If you're new to renting, this post will provide some helpful tips on finding the perfect place and advice on preparing to sign your first lease!
Draw Up a Budget
Finances are a topic of concern for most students, so if you're looking for an apartment, you've probably already established a ballpark figure for what you can afford. But when budgeting your move, be thorough and factor in essential expenses beyond rent, utilities, food, etc. For example, think about expensive school supplies. Even if you've earned a scholarship to pay for some of your school expenses, your rent should be manageable enough to set aside money for things like textbooks, laptops, and accessories.
If renting an apartment will put you over your budget, consider getting a roommate(s) to split the expenses. Sometimes, finding a great roommate is as easy as asking around with friends. If there's no luck with that, there are usually plenty of message boards on social media where roommates can find each other.
Gather the Essentials
Rental requirements often vary between landlords, apartments, and state laws. Once you've narrowed down your apartment choices, you can obtain more details about what they specifically require, but to get a head start, it's a good idea to gather the following:
• Reliable references, particularly from people who can vouch that you're a responsible person. Try employers, professors, lab supervisors, etc.
• Your credit report. You may need to arrange for a co-signer if your score isn't high enough to qualify for signing a lease alone.
• Proof of income like bank statements and paycheck stubs.
Research Neighborhoods and Rental Properties
There are a vast number of ways to find apartments online and many resources for researching neighborhoods, especially helpful if you're moving to another state or a city you don't know much about. Think about how close you'll be to the gas station, grocery store, and public transportation. How long will the commute be? Do you know how safe the neighborhood is?
If you can, visit the area in person at different times of the day and evening. Often, it's easier to tell what a neighborhood is really like if you tour it in person.
Ask Lots of Questions When Touring Apartments
Once you have some possibilities in mind, make appointments to tour the properties. If you can't be there in person, most apartments offer a virtual option where you can speak to the property manager or landlord. When touring your potential new apartment, there are several questions you should ask upfront to prevent complications later:
• Are utilities included with the rent?
• When is the rent due, and what is the best way to pay it?
• How long is the lease?
• Do you allow pets?
• What are the parking policies?
• What amenities does the complex have? Are there laundry facilities, an on-site gym, etc?
• What are the maintenance policies?
• What are the guidelines for making alterations to the apartment for decorative purposes such as painting?
• Can the landlord enter without permission- or at least without giving you a heads-up?
Note: Most states require landlords to give at least 24 hours' notice before entering a tenant's premises unless it's an emergency, but some exceptions exist. For example, landlords of apartments in Boise, ID, are under no obligation to provide notice before entering. Be sure to clarify their policy upfront with the property owner/management. This could help avoid potentially awkward encounters later, and it may sway your decision to move on and find a different place.
Before You Sign a Lease, Double-Check the Fees
Most apartments come with several fees tenants must pay in addition to the rent. These may (or may not) include:
• Application Fees
• First Month's Rent and Security Deposit
• Administrative Fees
• Move-In and Move-Out Fees
• Parking Fees
• Pet Fees
It's important to know what you can expect to pay and what you're entitled to get back, such as your security deposit and pet deposit. While a few fees are typical across properties, some vary depending on location and necessity.
Do a Walk-Through of Your Apartment Before Moving In
Once you've done the legwork, chosen your perfect place, and signed on the dotted line, you have the right to verify the apartment is ready for you to move in. Test the door locks, light fixtures, and the hardware on doors and cabinets to ensure everything is in working order. Make sure it's thoroughly cleaned; if not, consider asking the landlord to hire a cleaner before you move in.
Home Sweet Home
Like going to college, moving into your first apartment is an exciting, significant milestone of adulthood. If you're a student, we hope the advice above helps you find the perfect place to relax, study, and make great memories!