Whether you're a recent graduate or have decided it's time to move out of your parents' house, there's a lot you need to know about how to rent an apartment. From budgeting to signing a lease to moving day, we've got you covered with the ultimate first apartment checklist.
Make a budget
Apartments come in all shapes, sizes and prices. It's important to remember that rent is only one part of the cost of moving out. There are short-term and long-term expenses associated with living on your own.
Your ultimate first apartment checklist starts with figuring out how much you can spend on rent. When making an accurate budget for renting an apartment, factor in all the costs to ensure you don't end up short when it's time to make your first electric bill payment.
A good first apartment budget should include costs for:
- Utility bills and initial deposit
- Cable/internet costs, including installation fees
- Application fee
- Security deposit
- Pet deposit
- Parking space fee
- Renter's insurance
If you know you'll need to buy new furniture for your apartment, you might want to add a line item in your budget for that, too. It's just a safeguard to make sure you won't rack up too much credit card debt furnishing that perfect apartment once you find it.
There's an app for that
To keep your apartment budget straight, and track estimated costs vs. real costs, consider using an online budgeting app or budget tracker. They're often something you can continue using after moving in to keep an eye on your monthly expenses and help you stay on track.
The value of an emergency fund
It's also a good idea to budget in an emergency fund. It's not that unusual for stuff to happen that's outside of our control. You want to stay prepared for the unexpected by keeping some extra cash on hand that you don't touch, no matter what. It's your rainy day/emergency fund, and it needs to stay that way.
Create a wish list
Budget complete, it's now time to really think about what kind of apartment you want to call home. The wish list in your first apartment checklist should include all the elements you would love to have in your first apartment. Realize you won't get them all, but finding a place that hits as many as possible is a great way to narrow down your options. For your wish list, think about:
- Apartment size and how many bedrooms
- Location and whether you have a preferred neighborhood
- How close you need to be to public transportation
- Whether or not parking is available
- If pets are allowed
- Amenities outside the apartment
- Kitchen appliances
- Where you can find the laundry facilities
You'll most likely have more items to add to this list, but thinking about it in advance will help you streamline your apartment search. You won't waste time looking at units outside your budget or lacking in wish list items. It's a very helpful time saver.
Location, location, location
Among your wish list items, location is often more important than first-timers initially think. You not only need to worry about your commute to work but also whether the neighborhood has everything you want in it.
How close are you to restaurants, the grocery store, your friends or family? Taking all of these factors into consideration is important when picking your perfect first apartment. According to Investopedia, you can think about this particular item within a few certain primary factors, all of which help make up a “good" location:
- Centrality: how close to downtown, work, etc.
- Neighborhood: what the immediate area around your apartment is like
- Development: what's already in the area and what's coming
- Unit location: where the unit is within the apartment building itself, whether you're on the top or bottom floor or somewhere in the middle, you should have a preference
Make sure your preferences in each of these areas make it onto your wish list.
Take a few apartment tours
It's best to see an apartment before signing a lease. Pictures can easily be misleading. They also don't tell you the full story of what the neighborhood is like. When you go on an apartment tour, you also get a feeling for the vibe in the building itself.
That's another important element to deciding if an apartment is right for you. If you're a highly social person, you might prefer a friendly building, where neighbors socialize. If you like to keep to yourself, you want a place without a nosy tenant next-door.
Apartment tours are also the time to check on the quality of an apartment, so make sure to:
- Check the locks on the doors and windows of the apartment (and the door of the building, as well) to ensure they close properly. If there's condensation on the windows, they aren't closed properly.
- Check if the floor slants and/or looks warped in any way, as that could be a sign of a previous or existing leak
- Another leaky clue: Make sure there are no spots on the ceilings and/or walls
- Turn on every faucet to make sure the pressure and water color are to your liking
- Flip on every light switch and note any burnt-out bulbs
- Look around for outlets to make sure there are enough, and their locations are good
- Notice how much natural sunlight the apartment receives. Light has a major impact on your overall mood, so keep an eye out for big windows.
- Try out the appliances. If anything doesn't work or is really outdated, ask the property manager if they're willing to fix or replace it. Get confirmation in writing, if possible.
- Take out your cell phone and make sure you get service in the unit
- Look around for evidence pests were here at some point. Small holes in the floor or filled cracks low down in the wall are telltale signs.
- Listen hard while you're on tour to see if you can hear sounds from other apartments. If you can hear them, they'll hear you.
- Take notice of how many stairs you climb to get to the apartment. Remember, you'll have to carry groceries up those on a regular basis.
- Ask about fees and average monthly costs for utilities in order to update your budget tracker
- Ask about parking availability for guests, as well as yourself
- Inquire about amenities and ask to see them
Take in as much detail as you can, and write down actual notes of the things you like the most and the least. It's hard to remember exact information if you see a few apartments close together. Having notes to refer to helps jog your memory.
Complete a rental application
You've found the place, but your first apartment checklist is only halfway done. After you find that perfect apartment, the next step is to fill out a rental application. In order to supply all the information a property manager may ask for at this stage, bring with you:
- A valid I.D.
- Social security card
- Most recent bank statement
- Your last three pay stubs
- Referral letters from your employer or close friends or family
These are the standard items for any rental application, but on your first apartment checklist, add in information for a co-signer. You may need one since you most likely don't have an extensive credit history. Having someone co-sign your lease will give your property manager more confidence that the rent gets paid on time.
Sign your lease
Rental application approval usually takes a few days. After that, the next step is signing the lease and setting your move-in date. Your lease is a legal document, and you need to treat it as such.
This means reading it very carefully, and asking for clarification when you don't understand something. Make sure you take note of all the important facts within it, such as:
- When rent is due, and how you pay it
- How maintenance requests get submitted and handled
- Any extra fees
- Whether you can sublease
- How parking works
You'll also want to take a look at all the policies within your lease to make sure you follow the rules.
- Guest policy
- Pet policy
- Parking policy for visitors
- Late rent policy
- Decorating policies, which include whether you can put holes in your walls and paint
Make sure you agree with everything in the lease before you sign it. If you don't agree, discuss it with your property manager. They're often willing to compromise. Anything you change should get added to your lease, in writing, before you sign.
Move on in
Since this is your first apartment, you might not have that much to move into it. Regardless, it's best not to delay preparing for your move. As soon as you sign your lease, you should have a move-in date. Once that's finalized begin preparations by:
- Scheduling movers or renting a moving truck
- Enlisting friends to help
- Getting packing supplies — boxes, bubble wrap or packing paper, packing tape and permanent markers
- Creating a moving spreadsheet that keeps track of all the details, down to what's in each box you've packed
Staying organized is crucial toward making the move to your first apartment successful.
Another part of moving in is figuring out what you don't have that you need. Some of it you buy and bring in yourself, but big-ticket items will get delivered. Make sure you understand how those types of deliveries work.
Some apartment buildings are strict about big deliveries, so it's best to aim to have everything brought over when you're moving. That way, the delivery people can bring the furniture straight up without complication.
Pick up essentials for your first apartment
Stocking a first apartment is different for everyone. It all depends on what you already have with you. If you're packing up your room from home, you may arrive with all your bedroom furniture in tow.
If you have some nice relatives willing to donate a gently-used item to your new place, you may even come with a couch or dining room table. There's even a possibility to get an old set of dishes.
Regardless of what you come in with, there will be a lot of essentials to buy for your first apartment. Many of these are the little things you don't think about until you actually need them, and it's too late.
Get a jump on that first shopping list though by adding these items to it. You can worry about the big stuff, like the furniture and room décor, on a separate list.
- Clothes hamper
- Shower curtain
- Bath towels
- Toilet paper, tissues and paper towels
- Hand soap
- Garbage cans for every room
- Cleaning supplies
- Mop, broom and/or vacuum
- Dishes and silverware — enough to serve six
- Cooking utensils
- Pots and pans
- Mixing bowls
- Oven mitts
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Can and bottle opener
- First-aid kit
- Basic tool kit
Don't forget to check your apartment for the proper safety equipment, too. If you don't see any smoke detectors, contact your property owner to get some installed. It's also a good idea to buy at least one fire extinguisher to keep in your home. Store it in the kitchen, under the sink.
Your list of first apartment essentials will most likely include more than this starter list, but don't leave any of these off. You'll be sorry not having them as you begin to settle into your new home.
A first apartment checklist that gets results
Once you can mark everything off your first apartment checklist, it's time to relax in your own apartment. Congratulate yourself on this adult move, and have fun. The next thing to do is to start planning your housewarming party.