Yeah, okay, so I am definitely not the most qualified person to be giving out apartment search advice. I may have lived in three apartments by this age, but two of them were on-campus apartments that I literally didn’t have to do any prior research on.
In my defense, however, I did gain a lot of knowledge during my first apartment search that could possibly help somebody out there who has no idea where to even start when looking for their next home. So here’s my best tips and tricks for finding a great apartment.
First and foremost, you need to decide where you are moving to! For some, this is likely a no brainer – you’re moving to this city for school or that town for work. For others, it is a bit less certain. Maybe you know you want to move out of your hometown and to a new city but aren’t exactly sure which one to move to!
If you aren’t sure of the general location of where you want to move to, make a list of a few places that seem desirable to you. Take into consideration the job market in that area, the weather conditions, reliability of public transportation (if you are using it), cost of living, or how close or far it is from your hometown (for some, closer is better; for others, further may be advantageous). Consider any factor that will make a place seem more suitable to you.
Got a few places in mind? Great! Narrow them down to one. This likely won’t be an easy process, so don’t expect it to happen instantly, or even in a few days or weeks. Moving is a lengthy process, and this is only one step of many in apartment hunting.
Your next step will be to decide what part of the city/town you want to live in. What places or things to do are more important to you around which you want to live? This could be your school, your work, restaurants, grocery stores, parks… The list goes on and is completely dependent on you.
For me, I knew I wanted to live in the city and close to both my school campus and where I *anticipated* getting a job. Therefore, I chose an apartment that is in the city rather than on the outskirts or in the suburbs.
Are you relying on public transportation to get around? Make sure your apartment search includes proximity to a bus, train, or metro station.
It is also important to consider the safety of the neighborhood if this is an important factor for you. Again, this was important for me since I am living alone. Looking at neighborhoods on realtor sites like Zillow.com can offer a safety rating for that area.
The downside to being picky about these factors is that you will start to pay more for each one. A safer neighborhood usually means a higher rent, as does proximity to restaurants and bars, public parks, etc.
Cost of Living (Rent!)
With that all being said, you obviously have to keep your rent cost in mind. The common rule for target cost of rent is about 30% of your monthly income after taxes. So, if you make $15/hr at 40 hours per week, you would have a monthly income of $2,400 (before taxes), and should pay less than $720 per month.
This is often times not always reasonable. A lot of people nowadays suggest that your rent costs will be more like 40-50% of your monthly income as housing costs increase but wages remain the same.
You can combat this by splitting rent with roommates. Or, if you want to live alone, try a different part of the city, try the outskirts, or accept your rent prices and allocate your budget differently.
I fall into this last category – sucking it up and paying more for rent. I have always known that I wanted to live alone, partially because I don’t have any friends in the city that I moved to and didn’t want to risk living with a total stranger, and partially because I thrive on being alone. But, my wallet suffers for it.
An important cost to include that is often overlooked during apartment hunting is the cost of utilities per month. Some rent prices include some utilities, some rent prices include all utilities, and the rest include no utilities. Be sure to estimate to the best of your abilities how much you anticipate utilities to be each month and add that to your monthly budget.
This can differ for each person, too! Maybe you will work 40 hours a week and don’t anticipate being home as often as somebody who works from home. These individual differences will affect utility costs.
Now for the fun stuff (in my opinion, at least)! Design your dream, but reasonable, apartment. How many bedrooms does it have? How many bathrooms? Does it have a yard or outdoor space? Does it include amenities such as a gym or pool? Do you want pets? Websites like apartments.com can offer the opportunity to include these factors while apartment searching.
I touched on this briefly earlier, so I won’t spend too much time on it here. But it is a super important question to ask yourself – do you want/need roommates?
For some, roommates offer financial relief from paying the full rent. Splitting rent between two or three people can easily cut your rent significantly.
For others, the thought of living alone is a scary and lonely thought. Perhaps you thrive on human interaction and company. Living with a roommate or multiple roommates is likely a better option for you. And the cheaper rent is an added bonus!
These are a few little tips that I learned along the way and figured I’d pass along.
Make sure your furniture will fit into the apartment. No, seriously, it’s a real concern. It seems so silly, I know, but my couch nearly didn’t fit into my current apartment. Since I was moving from across the state and we only rented a U-haul for one way, I would have literally had to have left my couch on the sidewalk to be trash picked or thrown away if it hadn’t fit into my apartment.
Don’t be like me. Ask your landlord what the doorframe measurements are before moving in (okay, in my defense, I did ask multiple times and just never received an answer, so it wasn’t totally my fault…). Consider other big furniture, too, like desks, bedframe, mattresses, etc. Also consider if you will be carrying anything up stairs or around tight corners. My sister almost couldn’t fit a box spring into her bedroom in one past apartment because it wouldn’t fit up the stairs and around a tight turn.
My best advice is to either: ensure an apartment is “big furniture-friendly” before signing a lease, purchasing smaller furniture, or purchasing furniture that can be constructed and deconstructed within one living space.
My next tip relates to moving trucks, if you rent one to move. The only thing I have to say about it is to “go small or go home.” By this I mean that you likely don’t need as big of a truck as you think. Measure your longest piece of furniture (for me, my couch) and get a truck that is at least this long, but not much bigger. Everything else that is in boxes can simply be stacked. Getting a bigger truck means that you will have a lot of dead space above your furniture and boxes that is simply wasted money.
This last tip is a bit more of a moving-related tip rather than an apartment-hunting tip, but important, nonetheless. My mom’s best advice to me was to pick up a few six packs before we even started moving my belongings into my apartment. In her wise words, a few beers for the family members would “make unpacking much more fun”! And, of course, this advice only applies to my 21 and older readers!!
That’s all folks
Best of luck to you as you look for your next home, which may be real nearby or maybe even across the world. I hope the knowledge I gained from my experience was even a little bit helpful to you as you embark on such a tedious and lengthy process!
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