4 Questions to Ask Yourself When Looking for an Apartment

It’s time to move on from your current pad to start anew. Maybe you’re moving out of the dorm and into your first “real” apartment. Or you could finally be ready to ditch your roommates (mom, dad or that weird person you met on Craigslist). Finding a new apartment can be stressful no matter where you're moving to or from. Blair Brandt, CEO of The Next Step Realty, a real estate brokerage firm in New York City that focuses on millennials, gave us his top tips on what questions to ask and how to painlessly look for an apartment.

1. What is my realistic budget? 

Let's face it: you might have unrealistic expectations for your monthly budget. Even if this isn’t your first time renting an apartment, it's still important to evaluate and re-evaluate your budget.

Brandt stresses the importance of being budget conscious. “Don’t overspend right out of the gate,” he says. “Have a clear understanding of what your budget is and what your preferences are.” Brandt also notes that the quality of your apartment varies based on where you’re located. The type of apartment you get in New York City for a certain amount of money will be different than an apartment in Dallas for that same price.

Also make sure to have some cash on hand. Isabel Calkins, a senior at New York University, recommends having anywhere from $40 to $100. "Things move very quickly in a big city environment, so you have to be ready to commit," she says. "Either way, get ready to shell out first and last months' rent up front and a security deposit." Don't forget to include these costs in your budget as well—you should consider more than just your monthly rent before signing a lease.

Related: The Ultimate Packing List for Your First Apartment

2. What does my timeline look like? 

Timing is everything when it comes to looking for an apartment. This is especially true if you are relocating to a new city. Brandt claims that people often forget about this aspect when recent graduates are looking for an apartment in the city they are moving to.

“Kids will visit a city too soon or when properties aren’t available,” Brandt says. “Make sure you pick a good time to move in based on your start date.” Brandt recommends moving in two weeks before your first day so you can get a feel for your new neighborhood. Even if you don't have a job lined up before your move, be sure to start looking a month or so before you move in.

Isabel notes that this depends on what city you are moving to. "That's because the market changes so quickly," she says. "Once you are in the city you are moving to and it's a month before, look online at sites like Streeteasy, if in New York City, or the equivalent."

If you have the funds to do so, Isabel also recomends picking a week to go to as many apartment showings as possible. Paying attention to the market and getting the help of a professional broker or real estate agent will also help you determine the best times to be looking for that new place. You’ll especially want the help of a local if you’re moving far from your current home. “Real estate is local in nature,” Brandt says. “Each city has differences in its marketplace which is why speaking with a professional can help guide you.” Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Speaking of help, enlist a friend or family member to visit listings with you. Samantha Burke, a recent graduate of Siena College, recommends asking any family members local to the area to look at apartments for you, if they can. If that's not possible, you could ask to FaceTime with the landlord if you aren't available to see the apartment in person.

3. Do I have all my paperwork? 

Renting an apartment will require lots of paperwork, and not all of it will be coming from you. While it’s important to have a good credit score, most landlords will require young new renters to have a parent or guardian on file or even on the lease itself. This is essential because they want to have proof of income for the past two to three years on file. Don’t worry; your parents don’t necessarily need to be a part of the transaction financially if you don’t want them to be. “Finding a place is just the beginning, making sure you get that place is a secondary aspect and depends on the types of credentials you show up with,” Brandt says. Besides proof of employment, you’ll also need your credit score and tax returns or bank statements.

While you have to bring your fair share of paperwork, your landlord will bring the other half—AKA the lease. Kaitlin Manion, a graduate student at Temple University, recommends taking the time to read the fine print of your lease. "Read the lease in full," she says. "It can be boring, but you will find out exactly what you're responsible for and see what your landlord is responsible for." This way, there won't be any surprises down the road.

Scams are rampant on the web with people posting listings that don't exist or lying about the way the apartment looks. This is why having a second pair of eyes, or even eyes on the ground is helpful! Samantha was able to avoid the numerous scams she came across when apartment hunting online. "I started googling all of the addresses I found for rent, and found many of them were actually for sale and someone had ripped the pictures and descriptions and listed it as a rental instead," she says. Samantha contacted one of these listings and the person told her he used an online site for rent and deposits. It doesn't hurt to have someone else take a look at your lease or even the initial listing. Her uncle read over this listing and found that it sounded like a scam he had heard of before. It's better to be safe than sorry. 

4. What are my priorities?  

While that loft space might have some great ceilings, it’s actually quite a bit farther from your office. That three-bedroom apartment might have tons of space, but it comes with four roommates. The perfect apartment or living situation isn’t going to just happen. You have to prioritize what is most important to you. Would you rather save some money and live with roommates, or maybe rent a smaller place that’s farther from work?

These are all things to think about and rank in order of importance. This will help you make more informed decisions before signing that lease. Hopefully your process is smooth, but for most, Brandt notes there are usually a few road bumps. “Kids should understand moving is going to be exciting, but with that is adjustment and change,” he says. First apartments aren't necessarily always the best apartments.

Isabel notes not to have high expectations for your first place. "For me, I got a great location in Soho but it's a three-bedroom and a sixth-floor walk up, which sucks," she says. "Pick which things are important to you and go from there." Don’t worry about finding the perfect place, worry about finding the right place for in your current situation. 

Renting an apartment can mean newfound freedom and a change of scenery. Finding your new place will come with its anxieties, but that doesn’t mean you can’t attack the process head on. Remember to prioritize what is most important to you, keep your budget and ego in check and communicate with your parents. You’ll be on your way to signing a new lease in no time, and instead focusing on what new IKEA purchases to make

Emily is a recent graduate of Pace University where she studied communications. When she's not drinking tea she spends her time reading, re-reading, writing, re-writing, watching and re-watching. She can typically be found at the gym crushing weights with the bros or cooking something ridiculous.

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