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Guide to Apartment Hunting

August 20th, 2013 - 9:44 AM

Looking for an apartment? Use these tips! 

Finding an apartment (especially your first) can seem like an intimidating task. There are many things to consider, including your budget, location and the upkeep. But knowing how to prepare and what to be aware of can make the process easier. Learn how to find an apartment, and then use our checklist to help determine what’s most important when searching for a place to live. 

person searching for an apartment on a tablet


How to find an apartment 

The apartment hunting process typically starts by finding some rentals to visit. Here are some great ways to scout locations: 

  • Search online. One of the quickest ways to search thousands of listings is online. Some of the best apartment search sites to use are Zillow®, Apartmentguide®, Apartments.comTM, ForRent.com® and Rent.com®. Be sure to set filters to narrow the search. And if there are any reviews from past or current tenants, read them — they can be helpful when determining if there are any issues at a complex of interest. 
  • Ask around. Word of mouth is an easy way to find a comfortable space. Let friends, family members and co-workers know, so they can keep their eyes and ears open, too. 
  • Drive around. Drive through neighborhoods you like to see if there are any For Rent signs posted. Jot down phone numbers so that you know who to contact about a tour.  
  • Work with an agent. Real estate agents may have access to listings that haven’t been posted online, and they can also help answer a lot of questions. Just be careful to ask how much they charge upfront. In some cases, landlords hire agents to find tenants for them, so agents are free to use, but it’s best to ask.  

Apartment hunting: A checklist of things to do   

Looking for a new place to live is exciting! Use the following checklist to stay on track so you don’t forget the important details. 

Set a budget 

Before hitting the streets and actively looking, create a budget. Factor in any expenses you already have (phone bill, student loans, insurance, auto payment, etc.) and additional costs that may come with leasing an apartment (utilities, parking, security deposit, pet fees, Internet/cable, etc.). It’s generally suggested to pay no more than 25-30% of your gross monthly income, but it may be practical to find rent that’s even less. If you make $2,500 a month and lease something that’s 30% of that total, you’ll pay $750 per month for rent ($2,500 X 0.30 = $750). Whatever amount you choose to budget, be sure to stick to it. It’s better to be financially comfortable than to rent something outside of what you can afford.    

Think about the style, location and amenities 

Consider what’s most important to you. While one complex may offer a gym, swimming pool and have a washer and dryer in the unit, another may be only five minutes from work. Think about these questions:

  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms do I need? 
  • Do I want to be on the first floor or is walking upstairs an option?
  • Do I want a long or short commute to work? 
  • Am I close to grocery stores, favorite restaurants and downtown life? 
  • Does the building have access to a gym, community pool and other facilities? (Are there additional fees for using these services?) 
  • Does each unit have a dishwasher, washer and dryer, and other appliances?   
  • Am I close to public transportation? Or is parking easy accessible?

Ask if it’s pet-friendly 

Not all apartment complexes allow pets, and some only allow certain breeds. Before checking out any units, ask the landlord about pet policies. Be sure to discuss additional fees/deposits and make sure your furry friend is permitted. 

Check the inside 

The whole process feels more real when you actually start looking — and it may be the most fun part. It’s important to check out a few details before signing a lease. Here are some things to watch for: 

  • Low water pressure in the kitchen and bathroom 
  • Thin walls that let too much noise in 
  • Broken locks on doors and windows 
  • Holes underneath cabinets and sink where rodents or insects could get in 
  • Electrical outlets, appliances, heating and air that don’t work 
  • Warped floors or spots on the ceiling that indicate a leak 

Meet the neighbors 

Another good idea is to talk with the current tenants. This can help give you a better feel for the location, the landlord, the rental rates and more. Plus, it never hurts to meet potential neighbors and have some familiar faces around if you decide to move in! 

Drive by at night and on the weekends 

Apartment complexes can seem a lot different during the day when most people are at work or school. If you’re really interested in a place, consider driving by it at night and on the weekends. Is the parking lot so crowded that you’ll have to walk a long way? Is there a lot of noise that could make it difficult to sleep or work from home? It’s critical to like the building during the day, night and on weekends to ensure there are no major inconveniences, and that you feel at home 24/7.

Carefully read the lease 

So you’ve found your dream apartment! What comes next? Read the lease. Carefully. Don’t sign anything until you understand: 

  • The requirements for fulfilling the contract (or consequences of breaking it) 
  • When the rent is due each month
  • The rules for moving out early or late 
  • What needs to be cleaned before moving out
  • The rules about quiet hours, pets and personal decorating 

If anything is confusing, ask questions. It’s better to ask about something ahead of time than to be surprised after signing the contract.  

Be prepared 

Apartment hunting may be super competitive in some locations, especially in big cities with limited space. If you’re serious about renting a unit, be prepared the day you start looking. Be ready to fill out a rental application and bring:  

  • Proof of identity (photo ID) 
  • A check stub to prove income and employment 
  • Payment to cover a credit check fee 
  • Payment to cover the first and last month’s rent and any deposits 
  • Cosigner (if credit is an issue) 

What to do after apartment hunting

Congrats on signing a lease! Now, it’s time to move. Check out this guide on moving apartments for helpful moving and packing tips. Looking for a moving company to use? For long-distance moves, consider U-Pack®. We offer affordable rates, convenient services and fast transit times (estimated 3-5 business days). Get a free online quote or talk with a U-Pack consultant at 800-413-4799 to see how much your move will cost.