Whether you’re a first-time renter or already have experience living on your own, it’s important to go over some basics when scouting out potential apartments.
Otherwise, you risk having to live with certain unpleasantries, some of which can’t be changed after you’ve moved in. We’re here to help guide you through the process—here’s what to consider before you sign that lease.
Figure Out Your Budget
First, think about what you can realistically afford. There might be a fantastic apartment calling to your soul, with breathtaking views and a luxurious pool, but unfortunately, your bank account might say no-can-do.
Your rent should account for about a third of your yearly income. This is what most landlords require, with some wanting to see a 4:1 income-to-rent ratio. So if your rent is $1,000/month, you might need to show that you make $4,000 a month.
If you’re a student, using your parents or a relative as a co-signer will take care of this. But if you don’t have financial help, you’ll need to show this proof of income yourself (usually with paystubs or your recent tax return).
You should also take into account move-in costs, such as the security deposit, first month’s rent, application fee, and any other fees. Ask about all required costs up front, making sure you have the funds to get your foot in the door.
Sometimes, apartment complexes offer incredible deals, such as “first month free” and other incentives. Definitely snag one of these if you find one!
Are Utilities Included (and If Not, How Much Are They)?
Get a list of what’s included with the rent, and what you’ll have to pay for on your own. Here’s an example of some standard utilities and costs associated with renting (keep in mind that some of these services may include activation fees):
- Garbage pickup
- Renter’s insurance (some landlords require this)
Getting that 3,000-square-foot apartment might sound perfect for setting up your pool table and having big parties, but the electric bill might be through the roof. It’s better to settle for a smaller apartment, saving your money for other expenses.
If utilities are not included, the apartment manager or other people living in the complex or building should be able to tell you what you can expect to pay.
Some complexes offer it all—pool, hot tub, tennis courts, outdoor grilling areas, an indoor gym, you name it. It’s like a mini resort, right at home. Unfortunately, fancier amenities often means steeper rental costs.
If you honestly think you’ll use all of these amenities, then it might be worth it. Calculate the cost of a gym membership, buying a mini grill, driving to a nearby tennis court, and so on. If having it all at your apartment complex will save on money and time, then go for it. But if you know you’ll rarely use that pool, then you should pass.
Make Sure Things Work
Make sure the basic things work, such as the microwave, fridge, dishwasher, and freezer.
Some apartments have a designated space for a washer and dryer—you’re lucky if these are included in your unit! Many complexes have a separate laundry room, usually coin operated. Make note of the cost of doing one load of laundry, from wash to dry.
There are even some low-cost apartments that don’t have laundry facilities on hand. Find out where the nearest laundromat is located and determine if it’s worth the savings to lug your laundry around town. This might be difficult if you don’t own a car, especially if there are no public transportation options.
Water Pressure and Temperature
There’s nothing worse than having to deal with a slow, dripping, lukewarm shower. We don’t recommend hopping into the shower during a tour, but you can turn it on to check the pressure and temperature. While you’re in the bathroom, make sure the toilet flushes properly, and the sink doesn’t leak.
Ask about air conditioning and heat, including how recently they were updated. If there are ceiling fans, make sure they work. HVAC units aren’t perfect and having a ceiling fan is an excellent backup in case your unit breaks down in the middle of summer.
Outlets and Lights
Don’t assume that all the outlets work. You can bring a phone charger and plug your phone into each one. You can also get an electrical outlet tester, which will effectively check the status of every outlet.
Flick all the light switches on and off. Will you need to replace hard-to-reach light bulbs or do they have a maintenance crew for that?
Doors, Windows, and Locks
While you’re touring the apartment, make sure all the interior doors work well. But pay special attention to the exterior doors and windows. Do they all open and close properly? Do all the windows have locks? Do the doors have secure deadbolts and an internal locking mechanism?
Wi-Fi and Phones
We’ve become so reliant on being connected continuously that we naturally assume that every modern dwelling will offer us high-speed connectivity. However, some places might not have good reception, due to brick walls or their specific locations.
Make a phone call and walk from room to room, including the laundry room, to see if reception cuts out.
If the internet is included, ask if you’ll have individual Wi-Fi. If it’s shared with multiple apartments, there could be periods of shortage, such as when everyone is binge-watching a show or studying for finals. Bring your laptop to check out the overall connection speed.
Many apartment complexes have limited parking spaces. Check to see if they are assigned or unassigned. Where do guests park? Do you have to pay for a parking spot or is it included? How many places per apartment unit?
It’s going to be a problem if you’re moving into a place with several other people who have cars, yet you only have one shared parking spot.
How long will it take to commute to school or work? Are there nearby grocery stores, restaurants, and bars? Look into all transportation options, such as walking paths, buses, bike routes, trains, and driving.
It might be worth paying more rent to be closer to work and your favorite places, especially if you’ll save on gas and parking. But if it’s significantly cheaper to move away from a centrally located area, you can rely on smaller convenience stores for essential supplies, planning bigger shopping and entertainment trips for the weekend.
Walk around the common areas, like the clubhouse, pool area, even the laundry room. Try to strike up general conversations with the residents to get insider knowledge about the place.
If you are moving in with small children, you can ask if it’s quiet at night, if there are nearby playgrounds, and if other families live in the complex. If you’re a young college student, you can ask about the social scene, such as if they have volleyball tournaments or Super Bowl parties. Ask the tenants about the general safety and noise levels, and what they like most about the place.
Also, inquire about the landlords and property managers. It’s a good sign if they sound friendly and accessible. But if the current tenants roll their eyes, perhaps look into this further. Ask more residents or try to talk to the landlords yourself. Having a good rapport with your landlords will make your living experience a lot more pleasant.
Pests and Pets
Nobody wants to live with bugs and rodents. Check cabinets for small scatterings of feces. Look for holes or cracks in the walls and baseboards. Ask the landlord or manager about past pest problems. If the last tenant had to have it sprayed, there might be a few lingering bugs.
Some people are looking for places to bring their pets—ask about pet deposits, and if there are designated places to walk your pet. If you’re allergic to certain animals, keep in mind that the previous tenants might have had pets in your potential apartment.
You may be open to parties until it’s the night before a big exam or a presentation at work. Consider the location of your apartment: is it right in front of the courtyard, with the pool and BBQ grills?
If you’re considering a downstairs unit, ask about who is living upstairs (of course this can change, but you may think twice if it’s a long-term tenant with several young children stomping about). Ask if there are specific quiet hours.
Also, think about shared walls. Will your living room be right next to someone else’s living room? This could make watching TV hard, especially if the walls are very thin.
It’s essential to get a feel for the area after the sun goes down. Driving by at night paints a whole new picture. Make note of the parking lot after everyone is home—are there any spaces available for guests? Does the entire complex seem scary, unsafe, and uninviting? Or are people walking about, mingling, and looking friendly?
Pretend this is your new home and see how it feels driving up. If it feels all wrong, drive away.
While you’re at it, find out if the complex or building has a guard or contracts with a private company that patrols at night.
Looking for a new apartment to call home can be overwhelming. There are so many factors to consider, such as price, location, and amenities. Try to stay level-headed about it; there’s no point in moving somewhere just because you love the wallpaper if it’s too far from your favorite places.
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions when you tour apartments, too. The more questions you ask, the more informed you’ll be, so you can make sure this is the best place for what you need right now.