A Guide for Renting Your First Apartment

Follow this checklist to make sure you're satisfied with everything from the cost to laundry facilities.

A Guide for Renting Your First Apartment
Getty ImagesA rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30 percent of your income on rent.
By Niccole Schreck

Finding your first apartment is an exciting milestone. You finally have a space all your own to do whatever you want -- whether it's decorating your living room in leopard print or hosting a dinner party for all your friends. But as with many firsts, your first apartment hunt can be overwhelming and stressful. This step-by-step guide can help you navigate the search and find the perfect first place.

1. Establish your rental budget. The last thing you want to do is get stuck in an apartment you can't afford, so it's important to set a budget and stick to it. A general rule of thumb is that you should never pay more than 30 percent of your take-home pay on housing, including utilities, Internet and cable. If you have limited funds and are finding it difficult to find an apartment within your budget, you may want to consider getting a roommate to share expenses.

2. Determine which neighborhoods work for you. You should feel safe and happy in your neighborhood. Think about what you need (for example, grocery store, gym, public transportation) and how far you're willing to travel for it. If you're not working nearby, you'll also need to consider your commute to and from the office.

3. List your must-have apartment amenities. Before you start your apartment search, determine which amenities are must-haves and which are conveniences you can live without. Keep in mind that you may need to make some concessions to stay within your budget. Some common must-have apartment amenities include on-site or in-unit laundry, a dishwasher, parking spot (or two if you have a roommate), an outdoor space, air conditioning, fitness center or community pool.

4. Start your rental search. Once you know what you're looking for and how much you can afford, start searching for apartments. Contact properties that seem like a good fit to set up appointments for tours.

5. Tour apartments that meet your search criteria and budget. This is your potential home, so treat your first visit like an inspection. Turn on all the faucets to make sure the pressure is to your liking and gauge how long it takes for water to heat up. Check the locks on the doors and windows of the apartment to ensure they work properly. Bring along a phone charger so you can check that all the outlets are working. If there is laundry on-site, ask to see the facility to make sure it is conveniently located and you feel safe.

Remember you will be making a first impression on a potential landlord, so be sure you look presentable and show up to apartment tours on time.

6. Be prepared to fill out a rental application and pay a small fee. When you go to view apartments, you should be prepared to fill out a rental application, especially if you live in a city with a rental market where apartment shopping is competitive. Bring your checkbook for the application fee, a check stub to prove your income and a photo ID.

7. Read your apartment lease (and make sure you understand it) before you sign on the dotted line. When you find a great apartment, you may be tempted to just go ahead and sign, but not carefully reading your apartment lease can lead to trouble down the road. It's a legal document that shouldn't be taken lightly.

As you read through your apartment lease, make sure it answers the following questions:
  • Are pets allowed, and if so, is there a deposit or pet rent required?
  • Are there restrictions on the number of roommates?
  • What is the apartment maintenance process?
  • Are you allowed to make any customizations, like hanging shelves or painting walls?
  • Which utilities are you responsible for paying?
  • What are the consequences of breaking your lease before the term is up?
If any of these questions are unanswered, ask your new landlord to put the answers in writing before you sign the lease.

You should also make sure any pre-existing damage to the apartment is detailed in your lease so you aren't held responsible when you move out. Take time-stamped photos to document any damage as well. You don't want to be liable for the dents and dings and lose your security deposit.

Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for rent.com, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and provides tips on how to move.

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There's a lot more to be aware of than just this.
-If this is a very small complex or a cluster of just a few townhomes or duplexes, check to see if the laundry room, parking lot, carport (any common area) has a separate electric meter. If these areas don't, ask how it's being paid for to make sure it's not hooked up to the electric power in unit you want to rent. Otherwise, you could find yourself with a bigger electric bill than you expected.
-Realistically, if someone is still living in the unit and they are there when you look at it, you probably aren't going to be able to test every outlet, run the water, flush the toilet, etc. like the article says.
-Read the rental agreement very carefully before signing. Some rental agreements ban all musical instruments, not just pianos. Some rental agreements don't allow you to put anything on the windows except what's already there from the landlord. There could be some other restrictions that you can't live with so read everything.
-Find out where your parking spot is. It might not always be right near your apartment. Sometimes there are apartments that only have few parking spots and you have to pay extra to have one of those spots.
-Find out what the crime rate is in the area.
-Look at the windows and doors, especially sliding glass door. Are these double glass or not? It could make a big difference in your heating/electric bill.
-Pay attention to noise levels, not only in the apartment building and outside it, but things like is there a noisy business nearby? Are there railroad tracks nearby?
-If you are going to rely on public transportation, check how often it operates. There may be a bus, for example, but maybe it doesn't come down that route on weekends or the schedule is non-existent or infrequent before or after a certain timeframe.

May 15 2014 at 5:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply