Beginning your first apartment search can be a daunting task. That’s why this post will tell you everything you need to know to find your perfect apartment.
Finding your perfect apartment is a challenging task. You need to find a space that is in the area you want, has enough space to meet your needs, matches your style, and is within your price range. When I started searching for my first apartment, I felt like I would never find the right apartment. I spent weeks upon weeks searching through every apartment search site and touring apartments before I found the right one.
If you’re looking to streamline your search process, this post will help point you in the right direction. While searching and touring is part of the process, the best use of your time will be looking at places you would actually want to rent. That may sound obvious, but sometimes you might think that you’re interested in a certain apartment only to find that you don’t like the location or it doesn’t allow pets.
By the end of this post, you will know all the best apartment search tips that you will need to find your perfect new home! Without further ado, let’s jump into everything you need to know to streamline your apartment search.
This post is all about the apartment search tips that will help you find your dream apartment!
Best Apartment Search Tips:
1. Make a list of your non-negotiables for your apartment search.
We all have things in life that are dealbreakers. When it comes to searching for your apartment, it is important that you establish what your non-negotiables are. This can range from cost to location to being pet friendly to having a bathtub. Make sure you write everything that comes to mind down. Don’t leave anything out. Even if you think that you won’t find an apartment that meets all your criteria, it’s better to establish what you want up front to see if you can find something that meets every mark.
Once you make your list, rank each item from top priority to low priority. While you will ideally find something that checks every box, you may have to give on something. It’s important to reflect on which items on your list will make your apartment most comfortable as opposed to things that would be nice to have.
If you are doing this exercise with your partner or a roommate, make sure both people’s needs and wants are considered. When I did this exercise with my boyfriend, we each made our own list and rankings, and then we combined the list and agreed on the final rankings.
By the end of this exercise, you should have a clear vision of what you’re looking for in an apartment. This vision will guide the rest of your apartment search, so make sure you feel 100% confident with your list and rankings!
2. Determine you budget for your apartment search.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what your non-negotiables are, it’s time to think about budget. I highly recommend that you check-out my post on apartment expenses, so you can understand all the expenses that will come with your apartment. Long story short though, you will be paying a lot more than just rent. Think pet fees, utilities, community fees, Wifi, renter’s insurance, and more.
Unfortunately, most searches will only let you look at rent prices, so I recommend making a budget that include the maximum amount you want to spend on all apartment expenses and then subtract $100-$200 to get the amount you would pay for rent. For example, if I knew I could only afford to pay $1,200 a month for housing related expenses, I would aim to find an apartment that has a rent of $1,000 a month, so I can afford the many other costs that are associated with living in an apartment.
When it comes to determining the amount you can afford to pay each month for your apartment, I recommend you spend 30% of your take home pay. While many sources recommend 30% of your gross pay, I feel like I have much more leeway when I estimate based on my take home pay. Since there are so much taken out of my paychecks for taxes, insurance, and retirement, my take home pay is very different than my gross pay. By only renting an apartment that is 30% of my take home pay, I can feel confident every month that I can pay for all the essentials and still have some to save.
3. Identify your apartment search boundary.
Location is EVERYTHING when it comes to finding the perfect apartment. Where you live determines how much time you will spend in traffic and how easily you can access a grocery store, restaurants, parks, and other important amenities.
I recommend starting with the location of your job. While a lot of people can work from home now, if you think you will need to return to an office at some point, I recommend trying to find a place close to your office. You don’t want to rent a place an hour away from your job and then have your boss tell you that you need to come into the office five days a week.
Another factor you will want to consider is how you plan to get around. If you have a car, living further away from things may not be an issue. If you prefer to take transit and/or walk places, you need to be in an area that is close to most of the places you plan on going. I recommend making a map of all the places that you most commonly go. Think about your job, the grocery store, your favorite restaurant, doctors you need to see, and parks you like. Then, see if there are any clusters on the map. If there are, that’s an easy way to establish your search boundary.
In the event that there are no clusters (unlikely, but it can happen), see if there is a central point that is in between most of the places you go. If there is, that is another optimal search boundary. Additionally, if you know the city that you are apartment searching in well, take into account your favorite places to spend time. That can help you identify a good neighborhood to look in.
4. Start searching for an apartment online.
Now you know what you are looking for in an apartment, you have a budget, and you know the location you want your apartment to be in, you can finally start your search. I recommend starting your search online, so you aren’t aimlessly touring apartments that don’t meet your needs.
While it will vary from place to place, here are a few that I’ve had success with in my experience:
- HotPads: = I LOVE HotPads. I found a lot of affordable apartments on HotPads that were really nice. I would definitely check it out for your city to see if you can find any good listings.
- Loftium: This is an unusual listing site. Loftium is a company that will help you find an affordable single-family home to rent, but in exchange for the affordable rent, you have to run an AirBnB on the property. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, I highly recommend you check it out!
- Trulia: Trulia is one of my favorite apartment search sites! It has a lot of variety, it’s easy to filter options, and you can draw a boundary around your search area. One of the things that makes this site truly unique is that it includes TONS of information on the surrounding neighborhood which is an important consideration for your apartment.
If you are struggling to find a good search engine, also check out reddit forums for your city. Sometimes there are great suggestions! Once you find a search engine, filter the results by your criteria. Make a short list of your favorites that you would like to tour.
5. Tour your favorite apartments.
Now that you’ve found apartments that meet most of your criteria it’s time to tour them in person! Never, and I mean NEVER, sign a lease on an apartment without seeing it in person. People online can easily manipulate pictures and/or scam you, so make sure that the apartment you are signing a lease on actually exists.
Before you tour, I recommend making a list of questions to ask when you tour the apartments. If you need help on thinking of questions to ask, here are a few to get you started:
- What is the average cost of utilities per month?
- Are there any additional fees that I’ll be charged?
- How long would my lease before?
- Are there any pet fees?
- How much will the deposit be?
- Why did the previous residents move?
- Do you get a lot of noise complaints?
- How does package delivery work?
- Do you require renter’s insurance?
- Who manages the apartment?
- Does the management company take care of maintenance when something breaks?
- What amenities are included in rent?
- What is the apartment’s parking policy?
- Does the apartment offer any community sponsored events?
- What internet companies are compatible with the apartment complex?
- Where is the closest grocery store?
- What is your policy for breaking a lease?
Honestly, there are TONS of questions you can ask when you tour. I recommend asking any questions you have on your mind when you tour. Also, refer back to your non-negotiables and come up with some questions that are related to those. Remember, touring is your chance to see if you can envision yourself living at the apartment, so make it count!
6. Choose your apartment and sign the lease.
Making your final decision is by far the hardest part of the apartment search process. You may have one apartment that you toured that really stood out from the rest. If that’s the case, then you have it easy. Sign the lease with that apartment. However, if you have two or three you really liked, and you can’t decide which one to go with, here a some tips to help you decide.
First, it is very important that you stick to your list of non-negotiables. Which of the apartments met the most of the top ranked criteria? If there is clearly one that stands out, ask yourself why you are on the fence about going with that apartment. Was there something during the tour that didn’t live up to your expectation? Is that item a dealbreaker? If it is consider the apartment that was the second highest and ask the same question.
If there are two that are tied, consider what your intuition is telling you. Is there one you like a little more, but you can’t pinpoint why? In most cases, going with your gut instinct will help you make the right decision, even if you don’t have a logical reason to back up your decision.
Finally, if it helps, make pro and con lists for the apartments you liked. Choose the apartment with the most pros, and you’ll have a decision.
Remember that while a lease is a big commitment, it is temporary. Even if you sign a lease and you don’t like it, you can get out of it, or find a better place next time. Plus, after you’ve put in all this time and effort into researching and touring apartments, chances are you can’t go wrong with either of your top two picks!