Though Ethan and I have been living together for a little over a year now we only began our apartment hunt a month ago. That’s because we were fortunate enough to have had a place to live rent free for the past year while I became acclimated to Los Angeles and Ethan got through his first year of law school. Ethan’s dad was kind enough to share his personal space with two millennials for 13 months, but now the time has come for us to venture out on our own and get our first real place together. And after a month long hunt we found it and put down our deposit last week.
It wasn’t easy, and even took some money to complete the search process, but we did it. And I hope we don’t have to do it again any time soon because it wasn’t one of my favorite experiences. The apartment hunt, while fun when you are looking at a place and dreaming up all the Pinteresty ways your gonna make it your own, was so stressful I wanted to cry sometimes. But I didn’t. I promise. And if you follow the steps I have listed below I don’t think you will have to either.
Aside: Now that we are moving in I am going to have more to say on the subject of getting your first apartment, but that can wait till I get this part out of my system.
6 Tips for Navigating an Apartment Hunt
- Make a budget right away. If you do this first you will already know what apartments you can afford and which you shouldn’t bother looking at. The best way to calculate what you can afford is the old one-third of your take home pay method. So if you make $3,000 a month, you can afford to put $1,000 toward rent (okay that example was really easy…) If you can’t afford a place on your own, having a roommate can help to make up for that one-third equation.
- Using a paid service to help you find that perfect place can be a good investment. Though there are websites like Apartments.com and Craigslist that can help you find a place for free, utilizing the features of a subscription website can help make your search more efficient by saving you time and giving you more information about each place. We subscribed to the subscription-only version of WestsideRentals, a VERY popular apartment hunting website in LA. Seriously, everyone we told we were on an apartment hunt asked if we were using WestsideRentals.
- If you happen to be apartment hunting in a competitive market you should show up early to an open house. Maybe even get there before it starts. If you decide you like the place and want to go for it you are going to fill out an application and you want yours to be at the front of the line because it is normally a first come first served situation. Make sure to bring your checkbook to pay the application fee (normally around $35) and a credit report if you can.
- Why do you want to bring a card report? Well they are going to check your credit anyway so having an up to date credit report with you might save them from having to pull one; and save you that $35 application fee which they specifically charge to run your credit report. Now when they pull your credit report it will add a hard inquiry to your credit score. We’ve talked about credit scores before and how important they are and this is one of those great examples as to why. If you have good credit your apartment application is more likely to be approved (yes, they can turn you away) and the cost of your deposit is likely to be determined by your credit score. The better your credit the more responsible you look the more they think you won’t trash an apartment.
- Now deposits are great because you usually get them back. Now if you are the kind of person who trashes an apartment (why? why did you do that?) then you won’t, but even if you are a perfect tenant you might not get it back. That’s because your landlord may not believe you in 12 months when you say, “But it was like that when I got here!” So you need to take pictures of the whole apartment before you move in, especially any damage that is already there.
- Have a checklist with you when you go to survey each place and be ready to ask as many questions as you want. You need to feel comfortable in the place you are going to live for at least the next year and the only way to really do that is to know everything about it. Here, you can take mine: That’s So Grown-Up Apartment Hunting Checklist
So that’s it boys and girls. That is what I have to say about the apartment hunt and I hope you have all learned something. If I can save even one person from an apartment hunt-related heart palpitation I will have done my job.