< Back to resources

Finding An Apartment: Eight Tips For New Renters

Renter Guides
Lydia Winkler
May 21, 2019
3 mins

Congratulations! You’ve graduated college and are about to start a job, an internship, or graduate school in a new place. For many, leaving college means finding housing for the first time. Suddenly the comfort and convenience of dorm life is no longer.  There was no college course on how to find an apartment. So you have some decisions to make. Will you be living alone or with others?

RentCheck is here to guide you through the process.

Here are 8 Tips for Renting an Apartment:

1. Location

You may find it helpful to make a list of what you absolutely want in your new location, and what you’d like to have but could compromise on. For example, do you want central air or are window units sufficient? How far would you travel to work? Do you want to be near lots of activities? Close to the outdoors? Spend some time researching the various neighborhoods in your new city. Hang out at a coffee shop, walk around and ask questions. Read local bulletin boards. You can learn a lot.

2. Budget

Once you’ve selected a neighborhood, now you need to focus on how much money you have to spend. Whether all the rent comes from your salary or from assistance from others, you want a clear idea of what funds you have available and how much you can spend on rent. Remember: rent isn’t the only expense. When you rent, be sure to ask what’s included. Do you have to pay electric? Heat and hot water? These costs need to be included in your monthly budget.

3. Agent or Not?

If you have unlimited time, you can scour Craigslist and other ads for apartment listings. But if time is limited, your best bet is to register with a local real estate agent. They know the area and have access to listings you might not find. Just remain clear about what you’re looking for, what you’d be willing to compromise on and what your budget is. The landlord usually pays for the agent’s fee so it’s really a win-win for you.

4. Getting the Apartment

In a perfect world, one would find an apartment, sign a lease, and move in. However, life doesn’t work like that, especially if you’re moving to a popular, high-rent city with little affordable inventory. Sometimes you need to file an application to be considered as a potential tenant. Sometimes you meet the landlord or their agent who screen the stack of applicants. In this case, you need to be prepared to put your best foot forward. Present yourself with a clean, neat appearance. Also, prepare a folder of documents to provide the landlord with your credit ratings and any other information that could help your application.  If you don’t have a credit rating, show all income and dates of employment, campus and summer jobs included. Provide contact information for a work reference. Show that you have checking and savings accounts, and that there are enough funds to cover the first three months of rent.  If you need a co-signer to ensure you’ll get the apartment, try to bring them with you to the interview. Finally, bring along contact information for two or more character references. These could be former teachers, mentors, and even friends. If the landlord conducts a credit check, you may have to pay a small fee. Obtain a receipt for any fees!

5. Other Costs

You’ve found a location. You’ve made a budget. But don’t forget there are other costs before you move in.  Some buildings require an application fee. Security deposits, which are held by the landlord against damages, are at minimum equal to one month’s rent.  Remember you also have to move, set up Internet services and sign up for utilities.

6. Things to Check

You love your new space and can’t wait to move in and start your new life. But check the apartment first.  

  • Open windows. Are there screens?
  • Does the toilet flush?
  • Do the water faucets drip?
  • What’s the water pressure in the shower?
  • Can you drink the tap water?
  • Do the windows open?
  • Is the floor in good shape?
  • Open the closets. Are there bars in place?
  • Is there a working smoke detector?

Questions to Ask about a Rental

In addition to rent and fees, it’s wise to ask questions about the unit and building. These include:

  • Are pets allowed? Is there a separate fee?
  • How long is the rental agreement? Year- long or month -to -month?
  • How do you pay your rent: by check or online?
  • Are there quiet hours?
  • Where does the trash and recycling go? How often is it collected?
  • Is there storage?
  • Who do I call if something breaks in the apartment?
  • Where do I collect mail and packages?
  • Is there parking?
  • Is there laundry on-site?
  • Can I sublet?
  • Can I paint? Hang pictures?
  • Are there move in days and times? Move in fees?
  • Is there regularly scheduled insect and pest spraying?

Signing the Lease

Location, costs, questions. You’re ready to say “yes.” The next step is to sign a lease. Read the contract carefully and ask questions about any concerns or things you don’t understand. Be sure everything the landlord said verbally is written in the lease.  For example, if they said you could sublet, be sure that’s stated in the lease.  The lease also should outline the schedule for rent increases. Most lease contracts enable the landlord to raise rent when the agreement expires. If there’s no cap on the rent increase, try to negotiate one.  Review the lease to know how much notice you need to give the landlord if you’re planning to move out.

7. Renters’ Insurance

Renters’ insurance could help replace your belongings if there’s damage from another apartment like a water leak, or from theft. However, like all insurance, plans differ in costs and coverage. Do some research to find what’s best for you.

8. Moving In: RentCheck!

You’re ready to move in! Your belongings are packed and you’ve arranged for moving, whether with a group of friends you’ll treat to pizza and beer, or with a professional. But before you start unloading, do a final walk through with the RentCheck App. https://getrentcheck.com/

Using your phone, download the app and follow its easy instructions to document the condition of your apartment, room by room. You then share the report with your landlord. You are protected from the landlord claiming you’ve caused damage to the property and the landlord is protected too. RentCheck enables communication and builds trust between tenant and landlord. Don’t move without RentCheck!