The day has finally come for you to move out of your parents’ house/dorm room/friend’s basement and set off on your own. While this opportunity to gain new independence is exciting, it can quickly turn into a nightmare if you don’t weigh your options thoughtfully. Take a deep breath and make sure you have a plan before diving into the apartment hunt.
1. CONSIDER THE COMMUTE.
It doesn’t matter how amazing an apartment is if you have to sit through a 90-minute commute just to get home and enjoy it. When looking for apartments, don’t forget to map out the routes between each location and your school or workplace. Start by determining a maximum travel time you’re willing to deal with. If a great apartment is just slightly farther away than you wanted, you can always test out the commute before signing the lease to see if it’s tolerable.
2. CHOOSE COMPATIBLE ROOMMATES.
Most of an apartment’s less desirable aspects can be repaired, replaced, or hidden by a strategically placed plant. In most cases, you can’t do the same with bad roommates. The quality of your life at home is directly impacted by the quality of your relationships with your roommates, so if you can’t afford to live alone choose your living companions wisely. Compare their sleeping, cleaning, and socializing habits to your own before deciding if they’d be a good fit.
3. FIGURE OUT THE LAUNDRY SITUATION.
For some people, having to leave the apartment to clean their underwear is a major deal breaker. Before embarking on your search, ask yourself if this is something you’re willing to put up with if an apartment meets the rest of your qualifications. The distance of the nearest laundromat (remember you’ll have to trek there in all types of weather!) and the cost to do your laundry each month are both things to consider if an apartment doesn’t have a washer and dryer on site.
4. SCOPE OUT THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
When you commit to a new apartment, you’re committing to a new neighborhood as well. After you’ve had a chance to check out the space, take some time to explore the area. Is there an affordable grocery store close by? Does the nearest coffee shop have ample seating and free Wi-Fi? Ideally, you should visit the neighborhood both during the day and at night to get a feel for the area at all hours.
5. ASK ABOUT UTILITES.
Finding a great apartment within your budget only to learn that you’d be spending hundreds each month on utilities is an awful feeling. When calculating what you can afford, don’t forget to include other monthly expenses like heat, electricity, and Internet. If these aren’t included in the rent, ask the landlord or current tenants what these costs amount to and how they vary throughout the year.
6. LOOK FOR WORKING HEAT AND AIR.
Older apartments everywhere seem to be plagued by this same problem: They turn into saunas in the summer and iceboxes in the winter. Ask if there’s central air in the building or if you’d have to provide an AC unit yourself (and consider how this could impact your electric bill). When accounting for the winter months, make sure there’s a thermostat you can control and ask the current tenants how reliable the heat is when you need it most.
7. GET TO KNOW YOUR LANDLORD.
No matter how perfect things seem in your apartment when you first move in, know that at some point you’ll be forced to reach out to your landlord. When this time comes, hopefully you’ll be dealing with someone who’s accessible and willing to lend you a hand. Try to get a feel for the landlord and his or her reliability before signing the lease by talking with current or former tenants or reaching out to them directly.
8. ASSESS THE BUILDING’S SAFETY.
In a perfect world, it’s your landlord’s responsibility to make sure everything in the building is up to code and as safe as possible for its tenants. But as you likely know, this isn’t always the case. Some important things to check for include functioning smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, access to a fire escape, and a well-lit entrance to the building. It’s also worth confirming with your landlord that the building has been tested for mold within the last five to 10 years and that the locks will be changed before your move.
To protect yourself and your belongings in the event of an emergency (such as fire, smoke, water damage, theft, or vandalism) make sure you have renters insurance—even if your lease doesn’t specifically require it.
9. CHECK FOR PARKING.
If you’re someone who depends on a car to get from point A to point B, it’s important to know where that car will end up once you move. Your apartment may come with free parking outside, but if there’s only one spot for three roommates, prepare to run into some issues. You could also end up having to pay for parking elsewhere. If that’s the case, factor that cost into your overall budget.
10. DON’T FORGET ABOUT YOUR PET (IF YOU HAVE ONE).
You love your pet, but your potential landlord may not feel the same way. Make sure to review an apartment’s pet policy before moving in, as it may be more complicated than simply pets or no pets. For instance, some landlords allow cats and smaller dogs but aren’t as willing to board your St. Bernard.
11. ASK IF YOU’RE ALLOWED TO DECORATE.
When you move into your first apartment, one of the first things you’ll want to do is make the space feel like your own. Some leases have specific clauses stating that landlords need to give tenants their written permission before painting or decorating. If you’re someone who loves to personalize your room, make sure to check the apartment’s decorating policy to avoid losing your security deposit.