Here’s a list of questions you should ask before you begin your apartment hunt:
- Do I want to live alone or do I need to find a roommate?
- How many bedrooms do I need – will a studio be sufficient?
- What is my budget?
- How long do I want to stay in this apartment – what are the lease terms?
- How many bathrooms do I need?
- Which neighborhoods do I enjoy and picture myself living in?
- What floor do I want to live on?
Run a Credit Check
The first thing you want to do is run a credit or background check on yourself. When applying for apartments, landlords will run these checks to see if there are any potential problems with your background, such as outstanding debts or criminal charges. While an apartment manager will run these checks before approving your tenancy, it’s still a good idea to run a check yourself so you can comb through any potential issues that may affect your qualification to live there.
There are several credit reporting agencies you can go through, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian are the three major companies that offer one free credit report each year. Additionally, you can conduct a background check, although it may cost you.
The general rule of thumb is to start your apartment hunt at least two months before your move date. This way, you can shop around for a little while to find the best apartment, rather than settling on something last minute.
While the things you’ll need in an apartment will be specific to you and your needs, there are a few basic things you should look for as you start your hunt:
- Apartment price – try to find an apartment that’s within your budget. It’s unlikely that an apartment manager will lower your rent, although you could always attempt some negotiation. When you search within the parameters of your budget, you can avoid overpaying for something you can’t afford.
- Location – which neighborhood in St. Paul do you want to live in? Do you have your own transportation or are you going to need access to public transportation? While a certain apartment may be well-priced and in a great neighborhood, if you have to spend most of your time walking or calling taxis, it might not be such a great option. What’s more, you need to factor the cost of transportation into your budget for a realistic picture of how much an apartment really costs.
- Convenience – when searching for an apartment, the convenience factor can play a large role in the place you ultimately decide on. Look for a place that’s close to work, shopping, restaurants, recreation, entertainment and amenities such as laundry.
- Safety – there are many neighborhoods in St. Paul that are safe, and some that aren’t as safe. Ensure that you choose a place where you can feel safe, not only within the neighborhood itself, but the apartment as well. Proper locks on each door, private entrances, and security should all make you feel better about your new apartment.
Do a Walk-Through
Before deciding on an apartment, conduct a thorough walk through, both with the leasing agent and by yourself. It’s crucial to visit the property and get a feel for it before deciding on whether or not to live there.
Come prepared and check for the following:
- Turn on lights and faucets, and flush toilets throughout the apartment to make sure they all function properly.
- Check for rodent or insect infestation, particularly in cupboards and storage spaces. Chew marks or droppings are a major red flag.
- Bring along a cell phone charger and plug it into the outlets to make sure they all work.
- Check smoke alarms and look for fire safety equipment, such as an extinguisher in the kitchen or hallway.
- Open and close and lock and unlock doors and windows.
- Turn on all included appliances to make sure they’re working.
- Examine floors and walls for any type of damage. Carpet, hardwood, linoleum, drywall, and tiles should all be inspected.
- Take pictures of any problem areas with a digital camera and show them to the landlord. Save the file so if there are any discrepancies with maintenance or problems getting your security deposit back when you move, you have evidence to prove you didn’t cause the damage.
Gather Your Down Payment and Security Deposit
Down payments and security deposits are a part of apartment living. A down payment could be required equal to the first and last month’s rent, along with a more customary security deposit of up to one month’s rent. So, if you’re signing a lease for an apartment with a $1,000/mo. rent, you’ll potentially need $3,000 to move in. Make sure to ask your leasing agent the total that will be required at move in to avoid surprises; every complex is different. While your down payment will be kept by the landlord, the down payment is usually returned at the end of the lease as long as the apartment is in the same condition as it was when you moved in.
Read Over and Sign the Lease
Your lease terms will dictate everything from price, time frame, utility payments and more. In general, you can expect to come across the following lease types when renting an apartment:
- Fixed-term leases – these are the most common types of leases, in which you stay in the apartment for a fixed period of time, whether it’s three, six or 12 months (it could be any time period, realistically). In most cases, if you break your lease, you can still be held responsible to pay the remaining costs outlined in the lease. On occasion, you can break a lease by paying a penalty fee; which will be called out in the lease terms. In general, however, these types of leases offer the best bang for your buck.
- Periodic tenancy – these types of leases work best for short-term living situations. With a periodic lease, you usually pay month by month, or by another specified time period, renewing or breaking your lease each time that period is up. Normally, these leases are more expensive than fixed-term, and landlords reserve the right to raise your rent at any time.
- Subleases – this type of lease involves three parties: the landlord, renter and the subleaser. When someone rents an apartment under a fixed-term lease and needs to move, but doesn’t necessarily wants to break their lease, a sublease presents a sensible solution. Instead of breaking the lease and paying a penalty fee or outstanding rental costs, the renter can find a subleaser to take over their lease for the duration of time left.
While apartment prices aren’t normally negotiable, leases often are. Often, you can swindle a few things in your favor, such as negotiating the cost of utilities or get a co-signer if your credit score isn’t high enough.
Add Renters Insurance
Once you’ve decided on an apartment, check with your insurance agent about obtaining renters insurance. Renters insurance protects your personal property from damage, theft or negligence on behalf of the landlord. For example, if items in your apartment are damaged by fire, renters insurance will reimburse you for financial losses. In addition, it helps cover your landlord if you do damage to the property.
Thankfully, renters insurance is fairly affordable for the average apartment renter. Rates depend on geographical location, amount of coverage, and amount of rent paid, but, on average, you can expect to pay around $500 per year on $25,000 worth of coverage – about $12 to $15 per month.
Watch Out for Scams
Just because an apartment listing looks great or the landlord seems nice, doesn’t mean you can’t fall victim to a scam. If something feels wrong with a listing, the application process feels rushed or the whole experience with a particular apartment just seems too good to be true, you may want to think twice before signing on the dotted line.
Best of Luck with Your Apartment Hunt!
From location to size to budget, there is plenty to think about when hunting for an apartment. Now that you have a guide to finding an apartment, you can get out there and find the place that’s perfect for you.
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