Getting your first real apartment is exciting… even if it’s with a roommate (or two). Honestly, anything is better than living with your parents—and even if you have spent a few years living in a dorm room, having an actual apartment is a whole different story. But there is a big difference between searching available apartments online, dreaming of how you can afford the luxurious ones that are way out of your budget, and actually going to see the ones you can afford, talking to landlords, and forking over the money.
When looking for an apartment…
Know ahead of time what are your non-negotiable’s are for an apartment. Do you want a place with a pool? Do you need to be near a school or work? Do you need a laundry and washing machine in the building, or are you okay going to a laundry mat? If they don’t have the few things you absolutely require, or aren’t within your budget, don’t bother touring them. It will only make the process longer and unnecessarily difficult.
Don’t just rely on Craigslist. Don’t limit yourself to using just one site; there are so many out there! Explore your options, but also don’t get carried away with trying to find one online. Apartment hunting is like Tinder, you can spend as much time as you want on your phone, swiping through your options, but if you want anything to actually happen, you’re going to need to put the phone down and make some legitimate, face-to-face plans. Searching online helps you to scope out the budget you will be looking at—maybe narrow it down to specific neighborhoods in the city you want to live in. Then take it from there.
REMEMBER: Looks can be deceiving… especially if you are looking at something online. You know that girl who uses so much makeup and filters that she is barely recognizable in person? Apartments can be the same way.
Start saving early. If you’re on a budget, and let’s be serious, if you’re in college you should be on a budget, you want to try to find rent that is somewhere between 20-30% of your income… especially if you have expenses like debt to take into consideration and student loans.
Keep in mind that there are going to be other expenses to pay upfront. Most places for rent will ask for first and last month’s rent and/or a security deposit. But there are also other fees you have to be careful for, such as broker’s fees, application fee, etc. Then you also need to factor in utilities for cable, electricity, water, etc. Even the costs of new furniture, hiring movers, etc.
Know that prices do vary depending on the time of year you are looking to rent. College towns, for example, will typically increase rental prices of apartments in beginning summer months when school is out. Summer in general is a month you want to avoid enting if possible.
When looking for a roommate…
Sometimes living with a friend can be a bad idea. But that thought of living with a stranger is scary. Either way, don’t be afraid to ask around—you never know who you know that might know somebody that has a room for rent, needs a roommate, etc. If it is a stranger, obviously make plans to meet them ahead of time. Make it a point to ask them just as many questions as the landlord. Know what there schedule is going to be like and whether or not it would conflict with yours, how often you would both be home, etc.
Make sure you have been as thorough as possible with the landlord about the terms of your lease. Are there any hidden fees or charges you will be stuck paying that you have been unaware of? Who do you go to with work orders if something breaks? What happens if you need to break your lease? Can you have a pet? Are you allowed to paint the walls?
Have your paperwork ready. It may seem intimidating to fill out a rental application, but it’s really not that complicated. You’ll be asked to provide I.D. (a driver’s license, passport or student I.D. should be fine), proof of income (like pay stubs and bank statements), and perhaps even tax returns.