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Apartment Hunting Tips

  • Tips
  • Apartment Lingo Primer

Stick to your budget

Most people have a general idea of how much rent costs in an area and which side of that range they're willing to pay. While that's not a poor strategy, it can still end with a much higher monthly invoice than you can viably afford. Calculating a specific budget that fits your salary, student loans, car payments, and other monthly expenses might be the single most important tip I can give you. Experts recommend paying somewhere between 25% and 30% of your take-home pay in rent. If you are looking at a variety of apartment sizes and locations and trying to figure out your budget, take the price per square foot into consideration. Simply divide the exact square footage of the apartment by the monthly rent to get the price per square foot so you can make comparisons. There's plenty you can do, from finding roommates to seeking assistance from a third party. You'd be surprised by how many nice places you can find within your price range if you really hunt them down.

What's included in my rent?

Often apartments will offer perks but you'll want to ask about these ahead of time. This could include assigned (and maybe even covered) parking, a refrigerator, on-site fitness center, pool, etc.

Ask about utilities

The price tag on that apartment may not be entirely accurate. Some buildings include utilities, such as heating, water, and electricity costs into your monthly bill, while some leave them for you to handle on your own. When you add them all up, utilities are a huge expense- sometimes amounting to more than $200 per month. That makes a pretty hefty difference in your monthly budget, so make sure you know what's up before you sign your lease. This is especially important if you live in cold areas, where you use so much heat that your monthly bill will leave you wondering if your radiator runs on diamonds. Be sure to also ask about air conditioning, too!

Check health and safety features

There are things about a home you'll never even think of until you don't have them. For example, say my apartment is in a very cute but very old building that doesn't have any ventilation. This means that I will often have to have the windows open when cooking or showering, no matter what- end of story. In this situation, had I thought to look for good ventilation, I would have chosen to live elsewhere (mold is gross, people). Other things to look for: range hoods or fans over your stovetop, fire exits, insulated walls, evenly dispersed radiators or heating vents, and an oven (no, really- some apartments don't come with ovens). They might seem trivial, but first and foremost, an apartment should meet adequate health and safety codes for you to live there.

What about laundry?

Another amenity many buildings don't come with: laundry machines. Once you've established where (and if) there is laundry on the premises, there are a few questions you should ask: Is use of laundry equipment free? If it costs money, are machines coin operated or can you use a preloaded card? Last, but not certainly not least, is the laundry area safe and secure?

Furry Friends?

Do you have any pets or want them in the near future? Double-check your lease for pet regulations. Slipping a pet in under your landlord's nose is never a good- he or she will find out and fine you. Many apartments are pet friendly, so if you tour one that's not, don't sweat it- you'll find one eventually!

Factor in commute times

You've likely already done your research on neighborhoods, but there's something else you should consider when choosing a location: proximity to work. Anything longer than an hour (after factoring in traffic and train schedules) can get really draining. If you can keep your commute somewhere around 30 or 45 minutes, you'll be much happier in the long run.

Check for preexisting problems

Before signing your lease, check out every nook and cranny of your apartment for problems. Holes in the baseboards can mean bugs and mice, while cracks in the window will render your apartment relatively uninsulated. Make sure all the burners on the stove are working and that there are no water stains (indicating past leaks) on the ceiling. It's a good idea to note and even take pictures of any issues you find (preferably with a time stamp) so you have this information to share with your future landlord.

Get off on the right foot

Apartment hunting can be stressful but being polite and professional can make all the difference. It really helps you to get off on the right foot with your future landlord and creates a successful experience for everyone involved. How you conduct yourself on a property visit is a reflection of you as a tenant so be sure to make a good first impression.

Find the right apartment 

There are many different online resources for looking for apartments. While these can give you a rough idea of what you're looking for, it's always good to go check it out in person. Realize there will never be that 'perfect spot' but a major problem in one location could be fixed by a minor problem in a different area. Different sites will also have different listings, so shop around to find the best deal. Apartment Hunting 101     Even more!

Walk-up: no elevator

Duplex: usually a two-level unit often connected by stairs; can also refer to a house that is partitioned into two apartments on the same level

Alcove: partly enclosed area connected to a room

Studio: one room or one room with a kitchen connected

Loft: a large, open apartment with high ceilings and large windows that's often the result of a conversion of a former industrial building

Cozy: small

New: may be overpriced

Adorable/unique/cute: nice words for tacky

Convenient: this is a matter of opinion, usually refers to a location in the city

H/W: hardwood floors

DW: dishwasher

EIK: eat-in kitchen

WIC: walk-in closet

W/D: washer and dryer

Lessee: tenant

Lessor: rental property owner

Lease: a type of legal agreement establishing a property owner-tenant relationship

Galley kitchen: a kitchen in which appliances, countertops, shelves and drawers are accessible on either side of a short path resembling a hallway with no available space for a table and chairs

Half-bathroom: includes a sink and toilet but no shower or bath


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