American Spinster How-To: Your First Apartment
Part I: Finding The Right One
So it’s time to move out. Or at least, you want it to be time. Deciding on a place to live can be overwhelming. You don’t want to settle for the first empty unit in Cracktown, but you also don’t want to blow your monthly income on what appears to be the only safe place in town. You may have also heard stories about people getting swindled by shady apartment managers.
How do people do it?
First, research your options. Look at every apartment complex in your city (or the city you plan to live in). Go to their website (if they don’t have a website in this day and age, be wary). As you’re looking, make note of the following:
- Floor plan options and their prices
- Application Fees
- Lease Terms
- Pet Rules (even if you don’t have one, it’s good to know how the apartment managers view them
- Income Requirements
Most apartment complexes have a few different floor plans at different price points. Make a list of the square footage or other important features (such as whether they have patios/balconies, how many entrances, etc), as well as the monthly rent.
The biggest concerns with the location are crime and noise. Use a website like Crime Reports to see the crime rate of an area. It’s also a good idea, if you’re able, to drive through the complex at different times of the day, to get an idea of the neighborhood. Are people partying? Are their kids bicycling around? Drug deals (seriously, learn to spot this). The distance from your job is, of course, another factor when looking at locations.
Most places will require an application fee from you. Generally this is just to cover the cost of a background check and to ensure that uninterested parties don’t waste their time. But do be careful; if the application fee is unusually high, and they won’t tell you whether or not there’s a unit available, you might be out the fee and have nothing to show for it.
What kinds of leases do they offer? Generally, a 6 month or month-to-month lease will cost more per month than a full year lease. Also find out what their policies are should you have to break your lease.
If you have a pet, it’s important that you know whether or not they’re allowed, the rules if they are allowed, and how much extra it’ll cost you. Most places charge an additional fee, additional monthly rent, or both. If you’re thinking about sneaking a pet in, consider that – at some places – that’s considered a violation of the lease, and if you’re caught, you could be evicted or owe a hefty fine.
Virtually all apartment complexes will require proof of income, and you generally need to prove you make 3 or 3.5 times your monthly rent. If you’re like me, this sounds crazy, because rent will be by far the biggest drain on your income. Some places will take your savings into account, or may cut you a break if you can show them that you’re non-rent expenses are minimal, and your employment status is stable.
Paying close attention to these 6 items can save you a lot of time and narrow your options to the ones that’ll suit you best.
Next week’s Part II will go over what to do once you’ve found the place you want.