Whether you’re a young adult about to live on your own for the first time or you’re going from a mortgage to a month-to-month rental in a new area, you need to be prepared before starting your apartment hunt. Finding the right place at the right price is no easy task, but it doesn’t have to be too overwhelming. After you figure out what you can afford, it’s simply a matter of finding the right apartment, agreeing to lease terms, and then signing on the dotted line. To find an ideal apartment or rental home – and to make the search go smoother – there are a number of steps you can take to ease the burden and expedite the process.
1. Determine Affordability
The U.S. Census Bureau suggests that your monthly rent should not exceed 20% of your monthly income – 30% at the most. For instance, if you bring home $4,000 each month, you should cap your search at around $1,200. Taking the time to update and polish your personal budget before you start looking for apartments can not only help you figure out your price range, it can also help you identify areas in your personal finances where you can cut back if you want to spend more on a pricier apartment. After scrutinizing the numbers, you may decide to drop that costly TV subscription to allow you more wiggle room in your budget for the right place.
2. Add Renters Insurance
For some, renters insurance is a choice, but for the vast majority, it’s required by a landlord. In either case, you should add it to your budget. It covers losses in case you suffer a break-in, and it also helps cover your landlord if you do damage to the property. A landlord insures the building, but renters insurance covers what’s actually inside it.
Luckily, it’s pretty affordable. Rates depend on geographical location, amount of coverage, and amount of rent paid, but, on average, you can expect to pay around $500 per year on $25,000 worth of coverage – about $12 to $15 per month.
3. Talk to Tenants
While you want to make a good impression on the landlord, you also need the landlord to make a good impression on you. The best way to find out if you really want to live in a certain property is to talk to past and current tenants. In general, you want a landlord who is courteous and safe, and who takes care of maintenance issues promptly. Ask about tenant turnover, infrastructure issues, and response times to complaints.
This is also the ideal time to ask about living expenses in the area, especially if you’re moving to a new neighborhood. Current tenants can give you a rundown of what they spend on transportation, utilities, and entertainment, as well as information about the neighborhood, such as where to eat, the location of specific school districts, and the best local amenities.
4. Do a Walk-Through
Don’t sign that lease just yet. After everything checks out and you’re happy with the apartment, location, and landlord, you should do a final walk-through before signing on the dotted line. Because previous tenants may have caused damage or maintenance issues, you need to be sure that you won’t be responsible for any issues that weren’t your fault.
Come prepared and check for the following:
- Turn on lights and faucets, and flush toilets throughout the apartment to make sure they all function properly.
- Check for rodent or insect infestation, particularly in cupboards and storage spaces. Chew marks or droppings are a major red flag.
- Bring along a cell phone charger and plug it into the outlets to make sure they all work.
- Check smoke alarms and look for fire safety equipment, such as an extinguisher in the kitchen.
- Open and close and lock and unlock doors and windows.
- Turn on all included appliances to make sure they’re working.
- Examine floors and walls for any type of damage. Carpet, hardwood, linoleum, drywall, and tiles should all be inspected.
- Take pictures of any problem areas with a digital camera and show them to the landlord. Save the file so if there are any discrepancies with maintenance or problems getting your security deposit back when you move, you have evidence to prove you didn’t cause the damage.