Before You Sign The Dotted Line- Tips for Leasing Your First Apartment

Woman signing document

Whether you just graduated from high school or even finalized a divorce, you may be facing a lot of challenges and one of those might be renting an apartment. Although you can't wait to make that move, keep in mind that it's more than just signing on the dotted line. Here are some tips to help the experience go more smoothly.

Before you do anything, you should determine a budget. Yes, it's time to find out why you learned all that math in school. Setting and keeping a budget can mean the difference between actual meals and ramen noodles when the fifteenth of the month rolls around. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends you keep housing expenses to 30% or under. Others recommend the 50/30/20 method, in which 50% of your budget is set aside for essential needs, such as rent, utilities, food, transportation, and health care, 30% of your budget is then used for non-essentials, such as cable, electronics, eating out, vacations, etc., and 20% goes towards savings and debt repayment. What you do with it depends on what's important to you. Do you need to make credit card payments, car payments, payments on any debts you owe? Do you want to put a certain amount of money in a savings account before you pay debts? This 20% helps you think ahead to your financial well being

Next, decide the area in which you'd like to live. Do you want to live close to school or work? Do you need access to transportation? Making decisions like these ahead of time helps keep you from running all over town. With your newly set budget, you'll know if you can afford this area. Is it out of your reach? All is not lost. You might consider a roommate.

A roommate can help pay the rent and utilities and be good company. However, be careful when you choose a roomy. Find out things, such as:

  • Do they have parties? How many? How late?
  • Do they have pets?
  • Are they neat or sloppy?
  • Do they have people over often? How late do they stay?
  • Will they agree with a plan for who pays what utilities and how much rent?

It might be better to wait until you can afford that dream apartment on your own rather than take on a roommate.

Once you've set your budget and decided on your neighborhood you can turn to the internet. Pull up websites for apartments that interest you and check out the amenities. Look for the basics, such as:

  • laundry facilities
  • dishwasher
  • air conditioner
  • secure locks
  • storage

Next, check for things that are important to you, such as:

  • Is it pet friendly?
  • Is there a swimming pool? Can you bring guests?
  • Is there a gym/fitness area?
  • Is there a media room?
  • Is there a place for parties or gatherings?

Once you make a list of places that look promising, make appointments for tours.

As you tour the grounds, ask the manager as many questions as you can think of.

  • How much is the rent for the unit you're interested in? (1 bedroom/2 bedroom, etc.)
  • What is the security deposit?
  • What are the late fees?
  • Can the rent increase or is the rent amount locked in?
  • What is the apartment security system?
  • What happens if you have to break your lease?

There are lists of apartment renters questions you can download before you go on a tour if you'd feel more comfortable.

After you've chosen your apartment, you must fill out the paperwork. This might include such information as:

  • The completed application form
  • Your credit score, or you may undergo a credit check
  • A rental history
  • Proof of income
  • Identification documents, such as your Driver’s License or state ID
  • Proof of vehicle registration

Purchasing renters’ insurance is a good idea, even if you're renting an apartment or a condo. It covers property damage caused by fire, theft, water damage, and falling objects (good if you live in a bottom floor unit.) Landlords lean more in your favor if you have renters insurance.

Almost there! After you've paid your security deposit and first and last month's rent, you're ready to move in! That is, if you have any money left for anything to move. If you need inexpensive furniture, try Wal-Mart, Good Will, or yard sales. The same goes for kitchen supplies, towels, sheets, decorations, etc. Anything to get you started. You can gradually replace things as you go. Then be ready to pay a mover, rent a U-Haul, or pay for the pizza for the friends you rope into helping you move all your things into your new home.

Renting your first apartment may appear easy, but you can get in over your head quickly with debts that could haunt you for years. However, with a little planning and research, you can avoid the financial pitfalls and enjoy your first taste of freedom.