You’ve accepted the job. Congratulations! Now, you need to find a place to live. Apartment hunting can be a daunting task. If you are searching for your first apartment in a new city, then it can be especially nerve racking. It is important to start planning and searching now before you graduate.
Typically, there are two phases to apartment hunting: 1) The Search and 2) The Decision.
Here are 3 things to consider during phase 1 – The Search:
1) Determine your budget.
First, you need to know how much you are making per month minus taxes and the monthly expenses (e.g. student loans, utilities, phone plan, etc). This will help you determine your price range. Many real estate agencies require proof of monthly income to secure an apartment; additionally, higher-priced locations may only accept candidates who make over a certain income. Do not consider apartments out of your price range.
a. Use one of these simple formulas:
Divide your monthly take-home income by 3. For example, if you take home $1,800 a month after taxes, you could afford a place that costs up to $600/month. ($1,800/3 =$600)
Divide your annual gross income (before taxes and other deductions – See post: Dissecting Your Paycheck) by 40. For example, if you make $40,000 a year, you could afford a place that cost up to $1,000/month. Either formula will give a rough estimate of your maximum budget. ($40,000/10 = $1,000)
b. Consider having a roommate. You will save on rent and utilities. Perhaps, you can share groceries too.
c. Start saving. Now! You will need money to pay application fees, a security deposit and the first and last month’s rent. You may be charged for credit checks during the application process. The management company will hold a security deposit which is refundable when complete your lease and move. If there is damage to the apartment, they will keep the deposit. Also, some companies require the first and last month’s rent. This could be several hundred to a few thousand dollars. You will need to move your personal affects to the new city. The move itself can cost between $200 and $2,000 depending upon the distance and how much you do yourself (e.g. rent a truck). These expenses can be equivalent to three month’s rent.
2) Shop and Compare.
You want to compare your needs versus wants. Make a wish list. Balcony? Pool? Near greenways or parks? What are your must-haves versus nice-to-haves? Remember, this may be your home for the next few years. Ensure peace of mind by comparing prices, options, and locations before taking the plunge.
a. Find a neighborhood. Drive or walk around the different parts of the city where you might like to live. Consider commute times, your lifestyle needs and local conveniences. Be realistic. Increase your options by researching the average cost for a 1-2 bedroom. At least 33% of the listings in the neighborhood of choice should be within your budget. If it is less, then you will have limited options. Are you going to drive or will you use public transportation?
b. Deal with a reputable company. Dealing with a larger apartment management company has its advantages as well as drawbacks. One can find convenient solutions through larger companies, but one should also be careful about companies’ claims regarding tenant needs, red tape, reliability, etc.
c. Ask about vacancy rates. If an apartment building has a large number of vacant units, chances are the building is not being managed well.
d. If it’s too good to be true, beware…it probably is.
e. Additional resources: The Internet is one of the best resources for searching for an apartment. It can give you a clear idea of what’s available before you actually go out looking for it.
Ask family and friends. Ask your network who live in the area for suggestions and advice. They have “inside” knowledge of the area. They can steer you in the right direction with your best interests in mind.
Zillow – Great resource for finding any type of real estate.
Use your Smartphone. You can use your phone’s GPS to display apartments that are nearest to your location while walking around a neighborhood that you like. Download one of the apartment search applications available for your Smartphone and use your phone to search anywhere at any time.
Google the address. Validate the location. Also, you may find some reviews on the property.
3) Visit your top picks.
Setting up a site visit with each property of choice is an important step in the apartment hunt process. You want to see and experience the property from your perspective not from what you see on the internet.
a. Tour each property. Typically, they will give you a tour of the floor plan you are seeking to rent and the main building (exercise room, pool, etc.). Observe the surrounding and recreational areas, buildings, and potential neighbors. Is the property well-maintained? Are the people friendly? Does it matter? Keep a record of each apartment you visit. Note what features are extra or missing. Take measurements of the rooms and doorways to ensure furniture fits on moving day. Turn on light switches, look inside closets, check water pressure, visit the laundry room, walk the grounds and ask neighbors what it’s like to live there. This will allow you to compare each property for a more informed decision.
b. Ask lots of questions. Who controls the heat? Are appliances included? Is smoking allowed? Are pets allowed? When is the apartment available? Will they paint before you move in? Is there a security deposit?
You’ve determined your budget, shopped and compared properties, and visited your top picks, now you’re ready to make a decision.
Come back to learn 3 additional tips for phase 2 of apartment hunting – The Decision.