The thought of moving is chilling enough to send shivers down even the most hardened person’s spine. And it’s especially difficult if you don’t know what to look for in a new place. If you recently graduated from college and are apartment hunting for the first time, it’s helpful to do your own research on the front end so you don’t end up with a nightmare landlord or a rat infestation. We’ve compiled a list of apartment hunting tips so you know exactly what to look for.
Before we even get into the tips, we want to encourage you to make a list of the things you consider non-negotiable in a new place. Don’t be like Debby and Ryan on the latest House Hunters episode – you know the couple. They have a $1,000 budget and they want a balcony, six bedrooms and a walk-in closet for their cat?
However, a reasonable list of the things you need, the things you want, and the things you can live without will make the hunt a lot smoother and help ensure that you’ll end up in a place that you love. Use this list as a guide for your own, and rank these points based on how much they matter to you.
7 Apartment Hunting Tips for Newbies
1. Location, Location, Location
It’s the golden rule of real estate and it’s important to consider even if you’re only looking to rent: location. If you’re seriously considering an apartment, take some time after your tour to walk around the neighborhood. Can you see yourself living here? What kind of businesses are nearby? Is there a park or green space in walking distance?
This is especially important to do if you’re brand new to a city. Doing your research about neighborhoods online is one thing, but there’s something about the vibe of a place that you can only get in person. Think about what’s important to you and your lifestyle in advance. For example, green space might be a must-have for fitness enthusiasts, but negotiable for hermits.
Safety is another factor here. Do you think you’d feel okay walking around this area at night? Not that we’d recommend it, of course. Haven’t you ever seen Dateline?
2. Think About Your Commute to Work
This is probably the most important factor to consider when apartment hunting. According to research done by the University of the West of England and reported on by Insider, “each extra minute of commuting time reduces both job and leisure time satisfaction and worsens mental health for workers.” The average commute in the U.S. is 50 minutes. Each way! That’s almost two hours per day spent in transit. That adds up to 400 hours of time spent commuting per year.
Imagine what else you could do with that 400 hours. You could finally finish your island on Animal Crossing. You could perfect your baking skills and land a spot on The Great British Baking Show. If you’re not already British, you could probably even figure out a way to gain citizenship first!
So, consider your commute before you get swept up in the magic of an apartment that’s “only” 40 minutes from your first job on a good day. In the long run, it’s just not worth it! Unless of course, you really like a long run. Then a hefty commute might just work out.
3. Listen to the Noise Level of the Neighborhood
Cars, busses, the subway, oh my! Life in a city is made to be noisy. But there are certainly some apartments that are more noise-cancelling than others. And if you’re not moving to a big city, there are likely neighborhoods that are rather quiet altogether.
When you’re in the apartment for a viewing, pay attention to the kinds of noise you hear. Are the walls super thin, allowing you an all-too intimate look into your neighbor’s life? Is there a bus station right outside that brings a lot of foot traffic and noise to your unit? Or maybe there’s a hospital nearby, and you notice sirens in the not-so-distant distance more than usual?
If you’re feeling bold, asking someone in a neighboring unit about their experience with the noise level of your building is a great way to gauge how burdensome it will be. If noise doesn’t bother you, disregard this section, but answer us this: are you a monk? How does one become so zen?
4. Consider Cost & Affordability
It’s easy to say yes to the apartment of your dreams before reality hits your bank account. It’s important to take an honest assessment of your life and think about how much you can afford each month. Don’t forget to take utilities, maintenance fees, and other recurring costs into account. Experts typically agree that you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your monthly income on rent.
Ladies, please hear us when we say that spouting, “I’ll figure it out! I need this apartment!” won’t pay the bills when they come. You’re an adult now, babe. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’ll stress you out and the aesthetic Instagram shots aren’t worth that kind of financial strain.
5. Assess the Overall Quality of the Apartment
Consider the size of the apartment, the type of amenities it offers, and whether or not the appliances are updated. Think about what kind of furniture will (and won’t) fit. A studio apartment is easy on the budget, but it can feel a bit cramped if you’re planning on working from home.
Look at storage space, too. Will all of your clothes fit in the closet? How much room is there in the pantry and cabinets for food? Is there a space to keep your toiletries in the bathroom?
Size might be okay to skimp on when it comes to apartment hunting, but cleanliness is not. Take an honest look at the unit and look out for mouse traps or spaces that would be conducive to bugs or rodents getting into the unit. You can also ask the realtor or landlord if there’s a history of that kind of thing, but keep in mind that they might not know, or they might not be honest with you if they do. Ratatouille might be cute, but we’d rather not have him as our roommate.
6. Get to Know Your Landlord
Landlords are a funny thing. You can’t live with them, and you can definitely live without them. Unfortunately, until you have enough for a down payment on a house, you need to at least work with them.
Try to gauge the personality of your landlord before you sign the lease. This can be challenging, because some landlords are able to successfully hide their true colors (and by that we mean Pantone shade #666: crazy AF).
Ask if there’s a building manager, or if it’s the landlord who will address any issues that come up. Make sure you get the landlord’s phone number once you sign the lease, too. But, if any red flags are present in your initial meeting, run for the hills. Maybe Lauren Conrad will be there!
7. Ask About Pets & Parking
If you’re lucky enough to have a furry friend (or a scaly one, we don’t judge – okay, we kind of do), you definitely want to seek a place that’s pet-friendly. Don’t try to sneak your dog into an apartment where they’re not allowed. If your landlord finds out – which is likely considering dogs, you know, bark – you could find yourself in a world of trouble, and maybe even evicted.
If you have a car, you’ll want to figure out the parking situation. Some buildings have parking lots where you are guaranteed a spot every day. If you have a brand-new Tesla, you’ll probably want to spring for one of those. If you’re riding in style in a 2005 Toyota Prius (hey soul sister!), street parking will likely do just fine. But ask about how easy or hard it is to find street parking in your city.
Other Things to Look For in an Apartment
There are lots of less obvious things you may want to think about before signing a lease. These might not be considerations you’ve thought of yet, but they can make a big impact when it comes to your happiness in your new place. Take it from us; fridge size led to a world of drama in our last apartment. We still get PTSD when we open the freezer.
Photo Credit: @adultescencepodcast
More Apartment Hunting Tips: Consider These Too!
- Laundry services: are they in-unit, in the basement, or not in the building at all?
- Trash disposal: where can you dispose of your trash? Is it only once a week, or any time you want?
- Dishwasher: is there a dishwasher in-unit, or are you the new dish-washer?
- Fridge size: especially important if you have roommates, how big is the fridge? Will it fit a week’s worth of groceries for X number of people?
- Accessibility: is it in a walk-up building, or is there an elevator? What floor is the unit on?
- Bathtub: is there one? Do you care? We aren’t usually bath people, but it’s nice to have the option sometimes, ya know?
- Outdoor space: is there a balcony or patio, or no outdoor space at all? How easy will it be for you to get outside in this unit?
- Air conditioning: is there central air? If not, can you install a window AC unit? Depending on where you live, that could be crucial.
- Storage space: how many closets are there? Will this apartment fit all your clothes, furniture and belongings?
- Neighbors: who lives near you, and can you tell if they’re respectful? You might not be able to, but even a quick conversation can help to gauge their friendliness.
- Amenities: what kind of perks come with living here? Is there a gym or a pool, a doorman? If so, will you actually use the amenities? Are they worth the extra cost?
- Lease renewal: if you decide to renew the lease, will your landlord guarantee that the price will remain the same?
Final Apartment Hunting Tips & Advice
The apartment searching process is overwhelming, expensive and downright frustrating. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil so you don’t end up living on the streets, so it’s worth doing it right. Give yourself ample time to find a new place if you can, as a rushed search is likely to lead to a disappointing outcome.
It’s usually a good idea to work with several real estate agents so you can see a variety of options. Consider the time of year of your search as well. For example, in Boston, most apartments go up for rental on September 1st, since Boston is a college town and apartments turn over with the school cycle. If you look for an apartment out of peak rental season for your area, you might have more limited options, but score a better deal.
If you’ve read this far, you’re ready to go forth and conquer! Or, at least go forth and squat. After all, millennials can’t afford houses anymore. Since we might end up renting for life, we may as well get good at it.
- Listen to the Adultescence podcast episode about living situations as a recent graduate, apartment hunting and roommates.