Hello! If you follow along with my journey, you know that my boyfriend and I are moving at the end of June to be closer to my new teaching job. The job is about 3.5 hours away from where we are now, so it has been quite the process to find the perfect apartment for us to move to! Now that we have found the right place, I want to share my experience and knowledge with you. Looking for an apartment can be really overwhelming, but if you follow this guide, you will find the perfect place in no time!
1. Figure out Your Budget
Why would I put this in the first spot? Simple. Nothing sucks more than finding the perfect apartment… and then realizing you can’t afford it. My boyfriend likes to look at all the crazy expensive luxury apartments, but I would rather stick to the places that are actually possible. On nearly every apartment search site, you can put in a price range, so knowing your minimum and maximum budget are very important in the apartment hunting process.
When deciding your budget, make sure to be honest with yourself. Add up all of your bills and expenses and make sure you won’t be putting yourself in a bad spot. I am taking on a lot of new expenses in the coming months along with the new job, so it was very important that I had a clear view of my income v. expenses. Especially since we are unsure what my boyfriend’s income will be right now.
If you’ve never lived on your own before, remember that there are more costs than just rent. Utilities (electric, gas, water, garbage), internet/tv, and renter’s insurance can all add to your financial burden with a new place!
2. Make your List of Needs/Wants
Spend some time writing down a list of what you are looking for in an apartment. Knowing what you want from the get go helps narrow down the search and stops you from wasting time on the wrong places. Make sure anyone you are moving with makes their list, and then compare and settle on a list together. Try and rank the list from most to least important. If I’ve learned anything from HGTV, it’s that you will never get everything you want. Some needs are more important, so you might have to give up a few of the other wants to get them!
Ours looked like this (from most to least important):
- 2 bedrooms, 1 bath
- Access to high speed internet
- Room for our chest freezer
- Within 30 minutes of job
- Dishwasher and garbage disposal
- In unit washer/dryer
- Good lighting
- Walk in closet
- Good kitchen storage (pantry)
We ended up with everything on our list except one thing (in unit w/d), and we are pretty satisfied with it! Having the list helped us a lot with narrowing down our options in the early stages.
3. Figure out How Far You’re Willing to Travel
For most people, when you move to a new city or you are looking for a new place, you know where your work/school is. Determine how far you are willing to travel between home and work. For me personally, I know my school is not in a safe area and that I might have to live a little further out. My maximum was 45 minutes, but I preferred around 30. For some, especially if you are a college student, you might even want to be within walking distance. You have to know how far away you should be looking so you don’t end up searching areas that are too far away.
Apartments.com has a really cool feature that lets you draw your own shape on a map and it searches everywhere within the shape. We utilized this a lot – we figured how far out 45 minutes would be, and then drew a circle around my school so everything we searched would land within the 45 minute radius. Here’s what our map looked like.
4. Search Online & Create a Tentative List
I recommend searching widely and looking on several websites. We utilized apartments.com and rent.com the most, but there are plenty of other apartment search sites out there. Just in case, we also looked on craigslist. We spent a few days just looking around online. We looked together and made note of possible places we might want to look at. Then we made one big long list. We had options all over the map, with different sizes and different features. Start with a wider list – you want to have options! Don’t put obvious no’s on the list, but don’t discount places just because they aren’t perfect online. When you visit in person things can often seem very different!
If you are in contact with anyone at your new school/job and you aren’t sure what areas to avoid, reach out and ask! Several people at my new job told me which areas to avoid and where they live, which was a huge help when searching for places!
5. Narrow Your List & Plan Your Visit
How narrow you go is entirely up to you. We live 3 hours away, so we knew we could only see a certain amount within our one day trip. So, we squeezed five apartments in to one day. We spent a lot of time eliminating places before visiting so we didn’t waste time, and only went into to our absolute top runners. On the actual day we ended up skipping one we scheduled and visiting another, but I’ll go into detail about that later.
I would recommend calling ahead to schedule a viewing. Make sure you are giving yourself a full hour at every location so you can see the place and get all the information. We looked at our top six and then made our schedule so we followed a logical path, rather than zig-zagging all over the place. We squeezed in a fifth viewing 30 minutes before close! Thank goodness we did because that’s where we ended up applying!
6. Prepare to Visit
Write a list of a questions you want to ask. Bring a notebook and make a space for each place and WRITE DOWN THE ANSWERS. You don’t want to be talking at the end of the day and be like “wait which one had an extra cat fee? Which one had included water?” We 100% made this mistake when we were looking for our first apartment a few years ago. After a jam packed day of apartment hunting, things can easily get mixed up. You definitely want to have your list of questions and answers written down for reference later, especially if you are comparing a couple different places. Below is a picture of the questions we asked, based on what is most important to us. You can use this list as a basis, but make sure you have your own specific questions. This is such an important step. The worst feeling is leaving a showing and still having questions.
Make sure you ask when the move in date is and ensure it lines up with your moving timeline! This can be a big problem if you aren’t careful.
7. Get the Most Out of Your Visit
In addition to your questions and the showing, there are other ways to make the most out of your visit. Pay attention to the area as you start approaching the apartment. If you are going to be living in the area, you want to make sure it looks safe! Honestly, Aaron and I arrived at one apartment and didn’t even go in, despite it being a front runner online. It was not far enough out of the rough area of town to be safe. We knew we would never be comfortable there long term. We visited one of our backup apartments instead and we were so glad we did!
Get a feel for the community amenities and pay attention to the office staff. Was the staff rude or hard to get a hold of? Keep that in mind, because they won’t be any nicer once you’re a resident. If they were super helpful and accommodating, that’s a bonus! Check out other things, like mailboxes, the pool, fitness room, or any other amenities offered!
Pay attention to your potential future neighbors. When you are in the showing, do you hear music or dogs barking? Can you hear footsteps in the apartment above you? Do people smile when you walk by? You don’t have to be best friends with your neighbors, but you definitely don’t want super loud or mean neighbors! Pay special attention in college towns. Does their apartment have a neon light or a beer pong table on the patio? It might be time to find another place.
Related: A Guide to College Move In
8. Take Photos During Your Showing
This may sound awkward, since the staff member is there, but just trust me and do it mmkay? I always regret when I don’t take photos. Even if you only do it for your favorite places, you will be glad you did when you start looking for furniture and thinking about decorating. Plus, I always want to show others the place we found, and photos make that much easier. This also makes it easier to remember which apartment had what when you are comparing them later and making your decision.
9. Get Application Information Everywhere
Make sure that you are getting all the paperwork you need at all the places you visit. Or at least every apartment that there is a chance you might live at. It’s better to just ask for the application information and requirements while you are there so you don’t have to figure it out later. Some places have more stringent application requirements, and some have higher application fees. One place we went had the most intense app I have EVER seen. They also had a ton of over the top requirements.
Most places require the following at application and on move in day:
- rental verification from previous landlords
- employment verification (you usually have to prove you can make 3x rent)
- application fee (keep an eye out for specials where apartments waive application fees!)
- vet information if you have pets
- proof of renter’s insurance
- proof that you have set up electric
10. Make Your Final Decision
This can be a very easy, or a very hard decision. If you naturally feel one is far superior to the others, maybe your mind is made up. If, however, there are two or three that all stood out and have different pros and cons, your decision will be a little harder. Life gets even harder if you have another person in the mix as well.
For us, we both felt two apartments were our top picks. Each of us had a different one in the front spot. We spent most of our three hour drive home picking apart the details, looking at my notes, and writing a pro/con list. Finally, we decided on a place a little further away from my job, because it was a 2 bedroom, and it cost less overall. By the time we were home, we had settled on my pick(!) and we immediately filled out their online application.
Once the decision is made, you don’t want to spend too much time debating, because they are still showing that apartment to others. Especially if you have a specific move in date, you need to move fairly quickly. That isn’t to say make a rush decision, take your time, but make sure you don’t lose out on the perfect place! Aaron and I stopped and had dinner at five guys, reviewed all the information, and made our decision that night!
Other Advice for Finding the Perfect Apartment
- Spend time really looking at the unit during the showing. When Aaron and I were looking for our first apartment, I rushed through showings because I felt awkward and I didn’t want to take too much of the person’s time. It’s what they are there for! Take your time and really check the place out. If I had been more careful and checked everything out, it’s likely we would not have moved into our first place.
- Don’t pretend that your lifestyle will change in the new place. For example, I tried to convince myself I would be okay without a dishwasher. I told everyone I would just wash my dishes by hand. Who needed to pay an extra $20 a month for a dishwasher?? ME. Thank goodness my boyfriend called my bluff and insisted we get a dishwasher installed. Know thyself, and don’t put yourself in an apartment that you will only be happy in if you change your habits.
- Don’t force yourself into a bad place. If you do this whole process and you just don’t feel any of the places were right – DO NOT force a decision and move in anyway. So what your first try failed. Do some more research, uncover some new places, and try again. I wish I had followed this advice in my first apartment. We didn’t have a ton of time, so we jumped into a place that neither of us loved, just to be done with it.
Apartment Hunting Can be Fun!
Well, at least it doesn’t have to be miserable. If you are searching on your own, I recommend bringing a friend or family member with you so they can help you talk things through and find the right place. Aaron and I made a whole day out of it, and really enjoyed our visit to our new city. Apartment hunting can be stressful, but I always try to remember that it isn’t life or death. Worst case scenario, we move in a year.
How was your apartment hunting experience? Did you follow these tips, or did you do something else to find your place? Are you still confused about finding a place? Let me know in the comments! I’m always happy to answer questions and clarify whenever possible!
Looking for More?
Just in case you’re looking for more information about apartments, I’ve collected several posts from bloggers all about the topic!
- Decorating your Place for Under $1000 by Hey, Haley.
- Vetting your Apartment by The Typical Twenty Something.
- Making a Small Space Seem Like Home by The Typical Twenty Something.
- How to Find an Apartment in Germany by Indian Girl in Germany.
- Room Decor for Beauty Lovers by 365 Beauty Tips.
- How to Make an Apartment Feel Like Home by Darrian Michelle.
- How to Find an NYC Apartment by Life According to Francesca.
- How I Decorated my Apartment by Stardust.