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How to get an apartment as a first-time renter
A step-by-step guide on how to get your first apartment
So, you’re ready to look for your first apartment. Let us be the first to say, “Congratulations!” And then, let’s be the first to help you answer the question, “Now, what?”
Finding your first apartment, whether in Virginia or another city can seem like a daunting task, but trust us, with the right strategy and knowledge, you can locate the apartment that’s right for you, and you can apply for it and get it, too! Read on for our step-by-step instructions and our best advice!
1. Is now the time to get your own apartment?
Your first apartment marks a big step in your life, and it often coincides with another big step in your life. Maybe you got your first real job. Maybe you’ve graduated from college. Maybe you’ve moved across the country to pursue your dream. These are pretty big changes. They might be scary or exciting — probably both. But, as you make these decisions, you’ll want to think about a few things: Are you financially stable enough to afford monthly rent? Do you have a job or other steady form of income? Is it the right time of year to leave home and undertake a big move?
2. How do I tell my family I’m moving out?
If you still live with your parents, one thing you’ll need to add to your to-do list is to tell your folks about your new apartment! Hopefully, they’ll be excited about your big step (but they’ll probably be a little sad, too!). But, no matter what their reaction may be, you’ll need to tell them your big news. We can’t give you the best words for your folks, but we can give you some tips. Don’t let them know in a text. Don’t turn it into an argument. Take your time to think about your parents’ needs. Sit them down, break the news, and be sure to have the details straight, so they know you’ve thought about how much you can afford, what neighborhood you want to live in, and all the questions you think they might ask you! As well, what help you need from them.
3. How much apartment can you afford?
This is an extremely important question you’ll need to ask yourself as you take this step. First, determine what percentage of your salary you want to spend on rent. A general rule of thumb is 30%, but you may have to go up to 40% in some areas. You can use our rent calculator to figure out how much you can afford to budget for your rent. Research the neighborhoods you want to live in and see what the prices are in that area. Get your finances in order, so you know how much you’re pulling in each month, which will make these calculations easier.
4. What about roommates?
When you’re getting your first apartment, you’ll need to consider whether or not you need roommates. The calculations above are a good place to start. If you can’t afford a one-bedroom place by spending 30-40% of your salary, then you should consider getting a roommate, or two.
• How many do you need?
This often comes down to a matter of math. You’ll want to figure out what percentage of your income you want to pay for rent and see how far that gets you. Take a look at what a two-bedroom apartment would cost if you split the rent with a roommate. Is this number more manageable? Repeat the process with larger apartments and more roommates until you find a figure that works for you.
• How do you find them?
Maybe you’ve lucked out, and you have a couple of best friends who want to room with you. It’ll be just like the show Friends, only you probably won’t be able to afford a place as big as Chandler and Joey or Monica and Rachel (how did they afford those huge places in Manhattan?!) There are a lot of ways to find roommates: asking your friends, checking on social media, or using a roommate-finding app. Try them all and see which one finds you the best candidates!
5. What kind of neighborhood should you live in?
One key factor that helps determine how much apartment you and your roommates can afford is the neighborhood you’re looking at. Apartments in the most desirable neighborhoods can be pretty pricey, but they can be worth it. These neighborhoods may be closer to work or be safer than other neighborhoods. In fact, you can probably find a cheaper place in a more dangerous neighborhood, but that’s a trade-off you’ll have to think about. There are ways to check neighborhoods to see how safe they are and ways to make yourself safer if you need to live in a rougher neighborhood.
6. What amenities do you need?
Once you’ve figured out what neighborhood you want to live in, you’ll want to think about what kind of apartment you want to have. Do you want one in a large apartment complex that might have a laundry room and a fitness center? Or would you rather have a washer/dryer in your own unit? Think about air conditioning, built-in WiFi, and any other amenities you want to have. Think about putting them into “must-have” and “nice-to-have” buckets so you can figure out which places are right for you. Get a sense for what the apartment complexes have to offer by filtering on apartment rental listing sites.
7. How do you decide what apartment is right for you?
Based on the neighborhood and amenities you’re looking for, you can probably narrow down your apartment hunt to a few places. You’ll need to consider price, location, amenities, and other important factors to you. Make a chart listing the pros and cons of each place. Take a tour (in-person, if possible, or virtually, if you need to). Take your time figuring out which places are right for you, and make sure you weigh as many factors as you can.
8. How do you apply for an apartment?
Once you’ve picked a place that you like, the next step is to apply for the apartment. You’ll need to fill out an application that the landlord or leasing agent will provide. You’ll need to include a ton of information, like income, credit history, and background information (like whether or not you have a criminal record). Since you don’t have a history of renting (and paying on time!), you may want to include some references (bosses or professors are good) to make your application look better to your landlord.
9. How do you get an apartment with no credit?
Most people applying for apartments have a history of renting, and they also have a credit history, even if it’s a bad one. But some landlords or rental agencies can be a little hesitant to rent to someone who has no rental history. This may seem intimidating, but you can get an apartment even if you have no credit. You might have to show a savings balance to prove your income, pay an extra month for your security deposit, or take on a roommate who does have a credit history, but it is possible.
10. Do you need a co-signer?
The short answer is: maybe. The longer answer is, it depends on your situation. If you have no credit or savings, and you can’t find a roommate who has either, then this may be the best option for you. Maybe a parent or another close relative can help you out. Try to find someone who does have a good credit rating and plenty of savings to co-sign the lease with you. Getting someone to help you get your first place can set you up for further success. The next time you want to look for a place, you’ll have a rental history to build on!
11. How do you get your deposit together?
Typically, your security deposit will be one month’s rent — or sometimes even 1.5 times your rent, which is not a small amount. To get your deposit together, you may have to dip into your savings. Or you could ask for a loan from a parent or other relative. Maybe you can cash in a savings bond or other investment. It may seem like a burden to try to get this money together, but the good news is, if you take good care of your apartment, you should get back all of your security deposit, so you could use it for your next place if you need it.
12. What do you need to know about your lease?
READ IT! Well, it’s not that simple (though it is really important to read your lease closely). Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about your lease:
- Who is listed on the lease? Is it just you or your roommate, too?
- When is the rent due? On what day of the month is it due and is there a grace period?
- Are there fees or add-ons? Check to see if there are additional charges.
- The termination and renewal dates. When your lease runs out and what to do when it does.
13. How do I pack and move?
Carefully! Well, that’s kind of a simplified answer, but it’s important. First, you want to get moving boxes (for free, if you can!) and throw on the best moving tunes you can find. Then, figure out how you’re going to move — hire professional movers or get your friends to help you — and get cracking. Move into your new place and start unpacking. If you do it right, it won’t even be that stressful!
What are the odds for first-time renters?
First-time renters find apartments all the time. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy, but often some challenges are unique to first-time renters. You don’t have a credit or rental history and it can be hard for you to make a case to a potential landlord that you’re the best choice for them to rent the apartment to. The important thing is not to give up. Once you find the right place, you can settle in and think back on the process that got you there. In the meantime, do your research, get your application together, and have a positive attitude. You know that any landlord would be lucky to have you in their building, you just have to show them how awesome you are. Then the next time around, the process will be easier for you!
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