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How to find your first apartment

Start first with what you can afford for rent. There are several ways to figure that out.

By Karen Datko Jun 2, 2010 10:58AM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.

 

Why am I writing a post about how to find an apartment? It seems so easy, right? Look around in the areas you like, pick a place, sign a lease, and you're done.

 

Unfortunately, while it seems very easy, the process is fraught with ways you can get screwed.

 

In the next few paragraphs I'll explain the steps I used when I was trying to find my first apartment after moving from Pittsburgh to Baltimore. When I moved here, I chose a place that seemed like a lot of fun but was a good 25-minute commute from work. While that doesn't seem like a long distance, it gets longer and longer after a full day of work.

 

I also learned that leases can be complicated, filled with lots of gotchas, and that you really need to be on top of your stuff when it comes to contracts. It'll be boring to read but you must do it, or suffer the consequences when you leave.

This post is part of Bargaineering's 2010 New Graduate Guide series where I've shared my insights and offered my financial guidance to the Class of 2010. This post is part of Day 3, putting down roots at your first place.

How much can you afford? The first step is taking the time to figure out how much you can afford. There are various rules of thumb about how much you should spend on where you live, most of which are percentages of your take-home pay. Some people will say 25%, some will say 33%, but ultimately you need to decide how much you are willing to spend. What you spend on rent is money you won't be able to save for the future or spend on anything else.

If the "gut feel" method makes you uneasy, budget. Calculate how much you want to spend on everything else, how much you want to save, and limit your rent payment to the balance. Remember to factor in all the costs of renting, not just rent itself. Add in all the associated costs like a parking spot, utilities, etc.

Choosing a location. The next step is choosing where to rent. There are usually two things that matter in terms of location -- the commute to work and to social activities.

 

In general you want to have a short commute to work in order to reduce your general stress level and wear and tear on your car. You will want to take a look at traffic patterns to make sure you aren't signing up for a one-year stress fest of rush hour traffic. If you don't know the local traffic patterns, try Google Maps. It can try to predict traffic patterns based on historical data. Click on "Traffic" and then "Change."

Finding an apartment. The easiest way is to use online services like Rent.com, especially if they offer a signup bonus. Second to an online service is Craigslist and then the local newspaper.

Once you've collected a bunch of prospects, schedule walk-throughs and visits. Get a feel for the apartments, the area around them, and how you like both.

 

When you are ready to pull the trigger, sit down and read the entire lease. It'll be a long document, it'll be a boring document, but it'll save you some headache if you spend the time to read it. You will need to understand who is responsible for what. For example, your lease may state that you can't have any candles in your apartment (fire risk) or that you need renters insurance. Understanding that from the start is very important.

Buying renters insurance. Finally, when you do sign the lease, remember to get renters insurance. It's like homeowners insurance but for people who are renting. It's remarkably cheap, sometimes just a few dollars a month, and it will protect you. If someone breaks into your apartment and steals your stuff, renters insurance covers you for that. If there is a fire because you are a terrible cook, renters insurance covers your personal property for that.

 

It's cheap because you probably won't need it, but it's so cheap you shouldn't be without it. Protect yourself at the cost of a couple beers a month. It's totally worth it.

 

Have any advice for young professionals looking to find their first apartment?

 

More from Bargaineering and MSN Money:

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