10 Lessons Learned When Looking for My First Apartment

By Caitlin Carpenter

apartmenthuntingimageI  began apartment hunting long before I officially received my job offer. Hours were spent online browsing the web and daydreaming about my very first place. I was anxious about the additional responsibility, and I wanted to start planning for it right away.

I’m happy to announce that the hard work has paid off, and my boyfriend and I have just been approved for my number one choice! We ultimately chose an affordable one bedroom with hardwood flooring, tons of natural light, and lake views! Searching for your first place can be be described as exciting, scary, and mostly stressful.

Here are a few tips I learned along the way:

Do Your Research:

It’s important to understand the area you are moving to. For example, what are the different neighborhoods like? Things like crime rate, walkability, and cost of living were very important to me when choosing my ideal location. The internet is a great place to start for this information, but I recommend speaking to someone with experience. Reach out to anyone you know living in the area and ask for their honest opinion.

Have a Budget:

My imagination went a little wild when I heard a co-worker in my entry-level position could afford an apartment for over $1,000/month by herself! It wasn’t until I laid out my monthly expenses that I realized our situations are not the same. Sure we have the same starting salary, but I have thousands in student loan debt and a car with over 150,000 miles. These extra expenses definitely lowered the amount of rent I can afford.

I recommend making your budget in Excel with formulas so you can easily switch out numbers and see the result. As a rule of thumb, experts say your rent should be between 25% – 30% of your monthly income.  Check out here and here for some typical first apartment expenses you should plan for.

Vary Your Search:

I do suggest using online resources such as Craigslist and realtor websites to see what is available in your time frame, but do not stop there! Find out when the open houses are in the area and plan a day trip. The apartment we ended up choosing wasn’t even listed online!

Bring a Friend:

Apartment hunting is stressful business, and I recommend bringing a trusted friend or family member for emotional support. It’s nice to have someone with you to jot down details and help you remember the differences between each place (trust me, they really do all start to blur together). My friend Valerie was perfect for this role. She remembered to ask all of the important questions and took note of of imperfections while I stared in awe of the beautiful hardwood floors and natural light, oblivious to the cracks in the window…

Consider the Landlord:

I’ve heard my fair share of landlord horror stories, and did not want to get stuck with some psycho/aggressive/creepy person in charge of where I sleep at night. With this in mind, I treated my apartment search as a two way interview. Sure I put my best foot forward when meeting with potential landlords (lots of smiling, nodding, and “thank you’s” were involved) but I also carefully considered their first impression. Did they seem friendly? Well organized? Honest? Look for someone who attitude says “I care about this job,” as opposed to “I couldn’t care less.”

Have Realistic Expectations:

Once you begin searching you will start to see a pattern in the type of places that are available within your budget. For example, in Milwaukee I quickly realized that there are a number of older buildings in prime locations that fit in my price range. Occasionally we would stumble upon an online listing showing a brand new apartment for a shockingly affordable price. Upon further investigation we realized that this particular place was located in an unsafe part of town. Remember if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Embrace Compromise:

My boyfriend and I are both strongly opinionated when it comes to aesthetics. Unfortunately, our taste couldn’t be more different. He drools over a clean modern look while my Pinterest boards are flooded with colorful and eclectic rooms. This clearly became an issue when we started apartment hunting. I wanted a budget-friendly older building in a great location, and my boyfriend was in love with a new construction studio way out of budget. Eventually we came to an agreement, and ended up signing the lease at my favorite place (whoohoo!). Although, there was a catch. I agreed to let him decorate the living room, a huge compromise for myself and my inner control freak.

So if you are apartment hunting with roommates or a significant other, remember that not everyone is going to get exactly what they want, and it’s important to be flexible. After all, you are going to be living with this person and you need to start off on the right foot. Resentment can be ugly!

Split the Costs with Caution:

One of the best pieces of advice I received regarding rooming with my boyfriend was to not split all furniture cost down the middle. Have each person buy a few of the big pieces. For example, my boyfriend purchased our couch and I bought our mattress. The reason behind this is that if for some reason we split up, each of us will simply take the pieces we purchased. Splitting everything down the middle can get quite messy. What are you going to do, cut the mattress in half?

Furniture Shop with Patience:

It can be tempting to run out and buy all the furniture you need in one day at Ikea, but I advise against it. Instead carefully consider each piece, and decide when it’s worth it to splurge for a high quality piece, and when it’s okay to just buy something cheap for now and upgrade later. Many pieces are not truly a necessity when you first move in (bedframe, side tables, etc) and might be better to purchase later, after you have recovered from all of the initial move in costs. Waiting also allows you to scout sales, and score your favorite furniture at the best possible price!

Keep the Future in Mind:

It’s unlikely you’ll stay in your first apartment forever. So while you may love the idea of a sectional couch, the truth is it might not be practical for long-term depending on the setup of your next place. It’s best to buy furniture pieces that are mid-sized and versatile.

Now that I officially have my first apartment, I get to go through the trials and tribulations of living on my own! I’m sure there will be bumps along the way , but at least we can all learn from them!

Until next time,
Happy Hunting!

Caitlin recently graduated with her Bachelor’s in Fashion Marketing, and has accepted a corporate position outside of Milwaukee, WI. She is quite anxious to begin this journey since it involves many new experiences such as living with her boyfriend, starting her first post-college job, and attempting to remain healthy in a city known best for its beer, brunch, and cheese. She plans to keep herself busy by blogging, reading, and learning about wine. 



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