Post-Grad Help: How to Find An (Affordable!) Apartment

Welcome to life after college, Post-Grad. It’s time to tackle problems bigger than waking up for class or cramming for finals. But don’t be scared – you’re not alone! This year, you join an estimated 976,000 women expected to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from a college or university, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Like those other post-collegiettes, you get to make important decisions, such as choosing a job you enjoy or finding the perfect place to live. It’s a task that many graduates are often unprepared for, says Blair Brandt, CEO of The Next Step Realty, a network that helps graduates find their first homes. From not knowing the layout of a city to having unrealistic price expectations, the search for a new place will hit you with curveballs. HC is here to give you tips on how to find an affordable place to live after graduation – something a textbook can’t teach.

How can I make the process easy and affordable?

1. Use the Internet and word of mouth.
Fire up your laptop and visit sites such as Trulia, Zillow, Craigslist (beware of scams!) and StreetEasy. These pages offer property reviews by locals, crime reports for an area, price trends and more. Carrie Morris, a graduate of the Art Institute of Boston, says she uses Padmapper, another helpful site that filters apartments by price and number of rooms.

Before you search online, however, try to connect with old friends or family members who are familiar with the area. “For bigger cities, such as Tampa or Atlanta, you will need to determine the particular area you are interested in to narrow your search and avoid being overwhelmed,” says Katie Rizzo, a 2011 University of Florida graduate. Rizzo asked friends for lists of safe neighborhoods and apartment complexes to help her make the transition from small college town to urban city.

2. Know your budget.
Post-grad life isn’t like a game of Monopoly – you don’t have money to throw around. As a general rule, set aside one-third of your monthly salary for rent. Let’s crunch numbers: if you make $35,000 per year, you should aim to spend between $950 and $1,000 each month on rent. Brandt says in places such as New York City, landlords require your salary be at least 40 times your monthly rent. In most cases, though, your parents can add their names to the lease to back you financially.

If you’re concerned about budgeting, don’t panic. Free programs such as Learnvest (which lets you create and track a customizable monthly budget) and Splitwise (which calculates how to divide expenses among roommates) can help. And remember, current collegiettes: it’s never too early to start planning. Look at price ranges of properties in your location of choice during fall of your senior year. If you have a job or receive an allowance from your parents, create a fund for your future apartment. Deposit money monthly into a savings account and watch the numbers add up.

3. Consider using a realtor.
One of the biggest mistakes Brandt sees is when graduates attempt to hunt for a new place without help. Realtors guide you through the lease signing process, explaining everything from the paperwork you need (tax forms, bank statements, recent pay stubs, employment verification letters, driver’s licenses and more) to how to close a deal. Basically, they represent your rights as a tenant. Find your perfect realtor through Craigslist postings, referrals from friends or co-workers and local print ads. “If you find the right realtor, they’re actually really excited to help you,” Brandt says.

Brandt recommends signing up with a realtor 90 days before a move so you can discuss your price range and criteria for your new apartment. Without real estate training, you can’t be expected to understand every detail of a lease. This can lead to confusion and legal problems. “It can be something as simple as not checking the right box that says your water will be paid for,” Brandt says. “There are 100 little details that a broker can go through in 20 minutes.”

The downside of hiring realtors? A fee of one month’s rent or one-half month’s rent is usually attached to their services. You may be able to get around it, though: Brandt’s company, for example, matches clients and brokers for free in many of the big cities it covers. It also offers discounts for brokers in cities where its services are not complimentary. Finally, ask your parents for guidance. Believe it or not, they once were young adults starting out in the world, and they likely remember how hard it was to find their first place.