Renting your first apartment can be really exciting, so exciting that you might overlook some things. Don’t let the excitement of it all cloud your judgment. Go into it with open eyes, know what to expect, and what to look for.
Growing up I was fortunate to always live in a house my parents owned, so I really had no clue what I was doing when I got my first apartment. Several years and apartments (6) later I’ve learned what I need to look for and what questions to ask when looking for a good apartment.
Cost of Renting Your First Apartment
The upfront cost of renting an apartment can depend greatly on the type of apartment. The expected cost varies between renting an apartment in a complex and renting an apartment in a house or other dwelling.
Cost of Renting Your First Apartment in a Complex
The first expense you will run across when renting from a complex is the application fee. This fee is usually somewhere between $75-$200 though it can vary. It is not refundable. Though you may sometimes find complex’s that are running a special where they waive the application fee.
In my experience, the security deposit required for a complex apartment is usually much less than any other type of apartment. However, the amount due for a security deposit is usually dependent on your credit score. The better you score the less your security deposit requirement will be. The minimum is usually somewhere around $100 but can be upwards of several hundred dollars.
If you find it difficult to save up for a security deposit, consider using Chime. Chime works by starting a spending account (takes 5 minutes) and opting into the automatic savings plan. Every time I use the Chime Debit Card it rounds up my purchase to the nearest dollar and puts in in savings.
Right now they also offer a 10% bonus on those savings. All those withdrawals add up over time. Chime is free to use, with no monthly fees. With Chime, you end up saving money without having to think about it.
The security deposit is refundable assuming you leave the apartment in good condition. If you leave the apartment in poor condition you could be on the hook for more than the security deposit.
If you have a pet or plan to get a pet, make sure you know the living costs associated. My last apartment required a $300 non-refundable pet fee (for cleaning the apartment after I left) and $20 in pet rent each month. My current apartment required $500 upfront, some of which is refundable, it does not require pet rent.
This cost is just for one pet, many complexes will require you pay the fee for each pet. The complex will likely also have restrictions on the number of pets and the type of pet you can have. Though in the instance of pet rent, rather than doubling it may just go up a few bucks for the second pet.
Raising Your Rent
While having the cost of your rent raised is possible in any rental situation it is pretty much guaranteed when living in a complex. When your lease is coming up they will send you a notification of the cost of rent for your next lease term should you decide to stay.
While you will have to pay more rent the next term, do not take the first number they give you as the amount. If you go and talk to someone in the leasing office and explain that you’ve been a good tenant, they will typically negotiate a little and bring down that cost.
Cost of Renting Your First Apartment with a Local Landlord
While local landlords don’t usually have an application fee, they do sometimes ask you to pay the cost for them to run a background check. Additionally, they may expect more money up front in the form of first and last months rent.
In my experience, the security deposit has been equivalent to one month’s rent. Meaning before you move in you could be required to provide, first and last, months rent and your security deposit. The equivalent of three months rent.
I’ll be honest I never had a pet in a locally owned apartment, but my roommate did and was never required to pay pet rent. In talking to other friends, they were never required to pay pet rent in this type of rental situation.
Raising Your Rent
I had several apartments for multiple years with local landlords and I never had my rent raised. I think the landlord’s thinking behind this is it is income and if you are good tenant they’d rather keep you then have to look for a new tenant.
Some Other Things to Consider
Hannah Rounds of Unplanned Finance said that you are “much more likely to work directly with the landlord vs a property manager. This means that the landlord might do routine maintenance. If it feels invasive to have the landlord come take care of the property and ask you about things that seem wrong, go with an apartment with 20+ units.”
As far as what landlords look for in tenants, here is what some landlords had to say: “I’m looking for a quality person as a tenant, someone with good credit, looks like they’ll take care of my place and not be needy.” – Adam Funk of Savings Coach
“Aside from the objective (i.e. credit, landlord history, job history, etc.) I look for someone who is going to be low maintenance.” – Rachel from Adventures in Mobile Homes
“As a landlord, if you own a large commercial apartment complex, you’ll most likely have a property management company directly interfacing with the tenants, and you may have an on-site, full-time maintenance person. If you have a small multifamily, and you’re local, then there’s a higher likelihood that you (the landlord) might choose to self-manage. (Although you might also choose to rent it via property manager). You also definitely won’t have a maintenance person on-site full-time. I’d say those are the two biggest differences between large multifamily vs. small multifamily that the tenant will directly experience.” Paula Pant, Afford Anything
What to Ask About/Consider When Looking for Your First Apartment
Parking in a Complex
Are parking spots assigned, do you need a pass of some sort? Is there an additional cost for covered parking? Know what the parking situation is, will you be able to park close to your apartment? Is there separate visitor parking for your guests? No one wants to pay a fee for not parking where you are supposed to or worse get their car towed.
Parking with Local Landlords
Is there off street parking? Is it a shared driveway, what are the rules? If it is street parking only, is there an exception for snow emergencies/weather parking bans? An option where you can park off the street during those times? If your only option is street parking, is it a busy street?
My last apartment in Massachusetts, I had one roommate’s car totaled while parked on the street. Another roommate and I ended up with smashed side mirrors. When I had street parking at my very first apartment there was no parking on street cleaning day which was the first Thursday of the month one side of the street and first Friday on the other side of the (one way) street. I was always forgetting to move my car and got tons of parking tickets.
Know what the parking situation is and the rules for the city.
What utilities are you responsible for? In some apartments everything is electric so you’ll just need to pay an electric bill. Others may have electric, gas (stove), and another utility bill for heat (oil). Depending on the apartment you may also be responsible for water and trash.
Make sure you understand what the apartment uses and what you will be responsible for paying. Ask if the apartment has been built to be energy efficient. Are the windows newer? Are the appliances older? If you can, find out the average monthly cost of the utilities.
Safety first, always. If you don’t feel safe in the neighborhood don’t bother looking at the apartment. Once you are at the point of looking at the apartment, make sure to find out what safety measures are in place. My current complex is gated, has a safety officer on-site and has two bolt locks on each outside door. Ground floor apartments also have a security system.
Outlets and Lighting
When looking at potential apartments, make note of how many outlets are in each room and if there is overhead lighting. I’ve definitely been in an apartment with too few outlets and outlets in inconvenient places.
I also once had a bedroom and an office that had no overhead lighting or ability to hook up an overhead light, a standing lamp just didn’t do as much. My current apartment didn’t have an overhead light in the living room but I (and by I, I mean my dad) was able to hook up a ceiling fan/light.
It may sound weird, but when viewing the apartment or the model apartment, turn on the shower. If the model apartment doesn’t have good water pressure for the shower, your apartment won’t either.
Your apartment could be the most beautiful perfect apartment, but if it has terrible water pressure, you might want to reconsider. No one likes to take a shower under a trickle of water. On that note, ask how long the water usually takes to warm up.
You do laundry so often you probably don’t give it much thought, making it easy to forget to ask about the laundry situation. Is there in-unit laundry or at least hookups to use your own machines? Or is there a laundry room onsite, if so what does it cost? Does it accept credit cards or do you need to be hoarding your quarters?
If there is in unit laundry, are they full size or apartment size? How well do they work? My last apartment had full-size washer and dryer, but the dryer didn’t work well. I had to run the dryer twice to get stuff dry.
Not all internet providers are created equal. It’s important to know what would be available in the area. If it is a terrible provider you might want to think about other options or locations.
Location of the Apartment
This is probably the starting point of your first apartment search, where is the apartment located and what would your commute look like? Is it close to friends and family? Close to an interstate, a park, downtown, or close to your favorite gym. Make sure the location of your first apartment is going to be convenient for the way you live your life.
Where the Actual Unit is Located
If you are dealing with a local landlord you are likely going to view the actual apartment you would be living in, however, complexes often show a model apartment. If this is the case, ask to see the location of the actual unit you are considering. You won’t be able to view inside, but you’ll then know if there is elevator access or how many flights of stairs there are for purposes of moving in and out and what parking looks like near the unit.
You’ll also know what the general view out your windows is going to be. Will your first apartment be looking out at another building or some trees? How many neighboring units are there? How many on each side, above and below. BTW top floor is typically quieter. This can also impact your decision to take one unit over another.
Wrapping it Up with a Bow on Top
You should now be prepared when shopping around for your first apartment. Whether it is at a complex or a multifamily unit, don’t be afraid to ask any questions you may have, if you’re going to be living there you want to make sure it is right for you.
Anything else you can think of when shopping around for your first apartment?