It can be both exciting and intimidating to look for your first apartment after college. You’re working your first full-time post grad job, and you need a great place to live—but where should you look, and how much should you pay? What’s a reasonable deposit, and how much will you need to budget for regular monthly bills?
Apartment-hunting mistakes are common—especially when you start looking—and we’ll explore eighteen of the most frequent errors in this post. But before we dive into a list of slip-ups, let’s look at a few apartment-finding best practices.
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Apartment Hunting 101
Before you start your apartment hunt, try to come up with a sensible budget. Include the maximum amount you can afford for rent, and take utility bills, student loan payments and other regular expenses into account. Let’s break that—and a few other things—down a little more:
- Your rental budget. Ideally, your rent shouldn’t total more than a third of your monthly income. Going over this “gold standard” ratio could leave you in financial trouble.
- Location, location, location. Consider the city or neighborhood vibe, commuting convenience and amenities when you decide where to live.
- Look around. If you can, tour several apartments in the same area and compare them against one another before deciding.
- Ask questions. Don’t be shy about asking potential landlords or landladies questions about apartments. Are landscaping services included? Will you get an assigned parking space? Are utilities included?
- Make an application. Rental applications generally cost between $30 and $50 each. The property management company or landlord will check your credit based on the personal information you supply.
- Move in. Moving can be stressful and exhausting if you don’t plan ahead. Think about how you’ll shift your possessions from point A to point B. Will you need to rent a truck, or can you make do with a trailer? Would you prefer to use a moving company?
Apartment-hunting can be high-stakes. But don’t’ worry—if you plan ahead and strategize, you’ll find the process much easier.
Biggest Apartment-Hunting Mistakes
You know what you should do when looking for an apartment. Now, let’s check out some of the most common mistakes people make when hunting for a home.
1. Starting Your Search Too Early
If you start your search for an apartment too early, you might not get the one you want. Ideally, begin looking about a month before your move-in date. That way, you’ll get the pick of currently available properties.
2. Underestimating Cost
Many people underestimate the cost of an apartment in their ideal area. To avoid sticker shock, conduct research into current rental market prices—and typical deposit amounts—well before you begin looking for a property.
3. Bad Budgeting
Rent is just one of the expenses you’ll encounter when living in an apartment. You’ll also need to pay for everything from cable to laundry detergent—and you’ll need to come up with a reasonable grocery budget, too. Thankfully, there are many ways to save money on food, including buying in bulk, comparing prices and bringing your own lunch to work.
4. Forgetting About Student Loans
Most student loans give borrowers a six-month grace period after graduation—but eventually, you’ll need to start making payments. It’s important to take your future monthly student loan payments into account when you create a budget or you might find yourself in a financial bind.
5. Neglecting Credit
Property management companies and landlords look at potential renters’ credit scores. If you monitor your credit and make payments on time, you’ll improve your chances of being approved for an apartment. New to the world of credit? If you have a thin file, a credit builder credit card can help boost your score.
6. Not Gathering Documents
Get the documents together you need to secure an apartment—pay stubs, bank statements and offer letters, for instance—before you begin your search. That way, you can apply immediately if you find a suitable place to live.
7. Guarantor Confusion
Some landlords and property management companies prefer that young applicants have guarantors—people who promise to pay the rent if they can’t—on their applications. If applicable, let your guarantor know when you begin your apartment search so they don’t receive unexpected phone calls.
8. Terminology Trouble
Do you know the difference between a condo and a rental? What about a rental versus a co-op building? Some places include utilities, while others come with monthly co-op or maintenance fees. Doread the small print and ask if you’re unsure about terminology.
9. The Wrong Roommates
Your “perfect” roommate might not be so perfect if they play loud music late at night, work the opposite shift to you or have a very different opinion of what “clean” means. Talk about mess tolerance, budget and lifestyle with any potential roommate before signing on the dotted line.
10. Not Getting Agreements in Writing
Get agreements in writing—even if you plan to live with your best friend. Outline who’s responsible for what and when bills need to be paid. Hopefully you’ll never need to reference your agreement—but it’ll come in handy if things ever go wrong.
11. Not Investigating Neighbors
Ideally, you’ll end up in warm, friendly company when you move into your new apartment. To maximize your chances, scope out potential neighbors and get a feel of the apartment complex before you move in. Afteryou move in, get to know your neighbors as soon as you can, and stay sociable to cement your place in the community.
12. Going With a Bad Landlord
Great landlords are worth their weight in gold. Good landlords are fair and respond promptly to maintenance issues—in short, they’re worth paying extra for. Avoid known shady landlords, even if they charge less in rent.
13. Skimming Over the Lease
Don’t be tempted to skim over your apartment lease. Instead, read it thoroughly and negotiate problematic elements rather than agreeing to terms you’re not comfortable with. Whatever you do, knowwhat you’re signing up for.
14. Not Knowing Tenant Rights
Reassuringly, tenants—and applicants—have federal rights that protect them from unfair practices. Many states have additional state-centric renter’s and applicant’s rights. Find out about renter’s rights in yourstate before you begin looking for an apartment.
15. Passing on Renters Insurance
Contents insurance isn’t just for homeowners. Renters insurance might seem an extra expense, but it can save you a lot of money in the long run. If your apartment gets broken into, for instance, or if you lose possessions in a natural disaster or a fire, renters insurance could help you replace them.
16. Only Looking at the Bottom Line
Many graduates focus on cost alone when they look for apartments. While it’s normal to be value-focused at this stage, it’s important to take all factors into account—including perks and included amenities—before making a decision.
17. Expecting Perfection
Lots of people go apartment hunting with a list of “must haves” in tow. At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as a perfect apartment—so don’t turn down a perfectly good place in hopes of finding your ideal place. Instead, consider the trade-offs and opt for an affordable, great-value place to live.
18. Thinking Short Term
Apartments generally come with a one-year lease—but you probably won’t want to move again in 12 months. Consider how the apartment will fit your needs in the long term, rather than the short term, and you’ll save yourself a whole lot of hassle.
The Home Truth
Your first apartment after college represents a life shift. You’re not just moving into a new place—you’re moving into the “real” adult world. Before you begin looking for an apartment, create a sensible, workable budget and sign up to see your Credit Report Card and get insight into your credit snapshot.
If you have a thin credit file, subscribe to ExtraCredit once you’re settled in your new apartment. You can use Build It to add utility and rent payments to your credit report, which will boost your credit score.
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