Part One – Do Your Homework
Before you first look for an apartment, it is important to ask yourself these questions first.
- Who is paying for it?
- Will it be you by yourself (maybe with financial aid), or you with a roommate, or you with the support from your family?
- Make sure that if you are going to rent an apartment with someone else, or with the support of someone else (like family) that you know how long they are committed to helping you for.
- If your are planning to rent by yourself you may need a co-signer to help get the lease.
- A co-signer is somebody that takes legal responsibility in guaranteeing to the rent will be paid on time and that there will be no unpaid damages to the apartment. If you can’t make rent or pay for maintenance your co-signer will be called upon to make those payments for you, so make sure that whoever co-signs with you knows the risk!
- The best co-signer is someone close to you, like family, who is older and established with their own credit and good reputation. This is not for a friend or a sports coach.
- Do you want to live with a roommate?
- Living with someone else reduces the rent you will pay and cuts the cost of your utilities (gas, electric, etc.)
- Roommates can also make living away from home more fun and less scary.
- If you don’t have someone to be your roommate, there are easy ways to find reliable candidates:
- You can place an ad on a roommate finder page, such as Roomster or Spareroom.
- You can post to your social media networks that you are looking for a roommate.
- You can put a notice on a campus bulletin board for a roommate.
Part Two – Get Your Money Ready
Once you have completed the steps above, it is now time to assess your credit score and how much you and your co-signer are willing to budget for that year (before you buy any furniture for your apartment). The best way to determine what you can afford for rent is to follow the 30%/30%/30% rule.
What is the 30%/30%/30% Rule?
- Do not spend over 30% of your monthly income/budget on your rent.
- Do not spend over 30% of your monthly income/budget on expenses (utilities & food).
- Keep 30% of your monthly income for personal expenses (entertainment, clothes, healthcare, etc.) and savings.
- Use this 30/30/30 rule calculator to figure out what you can afford.
Part Three – Finding Your Place
So now we have our apartment preference, budget, roommate (optional), and cosigner (optional) it is now time to look for an apartment.
We recommend using one of these websites where you can find apartments to rent:
Enter the city name, or zip code for the community you want to live in, the range of rent you are willing to pay, and any other features which are important to you (laundry in the building, an outdoor space, locked front gate, etc.). Here are some additional considerations:
- Is the apartment structure good? (this article goes really in depth with this!)
- Is the community safe, especially for coming home from class or work at night?
- Does the apartment require a co-signer if you’re a student?
- Is there easy access to grocery stores, entertainment or the train lines (if applicable)?
Important Note: They key to finding an apartment is to move quickly. If you see something nice in your budget, most likely other renters have seen it too, so don’t wait! Make an appointment to see the property right away and if you take a rental application, complete it and submit it as soon as possible! Landlords will be grateful for your efficiency.
Once you find an apartment and sign the lease (congratulations!) make sure you line up the following steps:
- When is your Move-in date?
- What is the move-in process for this particular apartment building?
- When and how to make your first rent payment, and security deposit?
- How will you get your personal items (clothes, furniture, bedding, etc.) to the new apartment? If you are using a U-Haul or friends to help you, make sure you plan in advance and book time on people’s calendars early.
- Don’t forget groceries and household items (paper towels, toilet paper, a plunger!, etc.)
That’s it. Have fun with the process and make sure you take pictures! Renting and moving into your first apartment only happens once in your life and you’ll want to savor the moment.