Watch out for these 9 hidden apartment fees
Be prepared to pay a bit more for pets, packages, technology, utilities and lost keys
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Finding a new apartment can drum up a whole range of feelings: excitement, optimism, dread, relief, or simply a sense of meh. No matter where you’re at, this handy apartment-hunting guide will help make exploring new apartments, neighborhoods, or cities feel totally manageable—and maybe even a little fun.
Explore our guide to learn how to find an apartment that suits your budget and give yourself the best chance to get the place you want. (Even if you are a first-time renter and have marginal credit, you can find a good apartment.) Read on to map out your budget, search for an apartment, learn about renters insurance, and gather the information you need to apply for an apartment.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, gratitude is always possible, and feeling good starts at home.” – Emma Wright, author
While you don’t necessarily need to dig into all the data, you might want to get a quick sense of the market, so you understand how much competition there is for apartments and other housing.
In 2020, housing market trends were all over the place. Some people moved back home. Others decided to move out of large cities. Housing prices soared. Some areas faced housing shortages.
Here’re a few examples:
While the housing market experienced some unique trends in 2020, those who watch the market believe that many high-rent areas will rebound. Zillow, for example, anticipates “a rental market resurgence in 2021, with rents increasing, concessions offered by landlords fading, and demand for rental housing strengthening.” So, you may want to try to lock in good rates and terms now.
Maybe you moved “home” in 2020 and are ready to find your own apartment. Good news, now is the perfect time to start looking. Many areas are aggressively seeking new residents.
Be prepared to pay a bit more for pets, packages, technology, utilities and lost keys
You picked a good time to find a new apartment. LCOL areas are offering incentives for people to relocate. HCOL areas are seeking renters to fill vacant apartments. Growing cities are adding brand-new apartment communities. Apartment renters have a lot of choices.
Even if you have less than perfect credit or no rental history, you can still find a nice apartment in a trendy area in your chosen town. Explore our finding apartment topics to help you find the best rental that suits your lifestyle. Moving to a new city? Have a dog? Looking for a cheap apartment? We have answers for you.
Eight things every renter should know
First thing first. You need to figure out how much rent you can afford. Experts recommend that renters spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent. For example, if you make $4,000 per month, you should set a $1,200 or less rent budget.
While many people choose to pay more, it puts them at greater risk. Spending more than 30 percent means you may not have enough to consistently cover your rent, pay for other living expenses or build savings. If something goes wrong—illness, job loss, car repair—you could be in a really tough spot.
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A cleaning deposit is usually a non-refundable payment you make upfront. While it’s often called a “cleaning deposit,” it’s not part of your refundable “security deposit.” Technically, it’s a fee. The cleaning deposit is intended to cover routine cleaning tasks after you move out, so the next renters move into a neat and tidy apartment (which is hopefully the condition you found it in at move-in!).
How much the landlord can change may vary by your local housing laws. However, it’s usually just a few hundred dollars. Quite often, the cleaning deposit is for expenses such as professional carpet cleaning.
However, they cannot charge you for normal “wear and tear.” Standard “wear and tear” includes things such as,
To better understand what the cleaning deposit covers, review the lease agreement.
Most property managers and landlords post available apartment vacancies online. Popular high-volume apartment search sites provide apartment information for locations in all areas. The best offer unique search filters so you can find an apartment that suits your needs, such as apartments with gyms, pet-friendly units, apartments close to transportation, or apartment units with fiber optic internet available. Some even provide video “walkthroughs.”
Check out our apartment listing sites reviews. Here, you can find more information about popular apartment search sites.
7 steps to making your move easier, plus a free vacate notice letter template
To increase your chances of snagging a place you love, create an apartment search timeline and follow this checklist so you don’t miss a step.
Finding an apartment checklist:
You might find it helpful to create a spreadsheet for organizing and planning your apartment search. When you start touring apartments, you can store images and videos with the document to help you make your final apartment choice. Include details like the apartment address, link to vacancy post, rent, deposit, possible move-in date, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, landlord contact information, commute time and distance, and covered utilities.
You’ll also want to include information specific to your living situation. For example pet requirements (Fido needs some green grass!), amenities (pooltime!), internet options (fast, please), accessibility features (welcome everyone!), security (well-lit), and floor (unit must be on ground floor: strollers and stairs don’t mix).
Before moving in, review our apartment move-in checklist.
What is a guarantor on a lease service?
Renters insurance covers your personal property, liability, and loss-of-use expenses—and most landlords require you to have it. If renters insurance is required, it will be stated in your lease agreement. Renters insurance tends to be pretty low-cost and is super helpful if you suffer damages from incidents such as fire, theft or personal injury.
Imagine your upstairs neighbor floods their apartment and destroys your bed with water damage. Renters insurance helps with these types of crappy situations.
Renters insurance plans can often be dialed up or down in terms of the amount of coverage, but most tend to offer protection for:
Before searching for a new apartment, ask yourself: What kind of apartment do I want? Do I want to live in the middle of downtown, close to shops and restaurants? Do I want to be able to ride my bike to work? Or, do I need an apartment with an elevator?
Answering these types of questions can help you narrow your search. Looking at everything you want can also help you identify what to prioritize or where to compromise.
There are many questions you can ask yourself. Once you figure out what you want, you can quickly find a suitable apartment. It may help to sort your answers into must-haves and like-to-haves.
Reporting rent payments to build credit
If you cannot easily afford an apartment in the area where you’d like to live, you might have to get creative.
To find a cheap apartment, try a couple of the following:
To help you obtain better lease terms in the future, work to improve your credit rating, establish a rental history, and increase your income.
Luckily for you, many property managers are now allowing pets. Though additional deposits or pet rent may be required, there are more options than there used to be. (To be clear: When referring to “pets,” we mean pets and not service animals. The allowance of service animals is guided by federal law; the allowance of “pets” is up to the property owner.)
To find a pet-friendly property, simply select the pet-, cat-, or dog-friendly sort feature in the apartment search app. However, if you’re not seeing many apartment options, talk to the property manager or leasing agent. Many landlords may allow pets if you directly negotiate with them.
If you have an indoor cat, it will likely be happy almost anywhere. However, suppose you have a dog(s). In that case, you’ll want to consider things such as proximity to dog parks, dog walking routes, breed and weight restrictions (if legal in your area), provided pet washing stations, onsite “potty” areas, and insurance requirements.
Other types of “exotic” pets like fish, amphibians, reptiles, or other mammals, may also have restrictions. For example, many landlords limit tank sizes for fish and may not support different types of animals like ferrets, potbelly pigs, or “wild” animals (like raccoons or foxes).
Quick hint: Don’t try to keep an animal in your apartment without approval being noted in your lease. If your pet piranha, Pearl, is discovered, you’ll both probably need to relocate.
If you are seeking accommodation for your emotional support animal, see our Complete Guide to Renting with an Emotional Support Animal.
Everything you need to outfit your new place
Applying and getting approval for an apartment can happen pretty quickly if you’ve gathered all the required information in advance. In general, your potential landlord will be looking for you to prove who you are, your income, and where you have lived.
Be prepared to pay an application fee when you submit your application. In most cases, you will apply online or using an app. Some, especially rent-from-owner landlords, may ask you to submit information by paper or email.
If you’re looking to relocate, you may not have the opportunity to visit and inspect your potential new home and neighborhood before moving in. But thanks to technology, research, and a bit of patience, you can find a great apartment in your new city.
When researching a new location,
Once you know what you’re looking for, use local rental sites to find a list of apartments to consider. Also, consider a short-term lease in case you end up not liking the new apartment or neighborhood as much as you thought you would.
How to find a cheap apartment, or at least, lower your rent
How much rent can you afford?
In most cases, the rental application fee is for processing the background check and verifying the applicants information. Usually, the fee is about $35 to $50 per applicant. Everyone over aged 18 who intends to live in the apartment has to submit an application and pay the fee.
In some cases, your new landlord may allow you to pay your deposit in installments. Or, a security deposit alternative company may be able to help you.
In a hot housing market, it may take months to find a suitable apartment. In this case, you’ll want to start looking for a new apartment about three months before your move date. In an area with many vacancies, you may only need a month or two to find a new apartment. Either way, make sure you notify your current landlord (check your lease about how much of a heads-up they need, though it’s usually 30 days).
The required credit score to rent a specific apartment can vary by quite a bit. Most landlords prefer a higher score, but some may accept lower scores in the 600 range. However, you’ll find a better apartment with good terms if your credit score is over 700 accompanied by a suitable income. If your credit score is in the 500s range, you may be denied the most desirable apartments.
A virtual apartment tour is an online tour of an apartment. It may include video, images, and audio. Often you can control the view and explore aspects of the apartment on demand. If you find an apartment you are interested in, you may be able to schedule a real-time tour with the property manager using an online meeting app.
Don’t let no credit history or bad credit keep you from renting
If your credit score is under 600 and you’ve had applications rejected, you may need to consider a new strategy. A few ideas:
Know what you need to know as a renter and save money along the way! Check out these additional resources to help you meet your renting goals.
A roommate can help you save money, but how much? Explore the financial benefits of having a roommate as well as the social benefits.
Learn everything about security deposits including what you can do to get a larger portion of your deposit returned after you move out.
Knowing how much your rent can help you find an affordable apartment and decide whether you need a roommate to help you comfortably reach your financial goals.
Review the biggest mistakes new renters make to ensure that you avoid suffering from the same common bad decisions.
Learn everything you need to know about living with a roommate successfully to save money and find the best roommate.
Save money, get personalized tips and recommendations for making renting easy and rewarding.
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