Apr 6, 2023

15 Step Checklist for First Time Apartment Renters

Renting your first apartment can be both an exciting and daunting process. As a first time renter, there’s a lot of items you need to consider that you may not even be aware of in the first place. To help you make the process as smooth and enjoyable as possible, we’ve put together a 15 step checklist for first time apartment renters. We hope you find it useful!

1. Determine Your Budget

First and foremost, you’re gonna want to determine how much you can afford to spend monthly. Most financial experts recommend you spend no more than 30% of your gross (pretax) monthly income on rent. While this may not always be possible in larger, more expensive areas like New York or Los Angeles, it’s something you should definitely keep in mind. 

You should also keep in mind that on top of rent, you’ll also be paying the cost of utilities, which typically cost a few hundred dollars on average. The last thing you want is to sign a lease for an apartment you can’t afford when everything else is factored in and find yourself in over your head in bills, so determining your budget outright is important to your future success.

2. Decide if You Need a Roommate

Additionally, part of determining your budget is determining whether or not you need a roommate to help subsidize the cost of rent and utilities. If you are in a larger metro area, it may be necessary for you to have a roommate based on the extreme cost of living. A roommate may also be necessary simply because you wish to live in a more luxurious apartment complex and can’t afford to do so on your own. Either way, it’s important to determine this upfront, so you know what to expect going in.

3. Get Your Finances in Order

Now that you have a good idea of what you can afford, it’s time to take a thorough look at your finances, specifically your income and credit score. Most landlords will want to make sure you make at least 2-3 times the cost of rent in monthly income. They’ll also look to make sure your credit score is around 650 or higher. Landlords take a look at these things to ensure the person they’re potentially renting to can actually afford to live there and if they have a good history of making on time payments. 

If you don’t make 2-3 times more than the cost of rent and don’t want a roommate, consider asking a trusted family member or friend if they’ll cosign on the apartment for you. While not all apartment complexes will accept cosigners, the vast majority will, so it may be a necessary step, depending on your financial situation. On the other hand, if it’s your credit score keeping you from renting, take a bit of time and get it in an acceptable spot. This may look like paying down on high balances or simply ensuring you’re making any payments on time. 

Your income is one of the first things landlords and complex managers will look at when considering your application, so it’s a good idea to take a look at things and get them in order before you even begin your search.

4. Start Saving for Upfront Costs

As you begin taking a look over your finances, it’s also a good idea to start saving for the upfront costs associated with moving. These upfront costs include apartment application fees, security deposit (typically one month’s rent), pet deposit and monthly fees, storage fees, mover or truck rental fees, renter’s insurance, and the cost of any new furniture needed. 

While some fees may look innocent on their own, once you add everything up, the upfront costs associated with moving can be upwards of 1-3k, so the sooner you can start saving, the better!

5. Work With a Leasing Agent

Now that you’re really ready to start your apartment hunt, it’s time to get in contact with a leasing agent. Many first time apartment renters don’t utilize the services of a leasing agent because they assume there will be costs associated. However, this is not true. Leasing agents receive payment from property owners for bringing in tenants rather than from the tenants themselves.

Not only are leasing agents free, they can be critical for a first time renter as they are often naive to the ins and outs of the leasing process. Additionally, they can be helpful in obtaining any discounts from apartment complexes at signing. Many communities will offer discounts anywhere from waiving application and administration fees to a whole first month’s rent! 

As such, it’s essential you get with an agent as soon as you plan on starting your search. The best way to find an agent is through a referral. However, you can also simply use social media or Google, referencing reviews to determine reputability.  

6. Choose Your Neighborhood

Based on what you can afford and the type of area you want to live in, your leasing agent will be able to help you narrow down potential neighborhoods you may like. When considering neighborhoods, keep in mind commuting time to work or school, local transportation available, safety and overall feel of the neighborhood as well as what the neighborhood has to offer in terms of restaurants, gyms, parks, and entertainment among other factors. 

7. Determine Must Have Amenities

As you begin your search, you should also start a list of must have apartment and community amenities. This could be anything from an in-unit washer and dryer or a balcony to an on-site gym or valet trash services. Whatever it is, it’s important to know your non-negotiables (and share them with your leasing agent) as you start your search. This will help to save time touring properties that don’t fulfill your requirements. 

8. Keep Breed Restrictions in Mind

When vetting potential communities, it’s also important to know if there are restrictions on any animal breeds. For insurance purposes, many communities don’t allow certain “aggressive breeds” on their property, often banning breeds like staffordshire terriers, dobermans, rottweilers, and even german shepherds. If your pet is on a restricted breed list, and you don’t have them registered as an emotional support animal (ESA), you may be prevented from renting at certain complexes. It’s important to figure this out as soon as possible, so you have a better idea of how you want to proceed.

9. Don’t Forget Parking

Another item you’ll want to consider when looking at potential communities is the availability of on-site resident and guest parking. While you may live in (or be moving to) an area that doesn’t require you to own a car, if you live in a more suburban area, you’ll definitely want to consider parking when assessing complexes. 

Do they have a garage or lot parking? Assigned spaces for rent or first come first serve? Guest or nearby street parking available? Is the parking gated or not? All of these are questions you should be asking when considering where to live.

10. Ask Questions During Tours

Speaking of questions, it’s important that when you actually begin touring apartments, you ask important questions any renter needs to know. These questions may include:

  • How long is the rental term?
  • What community amenities are offered?
  • How much are amenity fees?
  • Are there any breed restrictions?
  • What is the parking situation?
  • Does the community have on-site security?
  • Is water metered per apartment or per building?

It’s a good idea to create a list of questions you want answered, so you don’t forget anything important during the excitement of touring. Remember, you’ll also have your leasing agent with you to help fill in the gaps – another reason why working with an agent is crucial!

11. Fill Out a Lease Application

Once you’ve found a place that checks all your boxes, it’s time to fill out an application! During this phase, you’ll need to provide important information and documents, including your social security number, driver’s license, proof of income, and rental history. You should also be prepared for a hard credit pull and potentially a background check.

If you’re approved, you’ll also need to provide vehicle information, including license plate number, proof of insurance, and proof of registration, as well as animal vaccination records if applicable.

12. Purchase Renter’s Insurance

Additionally, if you’re approved, you’ll also need to purchase a renter’s insurance policy as it’s required by most all complexes. According to NerdWallet, the typical renter’s insurance policy is on average $15/month with $30,000 in personal property coverage and $100,000 in liability coverage. Not only is renter’s insurance generally required, it’s also relatively inexpensive and protects you against unforeseen damages or incidents, including damages from fire, wind, hail, and water as well as specific occurrences like theft and vandalism.

13. Keep a Copy of Your Lease Handy

After you’ve provided everything required by your landlord, agreed to the terms, and signed your new lease, first of all, congratulations! Secondly, you’ll want to be sure to keep a copy of your lease on file, so you can reference it in the future if necessary. You may need to reference your lease for numerous reasons, including needing to confirm your move in date or the monthly cost of rent and utilities, checking the complex’s policy on guests, understanding requirements for receiving back your security deposit in part or full, and more. As such, be sure to keep a copy on file – digitally, physically or both.

14. Prepare for Your Move

Now that you’ve found the perfect apartment based on your budget and needs and signed your lease, it’s time to prepare to move in! 

When moving, it’s a good practice to determine your move-in date, and plan backwards from there. You’ll be able to find your specific move-in date in your lease agreement. It’s on this day that you’re permitted to obtain keys and gain access to the residence. Once you know this date, you’ll be able to better prepare for the move ahead. It’s at this point you’ll know if you can move in immediately or if there will be a gap period, requiring you to utilize self storage options until your move-in date.

Once your move-in date has arrived, and you’re allowed access to the property, it’s time to establish wi-fi and utilities. Most internet and utility companies prefer to enter the property to establish services before any of the tenant’s personal items have been moved in as this allows them to enter the property without the need for the tenant to be present. If there is already personal property in the residence, the tenant is required to be present when services are established per company policies. As such, it’s a good idea to get these services established as soon as you’re allowed into your new home! It’s also at this time you’ll want to begin forwarding mail to your new address through the USPS.

15. Deep Clean & Settle In!

Lastly, it’s time to give your apartment a thorough cleaning before you begin moving in all your belongings. If you aren’t moving into a brand new apartment, you have no idea how long the person before you had been there nor their cleaning habits; as such, it’s a good idea to give your new place an intense scrub down before you start to settle in.

Once you have cleaned your new apartment, it’s time to move in and settle in, truly making the space your own. With new apartments comes new opportunities, so it’s our humble advice that you use this time to make the most of your new space, curating your new home to invoke joy as well as align with your goals.

Have Any Questions?

We hope most, if not all, of your questions were able to be answered after reading this article. If not, don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any lingering questions or concerns. We offer free consultations with absolutely no strings attached! Additionally, if you’re looking for your first apartment in the DMV, we’d be more than happy to help you out in your search. Happy hunting!

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