for it. Otherwise, it may be best to do thorough research on any property you are seriously interested in.