Renting your very first apartment is both thrilling and scary. While you’re probably looking forward to having your own space for the first time in your life, you also need to remember that renting an apartment means you’ll need to take on quite a few responsibilities as a first-time renter.
The biggest upside of getting your own apartment is that you’ll be free to live as you want. You can decorate your apartment according to your tastes, especially if you live alone. You’ll be in charge of your own schedule, you can move freely, and you can come and go as you please.
On the flip side, however, you will also need to take charge of your duties and responsibilities as a renter. You’ll need to find a suitable apartment, do due diligence, and figure out how to pay for rent and utilities.
If you’re not sure how to find your first apartment, don’t sweat it! Here are our ten tips on how to rent an apartment for the first time.
Determine Your Budget
The first step you should take as a first-time renter is determining what budget you have for renting an apartment, Aside from the monthly rent, you should also take into account other costs you will have. One-time fees include the security deposit, background check fees, and broker fees if you used one. Monthly expenses include water, electricity, and heating. You should also take into account other fees that you might need to pay like Internet and cable connection, parking fees, or a pet deposit.
From the get-go, you should know what you can realistically afford on monthly rent. As a good rule of thumb, use the 50/30/20 rule: 50% of your income should be spent on your needs (which includes your monthly rent and utilities), 30% should go to “wants”, and 20% should go to savings.
Pick the Right Type of Apartment for You
After you have determined your budget, you will have a better idea of what type of apartment you can afford. The monthly rent of an apartment can depend on many factors, such as the size of the apartment, the location, the nearby amenities, and even the time of the year that you choose to rent!
Apartment types are determined by either the size of the apartment or the layout/number of bedrooms. If you’re looking for a small apartment, you can go for a micro-apartment or a studio. However, if you’re looking for a more spacious apartment, go for a 2-bedroom.
When you compare apartments, you need to think about how much space you’ll actually need, particularly in areas where you will be spending a lot of time. If you work from home, for example, you might need an apartment that has space for a home office. If you love cooking, a spacious kitchen should be on the top of your list. Renting your first apartment is a huge step, so take the time to find the right one for you.
Consider What You Need versus Want
Being a first-time renter can be overwhelming, especially in terms of choosing what amenities you’re looking for in an apartment. While it’s great to have an apartment that has its own elevator, a gym, and close proximity to dog parks, you should pause and ask whether you actually need these things.
Have a list of things that you will need in an apartment versus things that you just want to have. It helps if you categorize these things into “non-negotiable” and “negotiable”. If something is negotiable with you, then you should already consider that to be a want. Using this method will help you whittle down a list of what you’re looking for in an apartment so that you can prioritize which amenities are most important.
It's great to rent an apartment with all the bells and whistles, but if you're going to pay a huge premium for them, the shine will quickly wear off!
Be Sure You’re Ready to Take on the Commitment
Signing the lease on your contract is not something that you should take lightly. Since your lease is a binding contract, you should be absolutely sure that you are ready to commit to all the stipulations before you sign.
If you're feeling nervous, you don't need to worry too much. First-time renter's jitters are a real thing!
Remember, renting an apartment is a huge responsibility. You can’t just back out if you change your mind. Breaking your lease will not only result in a significant financial penalty, but it can also negatively affect your credit score. Having a negative mark on your credit so early will affect any major financial transactions you have in the future, such as taking out a mortgage.
Visit Candidate Apartments in Person
While technology has made virtual apartment tours popular, there is still something to be said about visiting candidate apartments in person. More often than not, you’ll have a better idea of what the apartment actually looks like, as well as how it would feel to live there.
If you have apartments that you are seriously considering, try visiting the apartment more than once. The first visit might not be enough to get a full picture of the apartment and its surroundings. Secondary visits also give you a chance to view the apartment with a more critical eye. Getting a full idea of living there may require multiple visits.
Take a Walk Around the Neighborhood
After you’ve seen potential apartments in person, you can also take this opportunity to walk around the neighborhood. You’ll be able to get a feel of what it’s like to live there and see what establishments are nearby. Try to see how it would be like to stay there on a daily basis. Are there close public transportation hubs? What about convenience stores and hospitals? What restaurants and supermarkets are close by?
Aside from getting to know the neighborhood, try to get a feel for your potential neighbors as well! Since you’re going to be living next door to these people if you move in, you should get to know them.
Understand the Application Process
Each apartment might have a different application process depending on the landlord or the building’s policies. While there are some parts that are universal such as filling out an application form and submitting to a credit check, some landlords might require more information or assurance depending on your situation.
For example, if you’re a student or you’re a foreign national, some landlords might require that you use a guarantor even if you can prove that you can afford the rent. You should also be aware of your tenant rights to ensure that you are getting a fair deal.
Get Renters Insurance
While getting renters insurance is not mandated by federal law, having one gives you an edge when you apply for your first apartment. Renter’s insurance helps protect you and your property during your time as a tenant. Landlords always prefer renters who pose the least risk to them.
The great thing about renter’s insurance is that you can get a policy even without having a signed lease yet. A good renter’s insurance policy covers property theft and damage, and it can be applicable to family members. On average, this will cost around $20 - $30 per month.
Read the Lease Thoroughly
Before you sign the lease, read it carefully through and through. Make sure that you understand all the terms and conditions specified within, especially when it comes to the duration of the length, the rules of renting the apartment, and what is included in your monthly rent payments. A lease should also specify which aspects of maintenance is your responsibility, and which belong to your landlord.
If there is anything that you don’t understand on your lease, never be afraid to ask your landlord to clarify! If there are any clauses that you don’t agree with, you should also take the chance to bring them up with your landlord. It might be possible to remove that clause or at least find a compromise.
Have a Walkthrough With Your New Landlord
After finalizing the lease and getting your keys, ask your landlord to have a walkthrough in the apartment with you. During this walkthrough, take note of all the pre-existing issues in the unit before you move in such as worn-out or broken structures. These issues are the responsibility of the landlord and you should not be saddled with the cost of fixing them.
Once you’re done with the walkthrough, make a list of all the necessary repairs and take pictures as well. Send this list to building maintenance so that they can work on these issues. Getting these issues fixed before you move in prevents any issues down the road, such as the landlord trying to take the cost of repairs out of your security deposit!