In a time of so much transition, from graduating college to starting your first job, there is no doubt that apartment hunting is one of the most stressful developments for a post-graduate.
Apartment hunting can be both exciting and nerve-wracking—you are independent enough to move out on your own, yet you feel vulnerable to be living by yourself. Of course, you are looking forward to decorating your place just as you imagine it or based off your inspiration from Pinterest. But you may not be sure of where to begin when it comes to securing your first apartment.
When I first began apartment hunting, I had some criteria I wanted to follow: I was seeking out apartments in decent, safe complexes with easy commutes to work and the downtown city. I always knew I wanted a large kitchen with plenty of cooking space, as well as a cozy backyard patio I could surround with plants and furnish. The process of apartment hunting took me around three months from the time I began researching to when I signed a one-year lease.
How do I go about searching for an apartment?
There are many resources to help you begin the search for your apartment. Websites such as Trulia.com or Zillow.com are helpful when it comes to narrowing down choices according to standards and filters that you select.
I advise everyone to look at potential apartments in person, if possible, but if you are unable to because you are relocating to another city or state, then these websites will be extremely helpful. I found that Zillow.com worked best for me in finding a place when I was unable to see the apartment in person. Websites have updated photos, as well as a list of amenities that come with the place. However, the function I used the most was the ability to compare locations and neighborhoods. Moving out on your own is never an easy feat, no matter how far away you will be from home. Still, apartment-listing websites allowed me to see the geographic area of the apartment, highlighting both the safe and dangerous areas and median living costs.
Through my experience, I have found that each complex varies in its application process. Some will require previous leasing experience while others will require a minimum yearly income. And there will be some that will conduct a background check and pull your credit. For those who do not have an established credit score (as many of us will not right out of college), I encourage you to find a parent or guardian who will be able to co-sign on your place if you are living alone. The other option would be to find a couple of roommates.
What should I keep in mind when I am renting?
Renting an apartment comes with great responsibilities, aside from the expected “adulting” chores like grocery shopping and cleaning.
When it comes to renting an apartment, it is important to be mindful of the complex’s rules and regulations. Usually, each apartment complex has its own residential guidelines and these expectations are highlighted in the leasing contract. Be sure to read it completely before signing the lease and putting down your security deposit. There may be hidden rules that you overlooked, such as a fine for breaking the lease too early or violations for not complying with the regulations of the complex. Before you secure an apartment, keep the following points in mind so there are no shock factors when you become a resident.
Monthly rent. How much will your rent cost you per month? Generally, approximately 50% of your paycheck should be designated toward your living costs—that is, no more than half of your paycheck should cover monthly rent. It is helpful to know how much rent is due per month, so you can begin budgeting your expenses. While apartment-searching, I advise you to only look at places you are able to afford. This takes research; start by looking into the median rent in your geographic location, as well as the cost of living. You will want to also factor in your monthly income, so you can also account for other bills. For instance, you will want to confirm what utilities are included with your rental. Does the complex pay for your quarterly water bill? Electricity? Sewer? Often, utilities will be on you and you will have to factor in a quarterly sewer and water bill, monthly electricity bill, and monthly cable/internet bill to your finances.
What is included in the rental? Some complexes do not provide all the necessary appliances or equipment with your rental. Washing machines and dryers, for example, are often not included in your rental, or there is an exterior place elsewhere on the complex to take your laundry. I advise you to make a list of appliances that you will want with your rental and that will narrow your search. Moreover, if the apartment does include appliances like a washing machine, dryer, microwave, or oven, then you will want to inquire if there are additional monthly fees to “rent” them. In my own experience, I have had to pay a small monthly fee to use the complex’s washer and dryer.
Maintenance. Each apartment complex generally has its own maintenance facility that you can call to help take care of your place, whether it is plumbing the toilet, fixing a broken pipe, or changing a light bulb. But prior to signing a lease, you will want to check to see how old the place is and whether much maintenance will be required upon moving in. If there is anything you will want fixed or replaced, ask the leasing agents if you are able to get those requests completed prior to your arrival. I have also learned that it is crucial to take photos of the place when you arrive – that way, when you move out, you have a reference to see the original state of the place. This will make you more likely to receive your security deposit back.
Amenities. Renting in a neighborhood complex comes with perks, such as communal amenities, that are free of charge or at discounted rates for members. Seek out which ones you prefer or view as a necessity and check if the complex offers them to its residents. Amenities can include a fitness center, community center for social gatherings, swimming pool(s), playground, park, walking trail, postal center, mini-mart, laundromat, etc.
Miscellaneous fees and fines. Yes, there can be miscellaneous fees hidden within your lease that are very easy to overlook. These fees can include payment for additional parking spots, pet fees (one-time or monthly), a cost for guest visitation after specified hours, or loud noise after quiet hours. Any of these can be reported to the leasing office by your neighbors and other residents, so be sure you understand the regulations for living at the complex. Some apartments can also fine you for failing an apartment inspection.
Keep in mind that apartment hunting takes time and should not be a hasty decision. Take your time and do your research in finding a place that suits your needs and preferences, and it can be an exciting experience.
Sara Kim graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and a double minor in Health Policy and Management and Asian American Studies from Ithaca College. She currently works as an Event Coordinator at a non-profit. In her free time, she enjoys working out, reading, watching movies, and cooking. Fun fact: as a foodie, she loves to try new foods and travel to new places.