10 Tips for Finding Your First Apartment

Apartment rentals: finding your first.
Apartment rentals: finding your first.

By My First Apartment

When you're looking for an apartment for the first time, it can be overwhelming.The best way not to panic is to break the process down into 10 sequential steps. The timeline will mostly depend on how long it will take you to save the upfront cash you'll need, but after the money is in the bank, you should be in your own place in no time. (Find apartments for rent in your area.)

1. Determine your price range: There are two common ways to do this: You can divide your monthly take-home income by three. (For example, if you take home $1,800 a month after taxes, you could afford an apartment rental that costs up to $600 per month.) Or divide your annual gross income (before taxes and other deductions) by 40. (For example, if you make $40,000 a year, you can afford a place that costs up to $1,000 per month.) Either way gives you a rough idea of your maximum budget.

2. Start saving. Before long, you'll need to put down a security deposit (usually equal to one month's rent), plus the first month's rent on the apartment. And that doesn't even include application fees and credit-check fees that you may be charged. So start saving now, particularly because moving can cost anywhere from $200-$2,000, depending on the distance of the move and how much you do yourself.

3. Check your credit. Management companies will be checking your credit once you start applying to rent an apartment. You don't want to be caught flat-footed, so check if there are any blemishes on your report at the free Annual Credit Report website, which is sponsored by the federal government. If you have great credit, you have nothing to worry about. If your credit has blemishes, you may need to ask a friend, parent or relative if they would be willing to serve as your co-signer on a lease. In any case, be ready to explain your low score to potential landlords and what you are doing to fix it.

3. Settle on a neighborhood. Whether you're moving crosstown or across the country, the best way to decide on a neighborhood is to visit. Also, ask friends who already live in the neighborhood what they think. Another thing to consider is affordability -- we'd all love to live in SoHo, but most of us can't afford it. In other words, be realistic. To determine the cost of a neighborhood, go online to see what an average 1- or 2-bedroom apartment rental runs. A good rule of thumb is that at least a third of the listings in your neighborhood of choice should be within your budget. If it's any fewer than that, you're going to have limited options.

Start Looking

Find apartment listings online, but also remember to network among friends and colleagues, respond to "For Rent" signs that
you see in-person and cold-call management companies that have appealing buildings. If the rental market in your chosen city is really tight, you may need to use a broker. That will typically cost one month's rent, so to move in, you'll need to have three months of rent in cash. Ouch! Also, be wary of red flags. If you know a particular landlord or management company is involved in poor practices, don't even bother looking at their places.

Another word of advice: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. When dealing with a potential landlord, the conversation should be respectful and straightforward. And remember to always search the address of the building online as a final precaution.

Read five more tips on finding an apartment at Zillow.

See more on Zillow:
Tips for Long-Distance Apartment Searches
6 Ways to Make Your Apartment More Secure
6 Ways to Make the Landlord Pick You

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How to Find an Apartment
How to Find an Apartment