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How to Find an Apartment | Apartment Hunting Tips

By: Yuki Graviet Knapp and Davina Ward
April 27, 2021

Finding an apartment that's right for you means your preferences, budget, commute, and other needs must align with the apartment you choose.

Luckily, finding an apartment within your budget isn't impossible, especially if you’re willing to put in a little work!

This guide will break down everything you need to about finding an apartment within your budget and getting the most out of your apartment hunt.

How to Find an Apartment

It's easy to become overwhelmed during your apartment search, as the apartment hunting process is full of considerations.

From where you live to who you live with, and everything in between, how to find an apartment is simply deciding what you want in an apartment.

That said, once you understand the important apartment hunting considerations, you'll likely breeze through the rest of the process.

To help you get started, we've broken down the major steps of the apartment hunting process with advice to help you breeze through them.

1. Determine Your Rental Budget

When searching for an apartment don't make the mistake of overestimating your rent budget. Be realistic with your budget by following the gold standard of rent budgeting:

"Your income should be at least three times your monthly rent payment."

Following this rule will help you avoid becoming rent-burdened or paying more in rent than you can truly afford.

If you need help setting a rent budget, just use our rent calculator. If you find your budget limiting, consider renting with a roommate — more on that later.

2. Narrow Your Location

Start by narrowing your preferred location down to a city level. Once you've done that, you can start to explore the neighborhoods within the city to determine which might be the best fit for you.

Be sure to consider the location, vibe, and activity level of the neighborhood you choose. These factors will greatly influence how much you enjoy your living situation.

You don't want to be 45 minutes from the closest grocery store, 30 minutes from the nearest park, or struggling to get work done with the weekly neighborhood block party happening on the street below.

3. Tour Apartments

The touring process is simple — you get to visit apartments and imagine the space transformed into your abode.

That said, there's much more to touring apartments than meets the eye. It's crucial to understand what goes on behind the scenes, as well as getting an in-person look at your apartment.

4. Ask Your Future Landlord Questions

Here are some questions to ask your landlord before renting:

Have your bases covered and know the ins and outs of the property before applying. Does the property charge extra for pets or parking? Pet fees and deposits can run around $500, and monthly pet rent could tack on an extra $15-$50 a month.

The same goes for parking; covered parking is usually a little more affordable (~$40), but garage parking is typically the most expensive, with charges of $100 or more a month in places like Seattle.

Will you pay for your own utility use only, or does the property factor utilities into rent? Do I need renters insurance? Bring a list of questions to ask before renting an apartment to be extra prepared during your apartment hunt.

5. Rental Application

If you feel confident that an apartment you've toured is a good fit, you can begin the rental application process.

You may have to pay a fee of around $30-$50 to apply. During the application process, you will be asked to submit relevant personal information, such as your social security number, identification, references, and financial statements.

The landlord or property manager will use these in the tenant screening process. Be sure to fully complete your application and provide all the documents needed. You may not be considered if you forget something.

6. Move

This is one of the most challenging aspects of any move. Completing a move means completing crucial tasks, including changing your address, managing utilities, furnishing your apartment, getting your belongings moved over to your new place, and more. It can be overwhelming.

Check out our comprehensive moving checklist to help you stay organized from the moment you begin your apartment search to the moment you're fully settled. It’ll even help you with your first grocery shopping trip!

Apartment Hunting Tips on a Budget

It's always good to get the most bang for your buck when renting an apartment. Regardless of your budget, these cost-saving measures can help you save big while renting.

1. Consider Renting with a Roommate

The best way to be able to afford a place is to get more people in it. You're much more likely to find an apartment in your budget if you can split the rent with a roommate.

For example, an apartment building may rent a 1-bedroom apartment for $800 and a 2-bedroom apartment for $1200. If you find a roommate for a 2-bedroom and split rent down the middle, that's $200 a month in savings! Not to mention, you'll also save by splitting things like utility bills and furniture.

If you don't know of any suitable candidates to move in with, use these tips on how to find a roommate.

Although unit availability goes up during popular moving times for renters, the increased demand drives rent prices up substantially too. Make sure you understand how seasonality affects the rental market.

Take into account where you're looking to live. Are there universities nearby? Areas that are close to colleges and universities tend to experience the highest turnover of renters between semesters, especially during the summer.

Does the weather in your city change seasonally, or is it fairly standard all year round? Renters tend to avoid relocating in inclement weather, so most moves happen during the most weather-reliable seasons of an area (also often during the summertime).

During the "off" seasons, landlords are more likely to give you a deal on rent in order to keep up their occupancy. If you time it right, you'll find yourself in a much better position for negotiating rent with your landlord.

3. Search for Rent Specials

Brand new apartment building in your area? Don't assume you can't afford to live there just because it's shiny and new!

New apartment properties often offer rent specials to attract new renters. A free month of rent or discounted security deposit are common move-in specials. Some offer additional perks too, like parking spaces and full gyms. Although these are common in newer buildings, you can find rent specials across a variety of aparments in your city.

Depending on your budget, these perks could make up a large enough cut to make that sparkly apartment perfectly affordable for you. Canceling that $50 gym membership and working out in your apartment building really help your savings.

4. Look Into Middle-Floor Units

Rent prices tend to be higher for units that are either on the lower or higher levels of the building. This is because people love great views, and want easy access to their homes.

If you're willing to have a less-than-perfect view and take the stairs/elevator instead of coming in straight off the street, you could save yourself big bucks.

5. When You Find a Great Deal, Jump On It

Most people don't realize that rent prices often change daily. If you find a place you love and the price works for you, act quick. Let the leasing agent know you're serious and fill out your application right on the spot!

If you know you've found an apartment that's the right fit, don't sleep on it. Hesitating may result in the rent price going up or the unit being given to another applicant. Take the leap!

6. Negotiate on a Fixer-Upper

Consider committing to a cheap apartment that's under-budget, and make improvements yourself if the landlord won’t cover it. If all the place needs is a fresh coat of paint or a new faucet fixture, these are one-time fixes that will be much cheaper in the long run than renting a more expensive apartment that has all the perks.

If the place is in desperate need of a makeover, take your negotiating skills a step further and make an agreement with the landlord. Offer to pay a lower fixed rent for a certain number of years, in exchange for completely fixing the place up at your own cost.

Depending on how well you negotiate rent, you'll get a great rate from the start!

7. Choose Your Amenities Wisely

In-unit laundry vs. onsite laundry. Renovated unit vs. non-renovated. Choosing between apartment amenities have costs attached to them.

Most renters prefer having in-unit laundry and living in a nicely upgraded apartment. Those units tend to get snatched up first and have a higher demand, so property owners can afford to raise rents on them.

Choosing an apartment that doesn't have these luxuries might not be as, well, luxurious... but you could get a pretty substantial reduction in your rent cost by opting for the lower-tier units.

8. Think about Living Out of the City

In many cases, opting to rent in a city's suburbs, rather than the city itself, can result in lower rent rates, without giving up proximity to the city.

For example, the median rent rate for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco sits at $2,410. A two-bedroom apartment in Oakland, a San Francisco suburb, is a much lower $1,920.

If you're willing to move away from the city center, city suburbs can provide you with a great balance of affordability and the benefits of city-living.

9. Consider Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods

Up-and-coming neighborhoods are those that have only recently experienced significant growth or transition, making them much more attractive to renters, and susceptible to exorbitant rent rates.

The benefit of up-and-coming neighborhoods is that they typically offer low rent rates and lots of development that reflect the neighborhood's growth.

The downside to up-and-coming neighborhoods is that the rent may still be marred by whatever deemed them less favorable in the first place (crime, abandoned buildings, etc.)

That said, if you do your due diligence, you could find yourself renting in a great neighborhood at a low rate. It's a win-win.

Final Thoughts

One of the most important keys to a successful apartment hunt is preparing before starting your apartment search.

Now that you've got the apartment hunting basics down, you can focus on the financial side of things.

Of course, everyone knows that budgeting is an important aspect of apartment hunting, but not everyone knows how to reap the rewards of cheaper rent, accurate budgeting with an apartment expenses breakdown, and more.

We've got you covered. Check out our Next Up articles or head to our renter life section for more resources.

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AUTHOR
Yuki is a former member Growth Team at Apartment List. She enjoys eating, reading, spending time in the mountains, singing in the car, and exploring new places. Read More
AUTHOR
Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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