You just graduated from high school or college, and you’re ready to strike out on your own. Congratulations!
While moving into your first apartment is an exciting time for anyone, it can also be intimidating. How do I learn to cook? What style of couch should I get? Do I need a roommate?
And most importantly: How do I find my first apartment?
How to Find Your First Apartment
Looking for your first apartment in Central Florida can be overwhelming, to say the least.
The area has seen a huge increase in residential construction in the last few years, which leaves apartment hunters with plenty of options. But how do you possibly choose between them all?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding your first apartment.
1. Plan It Out
Before you even start looking at apartments, it’s a good idea to have a sense of what you’re looking for.
Narrow down your budget, zip codes, and desired amenities now. If you’re moving with someone else (such as a roommate or spouse), collaborate on these details so that both of your needs and goals are met.
But at the same time, remember to be realistic. If your budget is $1,000 a month and you’re only looking at three-bedroom lofts in College Park, you’re gonna have a hard time.
2. Get a Co-Signer
A co-signer is someone who agrees to be financially responsible for your rent in the event that you can’t pay it.
If this is your first apartment move, it’s likely that your landlord (if they are a good one, that is!) will require you to have a co-signer on the lease. After all, with no rent history and very little credit history, they want to have some assurance that the rent will be paid each month.
If you haven’t already, make sure you have a responsible person with good credit lined up as your co-signer.
3. Use a Pro
Online apartment finding tools are nice, but you’re still basically doing all of the work yourself.
True professionals—such as realtors and professional property management companies—can be an invaluable resource in the search for your first apartment.
Not only are they familiar with the area (great if you’re moving to a new city), they also know what to expect in the rental market. You’ll likely have to pay them a finder’s fee, but it can be worth it if you have no clue what you’re doing.
4. Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Finding that perfect first apartment can take time, especially if you’re looking during peak season (summer) or in a desirable area. If you can’t find anything in your budget (or you just can’t find anything), you could be left with nowhere to go.
Don’t wait until the last minute! Give yourself at least three months to start your apartment search, hire a moving company, and buy everything you’ll need to fully stock your new place. (Looking for a first apartment shopping list? Click here.)
What To Look For In an Apartment
Okay, now you’re ready to get started searching for your first apartment! But don’t be surprised if that initial excitement turns to drudgery and dread.
In an area like Central Florida where new apartment complexes are popping up like weeds, it can be challenging to find the perfect one without feeling at least a little overwhelmed.
The apartment tour is the most important part of your search. This is your chance to visualize the space, speak to the property manager, and get a feel for what it’ll be like living in your new neighborhood.
Here are a few things to take note of as you’re searching for your first apartment.
Above (almost) all else, it’s important to stay within your budget. If you can’t pay your rent, you could see a big hit to your credit or even get evicted.
As you’re setting your budget, make sure you factor more than just rent into the equation. You’ll also have to pay the security deposit (usually equal to first and last month’s rent), utilities, and renter’s insurance. Other costs may include things like parking, cable, and a moving company.
Confused yet? A good rule of thumb is that one-third of your after-tax income is spent on your total housing costs.
As any realtor will tell you, finding the perfect place to live comes down to three important things: Location, location, location!
A beautiful apartment under your budget won’t help you if it’s in an unsafe neighborhood or a 90-minute drive from your job. Consider what zip codes you would be open to living in based on your budget, as well as how close they are to places you frequent.
Are there shopping centers close by? Do you need to find a place that’s close to a bus line? You can adapt a lot of things later on to fit your needs, but location is not one of them.
It’s easy to be swayed by things like state-of-the-art fitness rooms and infinity pools, but don’t let yourself get swept away by amazing amenities.
None of those extras come free; you’ll end up paying for them with higher rent. However, it could also help you save money if it means you won’t have to pay for other things, like a gym membership or storage unit.
As you tour potential apartments, make sure you’re clear on what’s included in your rent price. If utilities, trash pick-up, pest control, appliances, or other services aren’t included, get pricing estimates on them so you can factor that into your budget.
During the tour, you’ll also want to make sure that everything is operational. Check the lights and water (run the shower and flush the toilets) to make sure that the water pressure is okay. Test sockets with a socket tester or small nightlight to make sure power is running to them.
Another thing to consider is how easy (or difficult) it is to access your apartment and move around once you’re inside.
Is there an elevator? If you have a disability, are the buildings ADA compliant? Are the stairs secure and easy to navigate? Once you’re in the apartment, is there enough space to move around? Will your furniture fit through the door? Will the floorplan fit your lifestyle?
An apartment tour is only an hour or so, but moving in is a different story. You’ll want to make sure that each part of your new living space is easy to access.
Parking is one of the things that most people take for granted during an apartment tour. After all, there seemed to be plenty of spots available when you arrived, right?
Ask about which spots are open to you and guests, as well as any parking restrictions. There may be rules about who can park where during certain hours.
7. Pet Policy
If you have pets, be clear on the terms of the apartment’s pet policy. Ask whether there is a pet deposit or breed restrictions. Pitbulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and Boxers are some of the most common dog breeds that apartments reject.
If you do fall in love with a place that doesn’t accept pets, DO NOT abandon your pet when you move! Leave your pet with a trusted friend or family member or take them to a reputable, no-kill animal shelter where they can be cared for and re-adopted.
8. Landlord Availability
Sooner or later, even the best apartments need a repair or two. How your landlord or property manager handles this will have a huge effect on your experience there.
Ask about the availability of the landlord, property manager, or maintenance person throughout the day. If there’s a single landlord taking care of the front office plus all repairs, s/he might be stretched thin on certain days. If there’s an on-site property manager available 24/7, that’s typically a good sign that maintenance requests will be taken care of in a timely manner.
Whether you live in an apartment, condo, or single-family home, your safety and security are paramount.
Take note of any issues that might make a place unsafe. Are the stairs well-lit? Do the front doors have peepholes? Who has access to your apartment other than you?
If you’re unsure, contact the local police department or visit a site such as Trulia for the crime statistics.
An apartment’s livability really comes down to those smaller details that have a huge impact.
- Noise level – How much noise do you hear during the day?
- Cleanliness – How clean is the apartment during your tour?
- Damage – How well is the apartment maintained?
- Storage – Is there enough space to put things like towels, cleaning supplies, and seasonal decorations?
It’s easy to stage an apartment so it looks impressive, but you’ll have to live in your new apartment day-in and day-out. You don’t want to spend that time feeling like a round peg in a square hole.
Sometimes, an otherwise average apartment has a series of red flags that knock it straight off your list. While most of these will come down to personal preference, there are a few things to look out for that should be a deal breaker.
Yes, even if the place comes with hardwood floors.
- A landlord who foregoes background checks. If s/he’s willing to take in anybody, just imagine who your neighbors will be.
- Being charged to see the apartment. You should never, ever have to pay for the “privilege” of touring a potential house or apartment.
- Being asked to rent sight unseen. This is an indication that you are being scammed.
- No cell phone reception. It doesn’t mean that management is bad, but it will be frustrating if you can’t get a signal inside your own room.
- Short average rental time. A short rental time is a sign of high turnover, which can indicate that you won’t enjoy your time there.
- Any place that seems too good to be true. Because it probably is.
Do plenty of preparation before you start looking for your first apartment. Look at your own budget, needs, and wants, and make sure you have experienced people on your side.
Once you do the groundwork, go into apartment tours with your eyes wide open. Letting yourself be dazzled by an amazing price or fantastic amenities could blind you to potential red flags.
If you’re lucky, the hardest part of finding your first apartment will be choosing between multiple amazing options. And once you’ve found the perfect place, you can start collecting furniture, home decor items, and moving company quotes to get you and your things relocated safely.
Moving into your first apartment should be exciting, not stressful. Using a professional, full-service company like Cento Family Moving takes the stress out of moving, so you can relish the excitement of finally getting into your own place.