So, you’ve graduated and you landed a job. Maybe it’s in your home town or maybe on the other side of the country. Regardless, you’re going to need a place a live. If your new job is in your hometown, you may decide to live with your parents to save money. Or you may decide to get place of your own. If your job is away from home, you don’t have a choice but to rent (or buy if you’ve got it like that) a place to live. Since the most likely scenario is renting, we’ll stick to that topic. This apartment shopping guide will help you through the process from searching to understanding and signing the lease.
Shopping for an apartment varies from city to city. You may have a few requirements for a place you’d be proud to call home. Thank goodness for the internet. There are several web sources to help you research the apartment that meets your requirements. To name a few:
If you’re already in the area where you plan on getting an apartment, you may also revert to doing things the old fashion way: check local newspaper ads and fliers. To get you started here is a list of some common types of apartments.
Studio (Sometimes called an Efficiency)
A studio is a one room apartment that has an open floor plan. It combines the living area, bedroom and kitchen into a single space. The bathroom is in a separate room.
Similar to a Studio, but there’s typically a corner for a bed. It’s essentially an L-shaped studio.
A loft is one large, open space room that usually doesn’t have any internal walls and features high ceilings and large windows
You can call this a slight upgraded studio since it have a separate sleeping area. But this separate area technically isn’t a room since it often times don’t have a door or windows.
A standard one-bedroom apartment has a bedroom that includes a closet and a door that closes, separating from the rest of the living space. The living space includes a separate living room area, at least one separate bathroom and a separate kitchen.
A duplex/ triplex is a building with 2 or 3 separate units or a single apartment with 2 or 3 floors. The floors are usually connected by a private, interior staircase
A convertible apartment has a layout with enough a space, usually the living room, to add another room by installing a wall or curtaining off an area.
A flat isn’t necessarily a type of apartment. But it is a term that you may encounter. Overseas, Flat is just another way of saying apartment. In the US, a flat, unlike a typical apartment building, have all the units on one level.
It’s up to you to determine how much apartment you can afford.
Adobo and Zillow have a pretty good calculator with an algorithm to help you understand how much you should pay for rent based on your monthly income and expenses (Zillow) or Yearly salary and expenses(Adobo). But ultimately the decision is yours. Only you know what your spending limits are and your requirements for living comfortably.
When you’ve narrowed down your search to a handful of apartments that may fit your living requirements, be sure to visit those places before moving, if possible. In some scenarios, where you’re moving to a completely different city or state, it may be a little more difficult to accomplish this. But I highly recommend visiting the apartment before finalizing anything. Make it a trip with family or friends. It can be a great traveling experience and an opportunity to get a feel for the area if you’ve never been. Note that most apartment complexes require you to schedule an appointment for a tour of the facility and units.
Before visiting, you should also make list of things to check, regardless of whether you’re looking at a brand new complex or older units. Some of the things you should be checking includes:
- Light switches
- air conditioner and heat
- appliances if available (fridge, oven, microwave)
- hot water
- leaks under sinks and faucets
- noise level
Ask questions on things you may be concerned about. But you may or may not get a biased answer. If you happen to catch a resident on your way out, be friendly and ask them their unbiased opinion about the apartment. Ask about the water quality, whether or not there is a pest/bug problem, proximity to public transportation, safety of the neighborhood, and anything else you can think of. It may also be a good idea to visit the area during the day and at night just to see what kind of vibes you get. While an area may seem ok during the day, it can be a different story at night.
Once you’ve pinpointed the right apartment for you, it’s time to go for it. Before signing the lease, you may subject to a credit and/or a background check. If you don’t have credit, you may be asked for proof of employment along with your authenticated offer letter or paystub to make sure you’ll be able to make rent every month.
A lot of places require upfront payment of first month and last month rent. This is in addition to a security deposit and any fees that may apply. You might be fortunate enough to be employed by a company that helps with moving expenses. If this doesn’t apply to you, saving up a decent amount of money before the move is highly recommended. As a last-ditch effort, ask the parents for a loan to cover these upfront costs. Remember, you’re a grown up now and you’ve got a big boy/girl job. So, you can actually pay them back.
Note: Some places request money order or certified cashier’s check for these upfront expenses because they can’t bounce. Money orders and cashier’s check are considered cash equivalent. Be sure to ask for a receipt.
Some apartments have promotions where they give you credit towards your rent for certain seasons, if you work for a certain company, or military. So, don’t be shy about asking about deals and promotions if you aren’t sure because the initial cost of getting an apartment can be expensive.
The first rule of signing a lease: make sure you read and double check the lease. The second rule of signing a lease: make sure you READ AND DOUBLE CHECK the lease. The annoying thing about leases is that they’re these large documents with big words written in small font. It’s almost as if they’re trying to force you not to read it. But never forget the first and second rule of signing a lease. You should at least know what you’re signing up for before you sign on the dotted line. Here are some of the main things you should look for:
Length of the Lease
Make sure the length of the lease matches what you agreed to.
This one may sound silly but also make sure the rate that you agreed to is explicitly written on the lease.
Make sure you know what is happening with your security deposit. Ask what the security deposit will be used for, under what circumstances, if any, will your security deposit not be returned and when can you expect to get it back once the lease is up. It is important to have all of this in writing.
Although it varies from state to state, the landlord may be required in a separate interest bearing account. Some states also take it a step further and require the landlord to give the tenant a receipt for the security deposit within 30 days of moving in. The receipt must show the bank where their deposit is being held and the annual interest rate.
If your apartment isn’t separately metered, the utilities (usually just water and heat) may be included in the monthly rent. Otherwise, you’ll be responsible for turning on the water, electricity and (depending on the area) gas in the unit.
Some Landlords get pressured by their own insurance companies to require tenants to have renters insurance to insure their own property against fire, theft and water damage, and other damages.
You should understand what happens if some unforeseen event was to take place and you have to leave before your lease is up. In other cases, ask about the move out procedures once your lease is up. Many leases require the resident to notify the resident of their intent a month in advance. If the resident fail to this, there may be a fee.
Ask about application or amenities fees. Some landlords may have special offers where these fees are waved, like if you’re military or working for a certain company in the city. Don’t be afraid to ask about these deals.
If your apartment is pet friendly, find out if there is a weight or breed restriction. You should also check if there is an extra fee to having a pet.
Check the rules for hanging up pictures and painting walls. Some apartments allow you to paint the walls and hang art but you must return them to their original color and condition before moving out.
Check who is responsible for fixing appliances and plumbing issues. Most apartments have a maintenance staff, some onsite and some offsite.
Near the end of the lease, it’s pretty common for property managers and landlords to show apartments to prospective tenant. Know the terms of the arrangement and whether or not you will be required to make the apartment available for open houses.
The likelihood of you subleasing your apartment may be pretty low but it doesn’t hurt to know the terms for subleasing the apartment