Finding an Apartment
Many people find that renting an apartment is the way to go when they first move out on their own. There are usually plenty available (unless you get caught up in a housing crunch, as happens sometimes, especially in cities), and they come in a wide range of prices. You can get a studio or one-bedroom apartment if you'll be living on your own, or get an apartment with two or more bedrooms if you'll be sharing it with one or more roommates.
There are nearly as many kinds of apartments as there are people to fill them. With all those options and more to choose from, how do you find an apartment that …
- Is enjoyable and comfortable?
- Is affordable?
- Is in a safe area?
- Is convenient to work, shopping, and your friends?
Apartment hunting can be confusing, but if you get organized and follow some basic rules, you'll do just fine.
Dollars and Sense
Be sure to consider the cost of getting to work or to other places you go frequently if you choose to live in an area that's not close to those places. The cost of gas or public transportation can add up quickly.
If you've got to live in the 90210 zip code (or any other particular zip code), you're really narrowing your choice of apartments that you like and can afford. Location, however, is important. Maybe you want to live in a certain area because it's close to your work and not too close to your parents. Maybe you've got some good friends who live there and have told you how great it is. There are all kinds of reasons you might want to live in a particular area, and if you do, that's where you should begin your apartment search.
There are several good ways to find an apartment. Traditional methods include word of mouth, classified ads, and the phone book. As you know, however, more and more people are finding places to live on the Internet. A real estate agent can also help you locate an apartment, or you can simply drive to the area in which you're interested in living and see what's available. If you're still in college or still living in a college town, the university housing office will be able to give you some suggestions.
Signing Your Life Away
When you've found an apartment you like, there are still more factors to consider before you sign the lease. To start with, the landlord will want some information about you. He or she will probably do a credit check and verify your employment. You may also be asked to give some references.
You have to figure out whether you can afford the apartment and whether it includes the things you need. Is there a washer and dryer in the apartment or somewhere on the premises, or will you have to lug your stuff to the laundromat? Is there a grocery store nearby, or will shopping entail a trip across town? Will your landlord get someone to repaint the purple bedroom, or will he or she let you paint it? Can you have pets? Don't take anything for granted. If you're not sure about something, or if it's not specified in the lease, ask.
Show Me the Money
A lease is a legally binding agreement between a landlord and tenant. It contains the names of the landlord and the renter(s), the cost of rent and payment schedule, and other pertinent rules and regulations.
Never take an apartment without seeing and signing a contract between you and the landlord. Make sure the landlord signs it in your presence. If a landlord tries to tell you that you don't need a contract, get out fast. He or she could change all the conditions you agree upon verbally, and you'd have no way of proving it.
If the lease seems overly complicated or confusing, you may want to get a lawyer or real estate agent to check it for you before you sign. Experts say that rent agreements are becoming increasingly complicated, with all sorts of obscure conditions that you might easily overlook.
Some things to look for in the lease, or ask your prospective landlord about, include the following:
- What is the term of the lease?
- What are the provisions for renewing the lease?
- How much security deposit will be required, and what are the terms for recovering the deposit when you move?
- Who pays the utilities (such as heat and hot water)?
- Who's responsible for removing snow and ice in the winter or garbage all year round?
- Can you sublet the apartment if you move?
- How much notice must you give the landlord before you move?
- What rules apply to the rental?
- Are any appliances included (refrigerator, stove, and so on), and what happens if they break?
- What's the parking situation? Do you have a designated space that's close to your apartment?
- Does the owner provide security within the building or complex?
- Is a discount available if you do maintenance yourself? If there's any existing damage to the apartment, make sure you document it.
- When is the rent due?
- What happens if you're late paying the rent?
Don't ever let a landlord pressure you into signing a lease before you're ready to. If he or she tells you there's someone else ready to sign and you'll lose the apartment if you don't put your name on the dotted line, take a chance on losing it, even if you love it. The landlord may be trying to rush through with the deal before you notice that the lease doesn't work in your best interests. Be sure you ask the landlord for a copy of his rental policy, if he has one. Such a policy would list all rules that apply.
More on: Family Finances
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in your 20s and 30s © 2005 by Susan Shelly and Sarah Young Fisher. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.