Find Your First Apartment

First Time Renter’s Guide – A Step-By-Step Process

If you are in the market for your first apartment, there can be a lot more questions than answers. Stepping out on your own and signing your name to a lease can be an overwhelming and confusing process. For first time renters, here is a step-by-step process for getting your first apartment:

  1. Set your budget

Before you even step foot in a potential apartment, make sure you set your budget so that you can stick to it. You will be tempted by nicer places with more amenities that are outside of your price range. If you can set your budget beforehand, there is a much greater chance you will be able to stick to it.

When setting your budget for moving into first apartment, there are a lot of factors to consider. Do not forget to include these costs in your budget:

  • Rent
  • Security deposit
  • Utility costs (electricity, heat, water, trash, etc.)
  • Application fee
  • Security deposit
  • Pet deposit
  • Parking fee
  • Renter’s insurance
  • Moving costs

It is also important to be realistic about your budget from the start. If you are living in a major city, do not expect to find a very cheap apartment. A typical rule of thumb is to not have your rent be more than 30% of your income, but this is flexible depending on the location you live in.

  1. Determine your needs vs. wants

There are plenty of apartments out there and some are certainly nicer than others. While you might be tempted by the apartment complexes with the most amenities and updated features, this apartment might not be in your budget range. It is important to determine your needs, the bare necessities you need in your apartment, versus your wants, the services or amenities it would be just nice to have. Here are some items to consider for your needs vs. wants list:

  • Size of apartment
  • Number of beds and baths
  • Location/neighborhood
  • Proximity to stores or public transportation
  • If parking is available
  • If pets are allowed
  • If there is a doorman/security
  • Amenities included such as pool, gym, coffee bar
  • Upgraded kitchen appliances like refrigerators, stoves, and dishwashers
  • In-unit washer/dryer

Location is probably the most important consideration when moving into first apartment. Make sure you like the area because you will be living there for at least one year most likely. Consider your commute to work or your accessibility to grocery stores and gas stations. Make sure the neighborhood is a place you feel safe living.

  1. Tour apartments

The fun part begins – now that you have your game plan, it is time to start touring apartments! You will call up apartment complexes you are interested in and set an appointment to tour them with the property manager.

Once on the tour, here is a list of things to consider to make sure the apartment is the best fit for you:

  • How is the vibe of the building? Some apartments will be more noisy while some will be quiet.
  • Is the apartment secure? Make sure locks on doors and windows are properly working.
  • How do the floors look? Are they in good shape? Check for leaks in the floors and ceilings.
  • Do all of the lights and outlets work? Make sure outlets are located where you need them.
  • Is there natural light available? Keep in mind the intensity will change throughout the day.
  • Does your cell phone have service? Make sure you are not in a dead zone.
  • Do all of the appliances work? Do they look updated?
  • What floor is the apartment on? Is there an elevator? Where are the stairs located? Keep this in mind for carrying groceries upstairs.
  • Ask about average utility and parking costs.
  • Where is the actual unit located? Try your best to choose a unit away from public spaces like BBQ grills, laundry rooms, and public trash areas to avoid an unwanted odors or noises in your apartment.

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After you are finished touring an apartment, write down all of the details you learned so that you do not get them confused with the next apartment you view.

  1. Fill out rental applications

Once you have found the perfect place, you will need to apply and be approved to move in. Filling out a rental application is an easy process as long as you have all of your information handy. You will need to have:

  • Photo I.D.
  • Social security card
  • Bank statements
  • Pay stubs or other proof of income
  • Letters of reference from employers, friends, or past landlords

During the application process, the apartment complex will run your credit score and potentially a background check. For first time renters with low or no credit score, you have the option of adding a co-signer to validate your application.

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  1. Sign your lease

Once your application has been approved, you are one step closer to getting your first apartment. You will now be presented with a lease for the apartment. While reviewing the lease, make sure you pay attention to these items:

  • When rent is due and how it is paid
  • How to submit maintenance requests
  • Late rent fees
  • How much parking is and if it is assigned
  • Understand the guest policy and pet policy

If you agree with everything presented in the lease, you are free to go ahead and sign on the dotted line. Make sure you save a copy of the signed lease for you to reference in the future.

  1. Move into your new place

Congrats! You have signed the lease and are now moving into first apartment. Set up a moving plan and determine whether you need to hire movers or rent a moving vehicle. If you plan to move without movers, enlist the help of your friends to take some of the load. You will also want to purchase moving and packing materials to get the job done.

Now that you have a new address, make sure you alert the postal office to reroute your mail and send all future packages to this new location. You will also want to update your address for your credit cards, bank accounts, or any other services. More importantly, be sure to set up all your new utilities, like electricity and internet, in your name at your new place.