Find the Perfect Apartment in 5 Easy Steps
We know finding the perfect apartment to call home can be difficult when you’re not familiar with the process or you don’t know what you’re looking for. We’ve boiled it down to 5 easy steps, so you can plan ahead and find the best place for you.
#1 Figure Out Your Finances:
Whether you are venturing out on your own or seeking an apartment to share with friends, we encourage you to run through this simple exercise and save yourself from the fate many folks experience of living beyond their means.
STEP 1: Determine your total take-home income for each month (take-home income is the amount of money you receive after taxes, retirement savings, and other items have been taken out by your employer)
STEP 2: Calculate your monthly on-going expenses. Here are some examples: cable, internet, cell phone, electricity, water/sewer/garbage, credit cards, car insurance, car payment, health insurance, groceries and eating out, Netflix, etc.
STEP 3: Estimate who much you will spend on variable expenses, better known as “unknowns.” Some examples of unknowns are: flat tires and other unexpected auto expenses, healthcare costs, unexpected prescriptions, meals for special occasions, etc. Our rule of thumb has been to factor in 25% of your total bills for the unknowns each month. This gives you enough leeway for emergencies and if you don’t use it, you can save it for a rainy day.
STEP 4: Subtract the totals from steps 2 & 3 to determine the percentage of your income that will be readily available for rent.
One last consideration before moving onto the next step in finding the perfect apartment: most apartments will require you to earn enough to where 30% of your income is available for rent payments. Use this fact in combination with the 4 steps above as a framework for determining how much you will be able to spend on rent (and be accepted by the rental management company).
Don’t forget, house stuff is expensive! We highly recommend saving some room in your budget for items to make your new home livable. You’ll understand when you get home from your first shopping trip during which you buy one bathmat set and some cleaning supplies and it sets you back $60 for all “house” stuff and nothing fun. Although these items are not very fun, you’ll be happy that you aren’t slipping and sliding while taking your first shower!
#2 Determine a List of Must-Haves
Learning what you like and what you dislike about your living quarters is something you’ll figure out as you live in a variety of places. However, we recommend making a small list of “deal-breakers” for your apartment search. For instance, some apartments share hot water heaters, which can be learned the hard way after your first shower during peak water usage times. If you’re a fan of ultra-warm showers, this may result in having to adjust your shower times around your neighbors.
Another consideration may be whether you want to live on the top floor of a building. For example, if you have a neighbor living directly above you, and the building is relatively old, it’s not feasible to tell a 3 year-old not to run all of the time.
Our final example involves your preference on parking. If you live in the heart of the city where there are limited parking spots, you might expect to walk a few blocks or more on a Friday or Saturday night because your neighbors have guests over. If walking on a rainy dark winter night isn’t for you, then you may want to find a place with covered and secured parking.
This three item list merely scratches the surface on what may be deal-breakers for you. You know what you like and what you absolutely hate, so this should be top of mind when visiting apartments. We always recommend carry a list of “must-haves” and check them off as you tour the apartment and talk to the leasing staff.
#3 Look Far and Wide: 8 Alternatives to Craigslist and the Best Way to Search on Craigslist
There are so many ways to find a place now-a-days. Here is a list of our top 9 ways to find the perfect apartment:
- Go old school and drive around neighborhoods in which you’d like to live and seek out “for rent” signs. This is a good way to see your neighborhood before you move in and oftentimes you will find little gems not advertised any other way. Also, if living alone and you’re female this is the easiest way to determine if it’s going to be safe neighborhood.
- Ask your family and friends. Post that you’re seeking to move on Facebook, or other social media sites, and see what other people recommend for you. Who knows what might turn up?
- Now, searching through apartment web sites can be very tiring, so we suggest you be pragmatic and choose one or two to check regularly until you find the right place for you. Here is our attempt at an exhaustive list of every apartment search site out there that could be helpful in your search:
- http://www.socialisting.com/ (this one is unique in that it combines your social media with your apartment hunt).
Some of these sites are heavily regulated and very reliable with scores and reviews, while others aren’t as user friendly. We recommend perusing each and then figuring out which one you like best.
- Bulletin boards at local colleges and businesses. We like this for finding diamonds in the rough.
- Local real estate offices. You can search for key words: real estate offices [your city, state]. In Tacoma alone there are over 30 real estate offices that rent properties. These are especially good for duplexes or houses, which can be a great alternative to an apartment. Just remember most of the places will have increased costs associated with them since some come with a yard or have much higher utility costs.
- Search through government websites. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers listings for Section 8 housing, but this doesn’t mean it’s only open to Section 8 recipients. It means the housing is affordable, which is what you may be seeking for your first place. Check out: http://www.hud.gov/apps/section8/ for your local listings.
- As a last ditch effort, the newspaper can be a place to look for a rental. Perhaps your new landlord isn’t hip to new technology and still uses the newspaper to place their rental listing. Two points of good news: one, you can still read the listings online through the newspaper website and two, you’ll likely find a new Bridge and Pinochle partner!
- Consider foregoing the apartment search to find the right roommate and live with them. It will save money and save you on having to find a specific place yourself. You’ll definitely want to meet the roommate and hang out for a bit before you commit since there’s nothing more awkward than living with someone you don’t care for that much.
- And last, good ol’ Craigslist. Yep, always works well, but often has the same listings over and over and there’s hundreds of listing to sift through. We recommend using the keyword trick to find what you’re looking for. For instance if you wanted to find a place with a view that cost $1,200 or less, that had pictures, and allowed dogs, you could type in the word “view,” check the pets box, put your price range parameters from $800-$1250, and checked the pictures box. This will give you the option to look at places you really want to see. Keep your eyes peeled for ads that say “come view this apartment today,” but the search should still limit the number of listings.
Other key terms you can use depending on your likes could be: lake, water, waterfront, view, cute (usually means small), loft, brick, unique, floor to ceiling windows, vaulted, ground floor, granite, walk in closet, hard wood floor, pool, Jacuzzi, tennis, etc. You can also search by specific locations. It really depends on what you like, but we recommend getting really specific when you search on Craigslist.
#4 Ask About Upfront and Any Hidden Ongoing Costs
We’ve toured a TON of apartments and you’d be surprised at some of the costs associated with certain properties. Some apartments pay for water/sewer/garbage, but some don’t. Most require you to pay electricity; some regulate it by a flat rate, some combine the tenants in the building and bill monthly, while in others you’re solely responsible for yourself. This is something they will be able to tell you, but they likely won’t be forthcoming with how much it costs per month if it’s individual. They will say something like, “it depends on usage.” And you’re thinking, “How much can electricity really be in a little apartment?”
As for upfront costs, some places will require first, last, and deposit for move-in. Some will be based on credit. There are often pet fees or deposits. Fees mean the property manager will keep it all, while deposits are just held in case there are damages coming from your pet. Sometimes these types of fees are unavoidable, but it is something to know before you move in.
Finally, in regards to fees, you will want to ask about their deposit return rate. We recommend reading reviews from previous tenants or ask the property management how much of the deposit they return on average.
Because each property manager is different, there is a wide variety of other hidden costs you might not think of. Don’t be ashamed to ask about it!
#5 Last, but not least, always check ratings online
You’ve determined your finances, found a place with all of your must-haves, asked about all fees, and now you’re ready to say “yes” and sign the lease. The last step is to read, read, read reviews. We recommend http://www.apartmentratings.com/. It gives you reviews of the apartments by tenants who used to live there. In the end, you don’t want to deal with anything beyond your control. The saying is “we live and we learn,” but we want you to live and learn from someone else! Now you’re prepared to find the perfect apartment and make it into your ideal place to live!