You recently graduated from college and maybe you have your first real job. After living with your parents a few months and saving a little money, you’re ready to strike out on your own and find your first apartment. But with student loan debt, staying within your budget can be a challenge and navigating the rental market can be daunting.
Here are a few things you need to know before renting your first apartment:
• You will need to know what your budget will be. Make sure you know whether the bottom-line rent payment includes — or does not include — utilities. If it does not, you will need to find out approximately how much utilities are so you’ll know whether you can afford the unit.
• If you find you can’t afford the rent, consider finding a roommate or roommates. Make sure that the person or people you are considering as roommates will be reliable. If you are signing a lease with other people, you want to make sure you can count on them to pay their portion of the rent and utilities. Another way to find a more reasonably priced rental home is to be willing to go a bit farther from the center of the city. If you rely on public transportation, sometimes considering taking the bus to Metro or commuting fully by bus can give you more choices, including less-expensive rents and ways to get you more items on your wish list, such as a nicer kitchen.
• Make a list of your needs in order of priority. You should have a list of mandatory items, among them, perhaps, walking distance to the Metro; a parking spot; laundry on the premises; the number of bedrooms you need; and a dishwasher. Make a list of items you don’t need but would consider a bonus to have — a pet-friendly building, a balcony, an on-site fitness center and wood floors, perhaps. Determine what you can and cannot be flexible on.
• Be prepared for when you find the apartment you like best. You should have all the information you will need to put on an application at your fingertips. If you have never had a credit card or paid any bills in your name, you might not have a credit history. A landlord will want to have some history of bill payment, so you may need to ask a parent or a relative to act as a guarantor on the lease. Know who that person is and have them ready to submit an application with you as a co-applicant.
• You should also be prepared to have up to two months’ rent for a security deposit and the first month’s rent. A security deposit may be less than one month’s rent, but it is better to be prepared just in case. You should also be prepared with application fees.
• Have a copy of current pay stubs or an offer letter from your employer stating your salary and a contact who can confirm your salary.
• Have one or two personal references available for a landlord to contact.
• Be cautious. Rental scams abound. If you cannot personally view the home you are considering renting, make sure a friend or a family member can see it on your behalf.
• Once you are approved to move forward on the lease, take time to review it carefully. Know what you are responsible for and what the landlord is responsible for concerning maintenance and utilities. Make sure there is an emergency number in case something breaks and needs to be fixed, such as plumbing issues.
• Know how much notice will be given to you as a tenant for an increase in rent; the landlord to enter the property; and other like scenarios. Know any fees in addition to your rent. Make sure all people who are to be on the lease are on the lease. Find out what is included in the rent and what is not. If you’re moving into a condo or a co-op, learn about any rules and regulations you need to abide by, and make sure you have a copy of them.
Once the lease is signed by all parties, make sure you know if you need to transfer utilities into your name and which utility companies to contact. If you are moving into an apartment, condo or co-op building, check to see if you need to schedule your move-in date with the building.