Are you a college student who is eager to get out of the dorms, or someone who is graduating this May? Chances are, you have this ideal picture of what your first apartment will be like. Having an idea of what you are looking for in an apartment is important, but if you are anything like me, you’ll learn quickly that your first apartment is not going to be your dream home!
I am a sophomore in college, and I just finished my first apartment search. As I wrote in my previous post, I wanted my own place, in the city, with high-end finishes. Boy did my reality check come quickly! But don’t lose all hope! I adjusted my criteria and ended up signing a lease on a perfect apartment, in the perfect location. What is the one big compromise I made? I’ll have a roommate. This isn’t exactly what I wanted, but at least I will be in control of who that roommate is. First apartments aren’t usually your dream, but they can be great if you learn to compromise and are thorough in your search.
Here’s a step-by-step way to keep the stress down and have success in your search:
Step 1: Set budget
Save yourself the stress that I went through and plan out a budget first. I started with a budget idea, but my range was too broad and I got my hopes up on a lot of places that I couldn’t really afford. When a budget is set, you will be focused on options in your price range and won’t waste anyone’s time. The worst thing you could do is sign a lease for a place that is out of your range. Even if you’re hoping for that promotion, you can’t guarantee it, so how will you pay your rent if the promotion never happens? Budget smart! Saving money is never a bad thing either!
Many college students are lucky enough to have their parents pay for rent, but if your parents are paying that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about the price. Our parents want to support us so that we have successful futures, but money doesn’t grow on trees! If you are in a situation similar to this, it is best to sit with your parents and come up with a budget together. I know this doesn’t sound like much fun, and it may include many small arguments, but I cannot stress how important staying within your price range truly is.
Also, if you’re in college, you really don’t need that loft style two-bedroom right downtown. Trust me, I thought that is what I needed too. But then I realized if I’m paying that much in rent, I am going to have to work so much that I won’t have any free time to enjoy the location. Start separating what you really need, from what you want.
Step 2: Separate your wants and needs
Make a list of what you are looking for in an apartment. Then, rank everything from most important to least.
Why? Like I said, you aren’t going to find your dream place in your price range. You will need to compromise. If location is most important to you, then maybe instead of a one-bedroom you should look into 2-bedrooms, and find a roommate. If having a one-bedroom is more important to you then location, then maybe you should start looking in other towns. Compromise.
Again if your parents are contributing to rent, maybe you should make this list while sitting with them. I personally didn’t have any experience in renting, and my parents haven’t rented in years, so I called my older sister. She just recently moved into a new place and has been in countless different apartments, so I knew she could tell me exactly what to look for, and what things should be immediate signs to walk away.
If you prioritize, you will have better luck at finding the right place for you. Maybe your priorities are completely different than mine. That’s ok! Just know what you are looking for.
Step 3: Fine-tune your search
Utilize filters on search websites and apps, so that you only see apartments that work for you. Do you need parking? Is in-unit laundry important to you? Use the filters, so that you only see apartments with these features! The most important filter to set is your price range. Then you can set filters for things like parking and pets. After you have set all of your criteria, make a list of all the apartments that interest you, and start setting up showings. Don’t forget to bring a friend or family member along for second opinions!
Were there not many listings left after you set your filters? This is a sign that you are being too picky, and may need to re-prioritize. In-unit laundry is awesome, but for a first apartment it is not always an option. If you have a budget, you may need to go to the basement to use laundry machines, but will that really be a deal breaker for you? Think it through. Adjust your filters.
Step 4: Apartment showings
When you go to see apartments, take notes and pictures! The realtor will give information that wasn’t in the ad. There’s going to be features of the apartment that you want to note for reference later! You should also always take note of the general area. Is it a safe neighborhood? Do you feel comfortable?
When you are in the apartment pay attention to every detail. Turn on a sink and feel the water pressure. Open a cabinet and make sure there are no nasty critters (or signs that they are around). Check the bathrooms and make sure that there is no mold growing. It is easy to get caught up in the initial appearance of the place, and forget these things. That is why you should always bring along a friend to keep you focused.
If you are lucky enough to get the chance to talk with neighbors, or the current tenants of the unit, don’t pass it up. This is a great time to ask them questions about the building and the neighborhood.
Step 5: List pros and cons
After you have seen multiple places, make pros and cons lists of each place. Are you stuck on which apartment to choose? Make a spreadsheet! Compare prices, rooms, square footage, parking, or whatever is important to you. Seeing the options side by side really helps in making a decision. Try to narrow your options down, but don’t fall in love with just one choice. You may need the backups.
Step 6: Apply!
Do you have your top choice? Great! Get your application in as soon as possible. Hopefully you’ll be signing a lease in no time! But if not, all you have to do is go to your spreadsheet and pick your second favorite to apply for. This way, you don’t have to start the search process all over again.
Remember that you will have to compromise, but with smart search strategies you will end up in the perfect place for you. Just stay focused and don’t get discouraged. If I did it, you can do it too! Good luck!