High walkability, access to hiking trails, near a large body of water with an open, clean layout constitutes my idea of the perfect apartment. However, we all have personal tastes when it comes to the perfect pad, and oftentimes, it can be hard to pin down exactly what we need in a space … not to mention how to find it.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, your monthly rent should remain below 20 percent of your monthly income. This equates to about $1,200 toward rent if you make $4,000 a month, which is a little on the high side if you want some wiggle room with your budget, but may fare well if you plan on having a roommate.
Also be sure to factor in utility costs and determine if they’re included in the rent or if you have to pay an additional sum. Add in these costs to any additional living expenses such as groceries, gas and phone bills using a budgeting platform such as Mint in order to quickly discover how much money you’ll have left over at the end of each month. Mint can also be used as an app that will send you budget alerts and updates when you’re nearing your budget.
Be sure to also keep in mind security deposit costs and down payments, as these can vary and might make or break whether you can actually get into the apartment of your choice.
Affordability and convenience factors typically go hand-in-hand when it comes to apartments. For instance, if you want to live in a one-bedroom flat in the middle of downtown in a large city, you should be prepared to pay around twice the amount as opposed to a one-bedroom apartment in a surrounding suburb outside of the city. Of course, transportation factors into the equation; if you’re using mainly public, you might be able to afford a higher price tag since you’ll be avoiding vehicle costs. On the other hand, if you own a car, you may save quite a bit by venturing outside of the city in your search.
Search for Safety
Sites like Trulia.com and Zillow.com list apartments based on filters of your choice, such as by price and rooms. While you’re browsing, you can view them on a map and determine how far they are from your work and school. However, one overlooked feature on these sites is the Crime feature, which allows you to click on “Crimes” in order to see where the listing falls on the map. If the listing area is colored green, crime is very low. If the listing is orange or red, crime is relatively common in the area. The feature even allows you to view what types of crimes have taken place in the area, such as robberies and/or murders.
Visit the Neighborhood
Once you’ve discovered a few options online, be sure to visit the area before scheduling an appointment with the landlords in order to get a feel for the place. If the location is too far from you to take a tour, search online for a video tour of the place. If they don’t have one, request it or additional photos; trust me, promotional photos can be very misleading.
If you can visit, it helps to see firsthand the street you’ll be living on and any surrounding shops or stores, whether the area is quiet or congested and if they have any local features you’re looking for (hiking trails, tennis courts, etc …).
Also, be sure to talk to tenants, if you can, either while you’re visiting or online in forums. This is a great way to gain perspective of not just the apartment, but the area as well.
Schedule a Walkthrough
Once you schedule a walkthrough, be sure to start listing questions to bring with you. Important questions include:
How long did the last tenant stay?
How old are all of the appliances?/ Do they work?
Am I allowed to paint/put nails in for hanging wall art?
What utilities are included?
Who will be responsible for maintenance and repairs?
Of course, if you’re speaking to the landowner most of these questions will always be met with a positive answer; after all, they want you to rent the apartment. The true point of these questions is to take notice if any of them cause the landowner to hesitate, become uncomfortable or change the subject. Keep your eyes and ears peeled and your intuition open.
During the walkthrough is also the time to be imaginative. Ask yourself if you can style this apartment to your liking, and if the layout and design appeals to you. Let your creative genius flow.
Sign the Lease
This seems like a no-brainer, but be sure to thoroughly read through your lease, and don’t be afraid to ask questions before signing. Also, if you see something you don’t like or didn’t know was a part of the deal, don’t be pressured into signing through guilt of taking up the landowner’s time; remember, you aren’t obligated to the landowner or the apartment until you’ve signed.
Broken down into steps, apartment hunting goes from a seemingly intricate task to a non-complicated venture. Be prepared with your documents, ask questions and be observant. Before you know it, you’ll be lounging in your own perfect pad.