Not too long ago, most Americans’ standard of success was whether they owned a house or not. Now, though, the reality of homeownership’s cost and responsibilities has turned more people to apartment living.
There are so many benefits of living in an apartment that it’s a popular alternative to being tied down in one place. But how do you find the place you want to live in for the foreseeable future when there are so many options?
The search for the perfect place can seem never-ending, but with these nine tips, your apartment hunt will be a success!
1. Create a Budget
What you pay for your apartment shouldn’t be more than 30% of your pre-tax monthly income. Before you start shopping, figure out exactly what that means for your wallet and stick with apartments in that range.
Keep in mind that some apartments combine other features with their rent. If this saves you from paying another bill, you can bump up your rent budget that amount.
For instance, the apartment you’re looking at could include water and have a free gym on the premises. Whatever you’re used to paying for your water can be added to the rent amount. If you can cancel your gym membership, that fee can also be added. Don’t discount the rent automatically as being too high until you know exactly what’s included in that amount.
2. Use an Apartment Hunting Website
Scrolling through Craigslist or Facebook might be easier, but a site dedicated to legitimate apartment rentals is safer.
Even better, if you’re hunting for a home from a distance, you can do everything but move in online.
3. Make a List Before You Search
When you’re in the midst of looking at a bunch of places, it can be easy to get swept away in the amenities and excitement. If you have a really good tour guide, it’s even easy to get talked into a place you don’t want.
Before you head out to explore your potential new home, make a list of the features you absolutely must have, like:
- number of bedrooms/bathrooms
- school zone
- distance to your job
- washer/dryer facilities
On the other side of that list, make another running note of things you absolutely do not want. These may be something like a capped rent amount or a certain neighborhood.
Keep this list with you as you head out to apartment hunt. If you’re not sure what amenities and features you should include, check out this guide to read up on different apartment benefits.
4. Record Your Thoughts on Each Place
Another record-keeping activity is to keep track of your thoughts after you visit each apartment. A spreadsheet is an easy way to do this, but you can write everything by hand if you prefer.
First, list the apartment and the address. Then, include information like how much the rent was, what is included, and the pros and cons you noticed.
Before you make your final decision or invest money in submitting an application, review your list.
5. Teach Yourself the Inspection Basics
Renting an apartment is similar to buying a used car. You need to know what to look for before you get locked into a payment.
Even though maintenance and repair are generally taken care of by the landlord, it’s still a hassle to deal with. When you walk through each apartment, look for signs of common problems, like:
- Animal droppings on the top of the fridge, under the cabinets, and other hidey-holes
- Discolored running water
- Mold or mildew along the window panes, baseboards, or in the air vent
- Your cell phone’s reception
- Water pressure and temperature
One more important tip: Never rent an apartment without coming back to check it out at night. If you don’t feel safe as a visitor, you won’t feel safe as a tenant.
6. Ask Questions
Come up with at least a few questions to ask the front desk and maintenance staff. This serves two purposes. For one thing, you learn the answers to the questions you had. But more importantly, you see how helpful or disinterested the other person is.
If you’re going to live somewhere for at least one year, eventually you’ll need maintenance or repairs. You should be able to trust that a friendly, knowledgeable person will make sure the problem gets fixed.
7. Ask About the Terms of the Lease
Some leases are easy to get out of as long as the landlord can rent the apartment quickly. Other contracts require you to pay the full remaining months of rent.
Check the terms of the lease for things like late fees or early termination penalties. Your landlord may also require you to carry renter’s insurance according to the contract, which can add an unexpected expense to your budget.
8. Narrow Down Your Top Picks
Just because you fall in love with one place doesn’t always mean you’ll get approved for it. Sometimes, the apartment may have already been taken before you made your decision. Other times, you might not meet the requirements.
Since most places require a fee in order to run your application, you should narrow your picks down to the places you feel confident you’d be accepted for.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, though. Pick two or three of your top choices and apply for one at a time. If time is an issue, you can apply for all of them at once and then pick from the ones you were accepted at.
9. Have Your Documents Ready
Once you’re ready to submit your application, be sure you have all your documents on hand.
It’s not uncommon to be asked to pass a background history and credit check along with your application. Most places require these documents before they will rent to you:
- Government-issued photo ID
- Proof of income (recent pay stubs, W-2, or bank statements)
- Rental history and contact information from references
- Your social security number to run your credit check
In case you are one of the many who rarely carries cash or a checkbook, be aware that many rental companies won’t accept a card as payment for the application fee.
Apartment hunting doesn’t have to be stressful. With these tips, your next chapter awaits, starting with the perfect new temporary home!