Apartment Hunting Tips

April 28, 2020

Apartment Hunting Tips

As some of you know, I have been living with my parents since last July. While I am extremely grateful for them letting me stay as long as I have, I am so ready to have a place of my own. I started apartment hunting late March. This is my first place I'll be paying for by myself and we are in the middle of a pandemic, so it has been a little overwhelming. Here are some tips for apartment hunting and questions to ask when considering the complex.

Things to Consider:

This is first because my commute has been terrible for nearly the last year. Being close to your office or school saves money on gas and puts less wear on your car. Plus, you can sleep in later knowing you don't have a 45-1 1/2 commute every morning. Check out the location on Google Maps and navigate what your commute looks like. For location, I zoomed in on my office on Zillow then drew a line around the neighboring areas I'd consider moving to. Keep in mind, the closer you are to the city, the more expensive and less space. Once you find a few places, see how close the best restaurants, grocery stores, or parks are to the properties.

Price is huge. It's always good to figure out exactly what you can afford ahead of looking. Most places require the tenant to have an income of 3X the agreed upon rent. If you don't have that, consider a guarantor or roommate to help make the requirement. In addition, check to see if there are credit score requirements. Typically there is, but knowing the number ahead of time saves time later on. 

Reviews on Google. 
Don't put too much emphasis on these, but still consider them! There is a lot of bias in the reviews and a lot of complexes change management after a while. That being said, I have loved an apartment through its website only to click on the most recent reviews on Google to see a 2.0 rating. If the reviews are below a 3.2, I heavily consider not living at the complex. Typically reviews of a decent complex will range from 3.2-3.8 (from my experience). If the most recent reviews (< 8 Months) state anything about bugs, I immediately run.

Must-Haves vs Nice-to-Haves. 
What's important to you to have in your new home? For me, I want a moderately updated kitchen and bathroom with some sort of outside space and good parking. My nice to haves are hardwood floors, access to a pool/gym, and a fireplace. This is great to serve as a check box with location and price. That way, you can look at comparisons with real data.

Quality of the Apartment. 
Once you are at the apartment, there are a lot of things you need to check for. First, is it clean? Are the carpets new? Does the stove, microwave, or oven have dirt? To me this is important because it indicates how clean the complex is and how much management is willing to invest into its properties. Usually, new carpets are a give, but I've now viewed two places that have stains all over the carpet (and no intentions of replacing them..gross). Second, can you hear the outside or your neighbors? This indicates how thin the walls are, which relates to your electric bill and how quiet the apartment will be.

Things to Ask:

What's included in the rent? 
Pest control, garbage, and sometimes water are typically included in rent, but it's always good to ask. Each location varies on what they offer, and it's good to know what additional costs there may be to the rent advertised online.

How does parking work? 
Some places offer reserved or assigned parking, 1-2 spaces, and/or visitor parking. This is good to ask especially when the parking lot looks smaller or you don't see any visitor spaces. It would be frustrating having friends visit you and they are worried about getting towed the entire time because there aren't enough visitor spaces. A few complexes closer to the city charge a parking fee as well.

Do you require renter's insurance? 
Most places require renter's insurance. A lot of them will provide it for you for an extra $10-20 or require you to get it from a provider. If they don't require this insurance, I still suggest obtaining it. It's always better to be protected and nothing happens than unprotected and you experience damage to your property.

How long is the lease?
12 Months is the standard for most leases. However, some places allow customization in the lengths offered. For longer leases, apartments usually cut back a little on the rent amount, too. Going the other way, if it's shorter than 12 months, expect to pay more. Some places also allow you to do month to month once your originally lease is up. This can be useful for trying to find another place afterward. 

Are there Admin Fess and Security Deposits?
The answer will almost always be yes. However, ask if any of these fees are refundable. Usually the security deposit is, assuming the apartment isn't trashed by move out. I've seen admin fees range from $40-250 and security deposits are typically the cost of your rent. Be sure to ask if there are any other fees once initially applying. Some places require you pay for your own background check. 

Hunting Pandemic Style:

Ask for self-guided. A lot of complexes are only doing virtual tours, but it really is more beneficial to be present. See if they are offering self-guided tours to get a better feel for your potential new space. If they don't offer this, try driving through the complex just to see what the outside of the properties look like in person.

Wear as mask. Who knows who else will tour that location later. Wearing a mask helps protects others from your germs. Also, if the tour is not self-guided, it's okay to ask the agent to wear a mask as well. 

Bring Lysol or Wear Gloves. This is a life saver for turning on lights in different rooms or wiping down any keys/keypads provided. Make sure to properly dispose of everything! 

Be Patient. Being in a pandemic has made this search much harder than it originally would have been. Be patient with yourself and agents trying to navigate these ~uncertain times.~ Also, a lot of places are offering discounts since no one wants to move during a pandemic. That can be really helpful for getting a nicer apartment for a better rate!

Places to look:

Zillow has apartments, condos, townhouses, and houses for rent. Condos, house, and townhouses are easier to tour than apartments right now because they don't have as much foot traffic and less management to report to. Apartments.com is great for only looking at apartments. They also have ratings on there, although I think they are skewed higher than Google Reviews. Apartments List asks for your must haves and nice to haves then gives you a mix of both. They make it easy to contact the complex through one click of a button. Local Realtors are also a great resource. I asked my friend who's a new realtor to see if he could find anything. He was able to set up an appointment for me to view the place, too. 

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