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Apartment Shopping Guide for First Time Renters

Guide for First-Time Renters

You’re ready to venture out on your own into your first apartment or rental home. While exciting, the task of finding your new home can be daunting. Here’s how to reduce the anxiety, get yourself organized, and understand common lease terms before you begin searching.

Figure Out Your Finances

The first step to finding your new home is knowing how much you can afford. Be sure to include costs other than rent such as renter’s insurance, pet rent (if you have pets), security & pet deposits, utilities, internet, furniture, and décor. Typically, experts recommend that no more than 25% of your take-home pay should go to rent. This keeps money freed up for your additional home expenses, as well as for other things you want to do in life.
Using a budgeting tool like YNAB or EveryDollar can help you figure out your monthly finances and learn exactly what you can afford.

Start Mapping

Decide which neighborhoods or areas you’d like to live in above all else. Consider how long your commute will be to work, school, and other activities using a tool such as Waze. Look at WalkScore ratings of the neighborhood to see how much is nearby. If you plan on using public transportation, be sure to find the bus or train routes and look for communities close to the nearest bus stops or train stations. A quick crime check in the area is a good way to gauge your new neighborhood. Calling the local police departments or asking in localized Facebook groups is another good way to get a feel for the area.

Make an Amenity Wishlist

Decide what you must have in an apartment and what you’d like to have. Create two lists: one for needs and the other for wants. If you’re a student or often telecommute, high-speed internet availability may be a need. Pet-friendly communities are must-haves for those who plan to bring their dogs with them. Features like these should be placed on your “must-have” list. If you’d like to have a pool on site or an on-site gym, these might be good to add to your “wants” list. If you find a great community without these features, it’s possible to find them nearby.

Start Searching

Use the internet to search for apartments near your location. Using Google Maps is a great way to find an apartment in specific neighborhoods and read resident reviews all in one place. Websites like, Apartment Guide, Zillow, and Apartment List are other great resources and allow you to filter results so that only communities within your budget with your must-have features are displayed. 
Once you have made a list of your favorite communities, schedule tours, view virtual tours, and drive around the areas to get an in-person feel for the exact apartment and communities you’re considering.

Ask the Right Questions

Make a list of questions to ask your future landlord, but also be sure to ask these questions so you have all the information required to make a decision.
  • Are any utilities included in the rent?
  • What are the average utility costs for the floorplan(s) your considering?
  • Where will you be able to park and how full do the parking lots get in the evenings and on weekends?
  • Where will guests be able to park and is there a limit to the number of guest parking spaces that can be used at a time?
  • How much is the application fee and what is the typical timeframe for approval?
  • What are your pet policies and are there breed restrictions?
  • What is the security deposit?

Request a Copy of the Lease

Ask for a copy of a lease agreement so you have time to read through it before committing to anything. Spend time reading it carefully, highlighting any clauses you don’t understand or have concerns with. Send an email to the leasing team or landlord with your list of questions or concerns so they can answer and address them.

Make Your Decision

After your careful research, you’re ready to move into your new apartment! Contact the leasing staff once you’ve decided to move in so your move-in date can be arranged and you can sign your lease. Once you have your new address, you’ll be able to start notifying friends, family, subscriptions, and other organizations of your new address so your mail won’t be held up once you move. Think about any furniture or supplies you’d like to have on hand when you move, and start finding good friends to help you get settled in on moving day (be sure to supply them with food, drinks, and lots of praise for their help)!

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