Your Apartment Hunting Checklist

Nov 14, 2019

As a creative, my home is my sanctuary. I write on my couch, edit at my dining table, and brainstorm in my shower. Every room has a purpose, but the search to find this lovely place wasn’t an easy one. I had two weeks to grab an apartment and move in before starting a new job, so the search was rough and an extremely important learning lesson – a lesson worth sharing with you. 

When I first started my apartment search, I really only paid attention to the cost of rent and location. But I quickly realized there are dozens of other factors that played into my final decision. I was a little blindsided by extra costs and amenity changes, so I made a list of the most important questions you should ask any potential landlord. 

Are utilities included?

During my search, I realized life would be much more convenient if utilities were included in my monthly payment. I didn’t want the added stress of having to pay separate bills for heat, electricity, water, garbage, etc. Not only would this be an extra task, but the dollar amount of each bill would fluctuate depending on the time of year, which would make it extremely difficult to budget properly. 

If you find an apartment that includes utilities, be sure to ask if there’s a price cap on heat. For example, does it only cover up to $100 a month and leave you to pay what’s left over? If you’re unable to find a place with utilities included, ask the landlord how much the previous tenant paid on average or contact the gas and electric company, give them the address, and ask for an approximate dollar amount. 

How far am I from work/school?

Save gas money if you can. When you’re looking for your next place, try to be close to the location you travel to and from the most. It’s also a smart idea to check how close public transportation is to your apartment in case you ever have car troubles and need an emergency ride. 

Do I have to pay for parking?

Apartments with a closed lot for tenants sometimes charge a monthly fee. If not, you’ll probably have to resort to street parking. Be sure to ask the landlord if parking is available, and if not, how busy your street usually gets. 

Are pets allowed?

I’ve never had my own pet living alone and I honestly don’t plan on it because those pet fees are… too much. Tenants with cats, dogs, or other animals usually have to pay extra each month since pets can cause damage. Some apartments don’t allow pets at all. So, if you have a small roommate, expect your options to be limited. 

What’s your noise policy?

If you need a quiet space, be sure to ask your landlord if there’s a noise policy. Some apartments require tenants to keep music low after a certain time, or no guests after certain hours. And if you’re a light sleeper like me, try to get an apartment on the highest floor so you aren’t woken up in the middle of the night by your upstairs neighbor’s heavy footsteps. I regret not thinking of this one earlier. 

Will I have to pay a security deposit or other fees?

News flash, you’re probably not just paying first month’s rent when you move in. You must ask your landlord about any security deposits, or if you’ll have to pay last month’s rent as well. If not, your entire budget can be ruined. 

Will you conduct a credit check?

This part sucks. If you’re a recent college grad, you might not have any credit, let alone good credit. This might make it a bit difficult to get an apartment depending on the location and price. If it’s in a high-demand neighborhood or the rent is a little high, the landlord will probably run a credit check to see if you’re financially responsible and capable of paying bills on time. So my advice is to check that credit score and lift it as much as possible. Also be prepared for a landlord to ask you for your gross annual income. 

How long is the lease?

When you move into your first apartment out of college, you might not know how long you’ll actually live there. What happens if you get a promotion in six months and want to upgrade? Or what if the first job you take is only temporary and you find another gig in a different city? Ask your landlord upfront how long the lease is, and more importantly, if there is a fee in case you decide to break it. 

Is there 24-hour maintenance?

Let’s be real, we’re all renting apartments because we’re not ready to own a home. That means when something goes wrong, we want to make sure someone’s there to fix it. This could be a broken toilet, unplugged kitchen appliance, or broken lightbulb. Whatever the inconvenience is, you should have your maintenance person on speed dial, so ask your landlord when he or she is available.

Is there a history of any bugs and rodents?

Whew, this is a big one. DO NOT be afraid to ask a landlord if they’ve received any complaints about bugs or rodents. No one wants mice or roaches as roommates. See how clean the hallways are, and even ask a current tenant about their experience if you have to. And if you want to be really cautious, avoid apartments near restaurants. They bring in all the critters. 

Am I allowed to make any interior changes?

Some landlords paint bathrooms bright pink and kitchens dark orange for specific reasons – reasons I don’t understand. Some of them refuse to change the color, so be sure to ask how open they are to changing the interior. Can you repaint? Drill holes in the wall? Install a bathroom shelf? Because we all know decor is important. 

Now that you’ve read my apartment hunting checklist, I hope you’re a little more conscious of how much thought goes into finding the perfect place. And when you start your search, expect to add to this list. Remember, your next apartment might not be your forever home, but asking the right questions can keep you safe, comfortable, and in a happy space.

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