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10 Questions to Consider in Your Apartment Search

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A lot of new renters assume that searching for an apartment is simple. You just search for available spaces online, pick the best looking one in your price range, and sign a lease, right? While being that laid-back with your search might help you move into a new apartment sooner, you may find yourself in a less-than-ideal living situation down the road.  It’s important to know what to look for in an apartment.

In order to find an apartment that truly works for your lifestyle, you need to do some homework before committing. Call the landlord and get a feel for how he or she responds to you, set up a walk-through of the space, and come prepared with a list of questions. You want a solid idea of what living in the space will be like when you’re looking for apartments.

If you aren’t quite sure what to ask, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Here are 10 things to consider during your apartment search.

1. How to be a qualified renter

Rentals move fast, much more so than listings. Since there is often a high demand for rentals – especially ones that are that are clean and affordable – you’re more than likely going to face some stiff competition in your apartment search.  In order to put yourself in the best vying position, you need to be sure that you present qualities that make you look like a good tenant.

According to James McClelland of Chicago-based rental property management firm Mack Cos, some of the things that landlords consider are: income, length of employment, credit check, background check, number of applicants, and number of pets. Landlords want assurances that you have enough money to cover the lease and will presumably continue to have that income. They want to know that you have a history of paying your bills on time and that you will take care of their space.

If you find that one of the areas listed above may make give you trouble, there are a few things you can do. Find stable employment or a co-signer who has a consistent source of income. Start paying your bills on time and pay down as much of your debt as possible. Consider finding an alternative home for your pets.

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2. Consider who will be on the lease

Having a roommate in your new apartment has its pluses and minus. On the one hand, it certainly lowers the overall cost of the space, since you’ll only be responsible for paying a portion of the rent and utilities. But, on the other, if you are both on the lease and your roommate doesn’t pay, it could leave you with all of the financial burden.

If you and your roommate both intend to go on the lease, make sure you choose a person to live with who exhibits all of the good renter qualities listed in the article linked above. Be sure that it is someone that you trust enough to not to default on the payments.

The other option is to only put one of your names on the lease. This might be the best course of action if one of you has a less-than-stellar financial history. However, if you choose to go this route it’s wise to have a serious discussion beforehand about how much rent they will be expected to pay, what date you need to receive the money by, etc.

3. Determine when you’ll be ready to move

Once you feel that you are ready to be a tenant, you need to be certain of when you’ll be able to move. Since landlords often depend on rent as a source of income, if given a choice between renters, they’ll often choose the one who is able to move in the soonest. You don’t want to fall in love with a space only to find that you are unable to move.

If you’re currently living in a rental, be sure to read your lease carefully to determine when you’re able to move and how soon prior to that date you’ll need to give notice of your departure. In the event that you are currently living with roommates, you’ll also want to discuss your intended move-out date with them in case they will need time to find a replacement.

Start looking for new apartments two to months prior to the end of your lease. Get a feel for the areas where you’d like to be and look at potential listings. Then, when you are six weeks out from the end of your lease, start setting up viewing appointments.

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4. Get a feel for the apartment’s location

A crucial part of what to look for in an apartment is the location. Think about what you need in terms of location for your new apartment and then tailor the listings you go to see accordingly. Do you need to be within walking distance of public transportation? Is the commute to work manageable? Would you prefer to be close to shops and restaurants?

Beyond the apartment building itself, make sure to take the apartments surrounding area into account. Is the area one where you’d feel comfortable walking alone at night? Is there a grocery store and laundromat nearby?

Once you find a few listings that meet your needs, the best way to get a feel for the location is by spending time there. Make a few visits to the area at varying times of day. Find the stores you’ll know you’ll be needing to use most often and make a note of the travel time.

5. Take note of the building’s condition

When you finally get to the part of your apartment search where you get to see the space, take note of the building’s condition. The condition of the building is indicative of the way the landlord treats the space and, by extension, their tenants.

Are there any visible signs of the exterior needing repairs? Is the lawn maintained? Are the common areas and hallways clean? Can you see any appliances that are out of order? How long ago was the apartment’s decor updated? Think about how you feel walking through the building. If you see anything that seems like it’s seen better days, take that into consideration as you make your final decision.

If you have the opportunity, reach out to some of the building’s current tenants. Ask them how they feel about living in the apartment and if they would recommend you do the same.

6. Figure out what amenities you really need

As you’re looking for apartments online, it’s tempting to focus your search on the flashy, luxury buildings that offer their residents tons of amenities. After all, who wouldn’t want access to a 24-hour on-site gym and in-ground swimming pool? But, in most cases, the amenities often end up costing more than they are worth.

Amenities might be on your list of what to look for in an apartment, but you probably don’t need all of them.

Think about what amenities are truly necessary for you and which would just be a nice benefit. Do you need a parking space for your car? Would you feel more comfortable if the building had security on staff?  Then, revise your search for buildings that include those items.

When you look at apartments, be sure to question the cost of these features. While some complexes may include the fees in the monthly rent that’s advertised, others may consider it a separate charge. Also, ask whether participation in these services is mandatory or if you would be able to pick and choose only the amenities you’re sure you’ll use.

7. Look at the total monthly bill

Obviously, the cost of a space is going to be a huge factor in deciding which apartment will be your new home. You want to make sure you can afford the amount that you’ll need to pay to the landlord in monthly rent.

However, in addition to rent, you need to consider utilities such as water, sewer, trash, electricity, and heat. When talking to a potential landlord, be sure to ask which utilities will be included in the monthly rent and which will be a separate charge for you. Get a figure for how much the current renter usually pays in utilities.

Inquire about the process for paying bills. Will they be mailed to you directly or will you pay the landlord? Double check what day of the month these payments will be due and check if any additional fees will be accrued for late payments.

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8. Know the upfront costs

Monthly costs are not the only numbers that you need to consider. Renting an apartment usually comes with a considerable upfront cost and the costs of each unit will be different — this is one of the most important things on the list of what to look for in an apartment.

Most landlords require some amount of payment in a security deposit. Some ask for people to pay both the first and last month’s rent upfront. If you are looking to bring your pets into the unit, there may be an additional fee.

All of those payments can add up to a considerable amount when they need to be paid in a singular lump sum. Make sure you have a thorough idea of what upfront costs you’ll be expected to pay and that you will have enough money to pay them on the day that you sign the lease.

9. Know who is responsible for rectifying problems

Though it is unpleasant to think about, at some point during the course of your lease, you’ll likely face a problem with your unit. Maybe you’ll have a small plumbing issue or need to have a pest control professional remediate the space. Whatever the case, Kate Kemp of Move.com cautions not to wait until you’re in the middle of a crisis to figure out how it should be handled.

As you tour the apartment, ask the landlord what the procedure is for reporting and rectifying problems. Figure out who is responsible for paying any associated repair fees and how long it usually takes for issues to be addressed.

Get a feel for if any of the apartment buildings have experienced any major problems recently. If so, what has been done to fix the issue?

10. Make sure you understand the terms of the lease

We cannot stress this enough: Before you sign and turn in a lease, make sure that you read the entire thing thoroughly. Question any policies that you do not understand. If needed, have another person read over it as well to determine if you reached the same understanding.

Make sure you know what you’re agreeing to and that you feel that you will be able to abide by all of the terms. Pay extra close attention to notices about your responsibilities as a renter, fees you’ll be required to pay, and the penalty for breaking the lease.

Once you sign your name to the lease, you are obligated to comply with the terms listed within. If you fail to meet those terms, your landlord is within his or her rights to take legal action against you, so it’s essential for you to be aware of the commitment you’re about to make.

If you don’t feel comfortable with a section of the lease, do not sign it. You’re better off taking the time to search for another unit than risking costly legal repercussions down the road. The most important factor in your apartment search is making sure that you feel at home and at peace in your new space.

Finding a new apartment can be overwhelming. It can be hard to glean if you like the space from a few pictures on the internet and a short viewing, let alone figuring out if you like it enough to stay there for the full lease term.

The bottom line

It’s important to do your homework before you undertake your apartment search. There’s a lot that goes into the apartment-hunting process and many steps that are easy to forget. Follow these tips while you’re looking for your new home so you can be sure you find the best place for you.

Frequently asked questions

Q:

How far in advance should you look for an apartment?

A:

This can depend on where you live, but a good rule of thumb is to start the search about two months before you want to move. In cities where the rental market moves very quickly, you might want to start closer to your move date, but at the very least, you can start researching neighborhoods early so you have an idea of where you want to go.

Q:

When's the best time to look for an apartment?

A:

If you’re not stuck in a lease that dictates when you move, you’re likely to find the most options during the summer months. However, the prices are usually higher because so many people are moving at the same time. Prices tend to dip in fall and winter because there are more vacant units and less people moving in.

Q:

What should I look for in an apartment?

A:

There are several things to look for in an apartment, including the current upkeep of the building, the amenities you need, the neighborhood and surrounding area, and what all the associated costs will be.

Hedy Phillips contributed to this report.


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