I’ve been in my current first apartment for almost 10 months now. I’ve made the decision not to renew the lease and therefore will be entering the apartment hunting game again.
As I start to prepare and plan for that, I’ve been thinking about what I know now and what I wish I had known as I searched for my current apartment. With the help from a few friends, I’ve brainstormed a list of 5 things that you need to know when looking for your first apartment:
1. Understanding the financial aspect of leasing an apartment.
Entering the “adult” world can be tough at first, especially if you’re new at handling your own finances or creating a budget. A lot of things come down to money, and apartments are no exception. The first thing to think about is your financial situation. For some, moving out on your own may take a while. I lived at home for the first year post-graduation and was able to save money (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) before moving into the big city.
When you’re ready to take the plunge, you’ll need to think first about how much you can spend on rent and factor in moving costs. Sometimes looking for an apartment means using a realtor, and that involves paying a broker fee. A realtor or broker can be a useful person during the search for an apartment because they will be able to show you a variety of apartments, and you can let them know your price range ahead of time to make sure you don’t fall in love with a place you’d never be able to afford.
Moving costs can also vary, depending on if you need to hire movers or rent a storage unit, which I had to do because I needed to move out of the place I was staying temporarily before I was able to move into my new apartment. This is where research and creativity come in handy. I shopped around and found a good deal on a storage unit that was running a special: It was $20 down for the first month and then each month $100 for the unit. I only needed to store my furniture and clothes for a week, so I only spent $20.
When it came time for my brother to move from his apartment, he promised his friends beer and pizza in exchange for helping him move. This can be a great way to save on movers if you rent a U-haul or have a friend with a van, and other willing-and-abled buddies to participate in the move.
Another tip for budgeting is to factor in extra costs–for example, with my apartment, heat and hot water was included in rent, but electricity is extra. My roommates and I also had to put in AC window units in each room, which caused our electric bill to drastically increase over the summer.
2. The next thing to thing about while narrowing down apartment choices is the management.
It’s important to know ahead of time the management style of your building. Is there a live in super or landlord? Is the building owned by a property management company? One thing my roommates and I realized after we moved in was that we didn’t know who we paid rent to.
Technically, we had had to use a broker for the apartment we found on craigslist (which is a story for another day) and our first month’s rent was something we submitted to the realtor company who passed it along to our management company. When it came time to write the second month’s rent check, we realized we didn’t have an address to send the checks and had to scramble to find out who we needed to be in contact with in order to have our rent paid on time.
Another question we came to ponder was “who fixes things?” Being an independent gal with a handy engineer father, I know how to unclog a shower drain, change light bulbs, hang pictures, etc, but when our mailbox door jammed and then refused to close, I knew we had to be in contact with our management company to send someone over to fix it.
You’ll also want to take into consideration the location of your apartment. Are you near a subway or train line? That can be convenient for commuting but also cause your apartment to be noisier than if you were living on a street a little bit further away from a main road.
Does your potential apartment have an in-unit washer and dryer? If not, be sure to scope out the local laundry mat. I got lucky and have a laundry mat on the same block as my apartment, which makes lugging around three weeks worth of laundry a lot easier.
3. Get to know the area.
Exploring new neighborhoods is sometimes the most fun part about apartment hunting, because while you’re staking out the nearest grocery store, you might also find a gem of a park or a whole-in-the-wall coffee shop that has killer muffins or dark roast. Don’t be afraid to imagine yourself in the apartment or in the neighborhood!
4. While doing all of this, don’t forget the importance of taking good notes while also doing research!
Before even stepping foot out the door, you should do some preliminary research of housing costs, such as how much are other apartments going for in the area, is there a school in the area and is the neighborhood family friendly, or is it more of a bar-hopping crowd of twenty-somethings?
Take note of what locals say about the area, read reviews, and also write down your gut reactions! When you walk in to an apartment, if you feel a good vibe and can imagine yourself living in that space, that’s a good sign! It’s equally as important if you walk into a room and are instantly turned off by something, even if you can’t put your finger on what it might be.
Take pictures too. My roommates and I had to sometimes coordinate our schedules and one of us would be stuck working or in a prior commitment while we were looking at certain apartments. To make up for that, we made sure to snap photos with our phones and take notes of the area, the price, and our initial thoughts. This can help in the end-game, when you’re trying to decide on a place but have already looked at so many apartments that they all blend together.
5. Finally, it’s important to think about commitment.
Make sure you’re ready to commit when you walk into an apartment. I know friends of mine have also experienced the “love and loss” of finding an apartment that you love and making an offer only to find out that you were too slow.
My roommates and I looked at an apartment and called the realtor two hours later about taking the apartment, only to find out that a group of people had looked at the apartment right after us and immediately put down a deposit and handed in an application. This means, that you may need to come with your checkbook in hand, or have a bank-certified check (which is usually preferred because a bank-certified check can’t bounce like a regular check), you may also need to have filled out an application before hand, or come with a credit check already completed.
Apartment hunting is not for the faint of heart, and most of the time, it is stressful, time-sensitive, and overwhelming. Just know, that the hunt will not last forever, and you are not alone in your trials and tribulations.