A Beginner’s Guide to Renting Your First Apartment

Rose Morrison

Apr 19, 2023

With this beginner's guide to renting, you could live in a nice complex like this.

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Ready to take that first leap into independent living? Settling into your first apartment is an incredible milestone in this long game of life, and whether you just graduated or are done saving up for rent prices, there are a few tips you should save in your back pocket. 

With this beginner’s guide to renting, you’ll learn how to find the right apartment for your needs, uncover financial costs big and small and explore how to transition into your new home with no stress.

Before Renting: Researching and Budgeting

So you’ve decided to move out, but how do you find the right apartment? Take a moment to plot out your monthly income on a T-chart. On one side, write down items your apartment needs. This can be “rent price below X number,” or “free parking.”

On the other side of the chart, write down your wants. For example, it would be nice if your apartment had a balcony, but it’s OK if your ultimate selection does not fulfill that. Remember, this is only your first apartment and you can always move out if it doesn’t fulfill your future needs!

1. Rent Price

Let’s start with the uncomfortable conversation. Finances can be nerve-wracking, but they are the most important consideration. If your rent exceeds your ability to pay, you’ll have a very strained and stressful experience living there. But no need to worry– you can plot out your ideal rental price in one breezy afternoon!

If you will live alone, look at studios and one-bedroom apartments in your area. Studios are generally one open space with a bed on one side and living space on the other. Though smaller, they are cheaper and cozy. 

Once you know your size, follow the 30% rule. This dictates that your rent should be around 30% of your gross monthly income so that you’re living within your means. 

However, you may need to adjust this to a smaller size if you have an excess of outside bills like student loans. In this case, decrease the percentage to 25 or 20%. 

You’ll also consider these costs that come with renting:

  • Application fees. 
  • Security deposits. If your apartment is clean and well-maintained, you may receive this amount back when you move out. 
  • First-month’s rent. If you’re moving in after the 1st of the month, then you may even be paying a prorated amount (decreased to account for days you weren’t living there).
  • Parking and pet deposits.

2. Location

Now that you know how much you can spend, cast your net far and wide. The location also determines prices. A city apartment will be more expensive than a rural town’s same-sized room. 

Run through this list of questions to the confines of your search:

  • How close would you like to be to your job?
  • How will you commute– by car, bus, train or walking?
  • Would you like to be near events, nature and shops?
  • Would you like to be surrounded by a community of people or secluded?
  • How close are essential places like grocery stores and hospitals?

If you choose an apartment complex, you have your choice of floors. Landlords often price lower floors at cheaper rates and these rooms also allow easy access for dog walking or visitors. On the other hand, gorgeous views abound on higher floors. This is the perfect time to whip out your needs and wants list to decide where you will land, either high in the sky or close to the ground. 

3. Amenities

You’ll also want to see what amenities are the most important to your happiness and needs. Some amenities– like laundry– may have hidden costs not included in the monthly rent. Check the status and potential costs of these factors before applying:

  • Parking: Is there a monthly fee? Is it protected or covered? Are there assigned spaces or ones open for guests? 
  • Laundry: Are units in your room, or is there a fee associated with use?
  • Recreation: Are there gyms, pools, porches or patios in this building?
  • Utilities: What are the monthly costs for cable, water and electricity?
  • Mail: Is there a protected service for packages?
  • Maintenance: Who would be responsible for certain issues and repairs?
  • Pets: Is there a monthly fee or a pound limit?

4. Time of Year

The time of year also influences the price of rent. In the summer, people are graduating, starting new careers and taking advantage of warmer moving weather.

Therefore, applying in the spring and summer means you have more competition and possibly a higher rent due to demand. Consider moving in the fall or winter to save some pennies. 

Applying: Paperwork and Preparation

Now that you have all the information and a couple of dream apartments on your list, it’s time to begin applying. This beginner’s guide outlines questions, paperwork and preparation before settling in. 

1. Ask Questions

Tours are the perfect time to ask your potential landlord questions. A lot of answers are online, but it’s always best to get a straightforward and timely answer before you sink any money into an application. Ask the landlord about these key areas:

  • Security deposits
  • Obligations of the tenant, including amenities
  • Potential rent increases
  • Payment collections and policies
  • Communication methods

2. Compile Paperwork and Read Leases

If your tour promises a bright future, the application process will begin. Ensure you have all your paperwork in order beforehand or you may miss out on an opportunity. Some landlords may require pieces such as:

  • Credit scores
  • Identification documents
  • Social security numbers
  • References 
  • Rental history
  • Proof of income or paystubs
  • Vehicle information 

Once you are approved, you’ll receive a lease agreement to sign. Though it can be a lot of information, take time to read through the fine print. Some essentials to note are monthly rent, lease end date, policies for breaking the lease early, obtaining the security deposit, emergency details and other amenity policies. 

3. Purchase Renter’s Insurance

Renter’s insurance protects your apartment and its furnishing from property damage. Often this will be unexpected emergencies like fire or water damage, vandalism, theft and some cases of mold. 

Luckily, this insurance is usually fairly cheap and can be paid in one amount for the year. Think about bundling with your car insurance for added savings. 

4. Complete Transition Tasks

Good news! You’re approved and ready to start your new life! First, mark your move-in date and plan how you’ll move in. Do you need to ask friends to help out? Are there any large items that need to be in a truck or van? 

You may also need to set up utilities or Wi-Fi connections with outsider vendors beforehand if it isn’t included in your rent. 

One more note, change your mailing address and set up mail forwarding with the postal system so you are receiving all the proper messages. 

5. Start Packing and Furnishing

Now, it’s time to whip out those cardboard boxes and get packing. Create an all-encompassing moving checklist and separate items by things you already own and just need to pack on one side and things you still need to buy on the other side. 

Furnishing is usually the most costly part of moving, so check out secondhand stores and online marketplaces for cheaper versions of items like beds, couches, dressers and lights. 

Moving On Up

Bring lots of patience and positivity with you on moving day! It can be stressful and exhausting carrying everything in and then putting it all away, but giving yourself time and grace to get settled in is key.

Renting your first apartment is such an amazing milestone, and that alone is cause for celebration! With tips from this beginner’s guide to renting under your belt, you’re ready to research, apply and prepare in the best manner possible.

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