You’ll never forget your first apartment. If you rent the right one, that can be a good thing. You’ll fondly look back on the memories of cocktail parties on your patio and sunrise views from your bedroom window. If you rent the wrong one, that can be a bad thing. You’ll cringe when you think back to the mold, the cockroaches, the landlord who always came over unannounced.
To ensure that your first apartment ends up being the kind of place you’ll associate with good times rather than faulty wiring and occasional break-ins, follow these five steps when choosing your new home.
1. Set Your Budget
Unless you just hit the jackpot or scored a six figure job after graduating, your first apartment will probably not be inside a castle. But just because you can’t afford a palatial penthouse in a high rise building doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a dirty room in an extended stay motel.
Set your budget before you start looking. Aim to pay less than 30% of your income on rent. You will also want to factor in monthly bills and other expenses like security deposits, pet fees, HOA dues, parking fees, moving expenses and miscellaneous items like furniture.
Plan on asking potential landlords about what’s included and what’s not so you’re aware of discounts and hidden fees.
2. Factor in Location
Location is the most important thing when choosing an apartment. Find a few neighborhoods you’d be willing to live in. If you’re a night owl, you may want to choose based on proximity to bars and clubs. If you don’t have a car, you may search for the most walkable neighborhood. If you’re in grad school or starting a demanding job, you may want a neighborhood that guarantees you peace and quiet so you can concentrate. If you want to eventually start a family, you may choose based on safety and schools in the area.
Be aware that you may pay more for an especially desirable location, so it might be worthwhile to identify a less expensive neighborhood that’s adjacent to the one you really want. Someday, when you nail that big promotion, you might just be able to move there.
3. Factor in Your Must-Haves
After you’ve determined which neighborhoods you’d be open to moving to, it’s time to factor in other must-haves. To find the ideal apartment that’s in a great location and is within your budget, you’re probably going to have to compromise, but it’s okay to have a list of things you won’t compromise on.
Determine what those are. If you have a dog, you might require an apartment that’s pet friendly. If you’re concerned about safety, a gated apartment complex might be a must. Even if your must-haves are minor things like good natural light or carpeting instead of hardwood, they’re important to stick to if they’re things you care about.
4. Search in Person
Set aside an entire day or week to tour apartments you’re interested in. It might be tempting to rent sight unseen, but checking out your options in person is way better. You should certainly use the internet to do research about and read reviews of potential apartments, but don’t rent one online unless you absolutely have to.
When touring prospective apartments, take photos, pay attention, ask lots of questions and take notes. Have a checklist of questions that you ask each landlord. Once you’ve toured all of the apartments on your list, you can weigh the pros and cons of each.
5. Have Your Affairs in Order
Once you’ve chosen an apartment (or at least narrowed your list down), you’ve got to take care of business so that you’re ready to do a whole bunch of paperwork. This means knowing your credit score, or having a co-signer if you don’t have a credit history. You’ll also want to have references, pay-stubs or bank statements to prove your income, and of course, photo identification.
Other important paperwork to have handy includes information about your car and information about your pet if you have one, including proof of vaccinations and details about weight and breed.
And lastly, don’t forget your checkbook for that very first rent payment.