A Guide for Renting Your First Apartment

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A Guide for Renting Your First Apartment
Getty ImagesA rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30 percent of your income on rent.
By Niccole Schreck

Finding your first apartment is an exciting milestone. You finally have a space all your own to do whatever you want -- whether it's decorating your living room in leopard print or hosting a dinner party for all your friends. But as with many firsts, your first apartment hunt can be overwhelming and stressful. This step-by-step guide can help you navigate the search and find the perfect first place.

1. Establish your rental budget. The last thing you want to do is get stuck in an apartment you can't afford, so it's important to set a budget and stick to it. A general rule of thumb is that you should never pay more than 30 percent of your take-home pay on housing, including utilities, Internet and cable. If you have limited funds and are finding it difficult to find an apartment within your budget, you may want to consider getting a roommate to share expenses.

2. Determine which neighborhoods work for you. You should feel safe and happy in your neighborhood. Think about what you need (for example, grocery store, gym, public transportation) and how far you're willing to travel for it. If you're not working nearby, you'll also need to consider your commute to and from the office.

3. List your must-have apartment amenities. Before you start your apartment search, determine which amenities are must-haves and which are conveniences you can live without. Keep in mind that you may need to make some concessions to stay within your budget. Some common must-have apartment amenities include on-site or in-unit laundry, a dishwasher, parking spot (or two if you have a roommate), an outdoor space, air conditioning, fitness center or community pool.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%4. Start your rental search. Once you know what you're looking for and how much you can afford, start searching for apartments. Contact properties that seem like a good fit to set up appointments for tours.

5. Tour apartments that meet your search criteria and budget. This is your potential home, so treat your first visit like an inspection. Turn on all the faucets to make sure the pressure is to your liking and gauge how long it takes for water to heat up. Check the locks on the doors and windows of the apartment to ensure they work properly. Bring along a phone charger so you can check that all the outlets are working. If there is laundry on-site, ask to see the facility to make sure it is conveniently located and you feel safe.

Remember you will be making a first impression on a potential landlord, so be sure you look presentable and show up to apartment tours on time.

6. Be prepared to fill out a rental application and pay a small fee. When you go to view apartments, you should be prepared to fill out a rental application, especially if you live in a city with a rental market where apartment shopping is competitive. Bring your checkbook for the application fee, a check stub to prove your income and a photo ID.

7. Read your apartment lease (and make sure you understand it) before you sign on the dotted line. When you find a great apartment, you may be tempted to just go ahead and sign, but not carefully reading your apartment lease can lead to trouble down the road. It's a legal document that shouldn't be taken lightly.

As you read through your apartment lease, make sure it answers the following questions:
  • Are pets allowed, and if so, is there a deposit or pet rent required?
  • Are there restrictions on the number of roommates?
  • What is the apartment maintenance process?
  • Are you allowed to make any customizations, like hanging shelves or painting walls?
  • Which utilities are you responsible for paying?
  • What are the consequences of breaking your lease before the term is up?
If any of these questions are unanswered, ask your new landlord to put the answers in writing before you sign the lease.

You should also make sure any pre-existing damage to the apartment is detailed in your lease so you aren't held responsible when you move out. Take time-stamped photos to document any damage as well. You don't want to be liable for the dents and dings and lose your security deposit.

Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for rent.com, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and provides tips on how to move.

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A Guide for Renting Your First Apartment

There is a reason this proverb has been around for decades. If you cut your crown molding, tile or paneling too short, you can't go back and make it longer.

Most people can change the insides of a toilet, but problems can still arise, as Prescott discovered. If you have just one bathroom, be prepared to stay overnight elsewhere if something goes wrong. Make sure you turn off the water before you start any plumbing project.

If you know what you're doing, you can change a light fixture. But replacing a light fixture with a ceiling fan involves more than just changing the fixture. Other electrical projects are even more complicated. If you do give it a shot, turn off the breaker before you touch anything.

You can find a YouTube video or detailed instructions for any project. But if that's all the information you have on a project that you've never done before, beware. A video on building a deck from someone in Florida may not tell you what you need to get the deck to withstand 80 inches of snow, and a video from Minnesota on building a deck may not have the instructions you need to ensure your deck can survive a hurricane.

Nearly every week, Home Depot (HD) stores nationwide offer free classes on everything from replacing a faucet to tiling a room. Be mindful that you need to register ahead of time to participate in these workshops.

Most hardware stores, and even some big-box stores, have experts on staff who can answer questions about home projects. If you're replacing specific parts, bring along the parts if you can rather than trying to remember what they look like.

You can rent or borrow some tools if you don't own them yourself. Hint: If you're going to assemble a lot of Ikea furniture, invest $20 in an electric screwdriver.

Some cities are stricter than others about permits, and only licensed contractors can obtain permits for some work. Doing major renovations without a permit could cause problems when you sell your home. Some cities require presale inspections, which can result in fines and the need for retroactive permits. That can mean redoing the job to city specifications.

"If you have to go to YouTube to learn something, you probably don't know what you're doing," Pekel says. Homeowners often "don't know what they don't know." If you mess up a painting project, you can always redo it. But if you take down a load-bearing wall and bring the second floor down with it, you've created a very expensive problem. With DIY projects, being cautious is typically the way to go.

If you earn $100 an hour and replacing a faucet takes you three hours, you would probably save money by hiring a plumber.

That includes both the quality of work and the time your house will be in disarray. Can you install crown molding well enough to be happy with the results? Or will it forever bug you that it's not exactly straight? That goes for more complex projects, too. If you gut the kitchen and end up taking six months to redo it, can you live without a kitchen that long?

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