You’re getting ready to graduate from college, or you already have. Now you’re financially stable, and you need a place of your own but aren’t quite ready to become a homeowner. Apartments are a great transition into complete independence. The problem? Choosing one is a huge stepping stone in your life, and you have absolutely zero experience. This guide to apartment shopping is here to steer you in the right direction.
- Rent is tricky
The price of an apartment is often the biggest deciding factor in the apartment hunting process. It must fit your budget in order to even be considered. Sound easy enough, right? Not exactly. The apartment leasing process is exactly the same as making any large purchase; your credit report will be pulled to determine your eligibility. Renters will not only look at your credit score, but your rental history and income as well.
Let’s say you and your roommate can afford to split a $1500 rent between both of you. However, depending on the management overseeing the complex, there may be a minimum income requirement that will determine whether or not you are allowed to rent from them. For example, a lot of places require that their tenants make three times the monthly amount or they are automatically denied. And that pretty much sucks. However, a parent, relative or really anyone whom you trust that makes the minimum requirement can apply and become a co-signer or guarantor on your lease, which will help you secure the apartment you want. Keep in mind, though, that most complexes require that the added applicant make five to six times more than the monthly rent.
If this sounds scary, don’t give up just yet. There are some alternatives. Other properties still have the income requirement; however, if you don’t meet the specified amount, they won’t deny you the ability to rent. They may just ask for a higher security deposit (which is oftentimes refundable).
- Don’t judge a book by its cover
This means exactly what it sounds like. The photos on an apartment complex’s website do not determine the quality of the property, the location, or even the management. You should always schedule a tour, whether it’s with someone on-site, self-guided or virtual, in order to get a feel for the environment and make a solid judgment. In this case, you have to see it to believe it.
- Who are the property managers?
Speaking of management, whoever’s in charge can make or break a complex. Whether you’re emailing or speaking on the phone, is the manager professional? Are they attentive? Or do they ask you to re-schedule a tour — after confirming a time with them — because it’s going to push back their lunch break? If you ever have any issues or questions living on their property, you’d want the management to be on your side and be as helpful as possible, right? Exactly.
If you tour on-site with a manager, take note of how quickly they take you through the property. They may be rushing to keep you from finding a broken light switch or a dripping faucet. However, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Flag that complex before seriously considering them as an option.
Beauty isn’t everything. But be wary of red flags. It’s important to get details on the groundwork. Ask the manager when the property was built and when or if it was renovated. This will give you an idea of how well the plumbing, electricity and structure hold up. Make note of the exterior landscape and building paint job, because these will indicate how much the complex company owners care about the property.
When examining the actual apartment, use your senses as your gauge.
• What does the apartment look like? Be on the lookout for stains on the floors, cracks in the ceiling, and discoloration in the sinks, toilets and showers.
• Are there any odd smells? Does the apartment smell like it just got a fresh coat of paint? Sometimes managers use paint to cover up grime in the bathroom.
• How loud is the surrounding area? Listen for traffic and neighbors. Are the walls thin or is it located close to a highway?
You should always ask if appliances are included in the unit you are interested in. They might charge extra for rent and label it as an upgraded apartment. Be aware that most model apartments are the most expensive option available to tenants. The beautiful granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and custom kitchen backsplash you see might come at a higher price.
- Hidden costs
When you look at apartment prices, you’re looking at a cut-and-dry rent price. There may be all kinds of extra monthly fees you can only find by scheduling a tour or meeting with the complex. Here are some examples:
• Pest control
• Valet trash
On top of these fees, you still have to pay a water bill, electric bill, internet service and renter’s insurance monthly. If an apartment complex wants to charge a monthly parking fee, reconsider them as an option.
Let’s not forget about one-time fees that each lease applicant needs to pay individually. Some complexes charge a fee for apartment keys and gate clickers once and replace them if you lose them with no charge.
These fees might not be so hidden, but they’re definitely new to someone who hasn’t encountered these costs when living on campus or in student housing.
Taking a big adult step like renting your own apartment can be exciting and scary. Seeking out resources and advice from people can only take you so far. Sometimes you have to live it to learn it. Ask a lot of questions and ensure you are absolutely ready to rent. Happy hunting!