Whether you’re moving to a new city or simply looking for a more affordable place in the same town, apartment hunting can be a daunting endeavor.
“Finding a new apartment is a big deal,” said Michael Taus, vice president of marketing at ABODO, an online apartment directory. “It’s where you’re going to live, after all, so it should be something you like and that fits your budget and lifestyle.”
Follow these six steps to make the search manageable and ultimately snag the perfect-for-you place.
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1. Figure out what you can afford.
A good rule of thumb is that monthly rent should not exceed 30 percent of your monthly income, said Danielle Procopio, a real estate broker in the Chicago, IL, area. “This should give you plenty of room for other expenses.”
To get a full picture of the amount you’ll be spending, check whether any of the utilities are included in your monthly rent. If they aren’t, ask the landlord for an estimate of monthly utility costs. Also consider fluctuating expenses. For instance, if you plan to use air conditioning in the summer, keep in mind your electric bill could double or even triple during the hot months.
Take into account other possible costs, such as cable, Internet, parking and renter’s insurance, along with laundry if the apartment lacks a washer and dryer.
2. Set priorities.
In addition to understanding your budget, consider the features you’d like to—or must—have. Perhaps you want hardwood floors or a great view. If you have a dog, you might need a pet-friendly place. And if you plan to use public transportation or walk to work, location will be critical in your search.
Make a list of the top features you’ll want in the apartment. This will make it easier to sort through the options.
MyApartmentMap lets you define your search according to your preferences, such as college apartments, pet-friendly apartments or affordable apartments.
3. Investigate locations.
“More and more Millennial renters and baby boomers are wanting to be in a central location within walking distance to a downtown area with public transportation, restaurants, shopping and activities,” Procopio said. “They are willing to pay a little more for these amenities.”
PadMapper offers information on apartment rentals in map form. You also can view apartments at street level to get a better idea of particular locations.
Hotpads lets you see a map as well, and includes notable landmarks and other points of interest in the area.
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4. Check in with tenants.
“If you’re interested in a place, make an appointment to see the apartment while the current tenant is there,” said Edward McKenna, a real estate agent in Boston, MA.
During the visit, ask about the management company and its history of making repairs.
RentHackr offers details about apartments that will become available months in the future. “Members can see if renters would rent their places again, and what they wish they knew about their place before they lived there,” said Zeb Dropkin, founder of RentHackr.
On the site, you can learn how current renters rate the view and the lighting, and send them a message to inquire about a building’s features or quirks.
5. Calculate the size.
Before settling on an apartment, you’ll want to make sure your furniture, including any large sofas or beds, will fit.
Start by checking the square footage of the place to get an idea of how it compares with your current setup. Also find out measurements of rooms or doorframes if you’re concerned about fitting your belongings inside.
ABODO includes square footage on all listings. ForRent.com offers virtual tours of apartments.
6. Hit the pavement.
Before signing a lease, you’ll want to drive around and see the neighborhood, Procopio said.
If you have children, check where the closest parks are. Also consider where the nearest day care center or school is.
To evaluate safety, head to the neighborhood during the day and again at night. Look for abandoned buildings or signs of vandalism. Check crime statistics online or stop by the police station and ask about the area you’re considering.
Top photo courtesy of Flickr/Steven Damron