The Idiot-Proof Guide to Finding Your First Apartment

It seems like no one ever looks out for baby birds. 
Yes, that is the sentence I’ve decided to start this article with and no I do not have any reservations about it. Here’s why; there comes a time in life where, for one reason or another (perhaps a quarantined summer? *raises hand*), you just cannot live under your parents’ roof anymore. You, the baby bird, find yourself spreading your wings to leave the familiar, fully furnished, completely free nest. Meanwhile, it seems as though everyone else’s attention gets diverted towards comforting your parental unit. What they don’t see, however, is that this brave baby bird is not actually soaring gracefully on the breeze. Because the truth is that you know you’re ready to move out, but you have no idea how to do it.

I see you, you adorable little idiots. Lucky for you all, I’m very eager to help. I present to you a piece that we at Multifam are calling “The Idiot-Proof Guide to Finding Your First Apartment”. Let us begin. 

*disclaimer, I originally planned to ditch the baby birds metaphor by the time I got to this point, but honestly, the categories just named themselves.*

Step One: Preparing to Jump 

Thoughts on Budgets, Roommates, and hidden fees

Before you run headfirst into the unknown, there is one crucial detail you need to comprehend. You need money, and you probably need more of it than you think. If you grew up in a household similar to mine, finance probably wasn’t a hot topic of conversation around the dinner table, but I mean we at least had school to teach us right?! ….no? Yeah me neither. Let’s face it, the math teachers who got stuck teaching finance oftentimes didn’t even understand the material they were trying to teach us. So what information did we learn?

Depending on how closely your age correlates to the year 1969, you may have been taught the 30% rule, which claims that your total spending on rent should not exceed 30% of your annual income. It sounds reasonable and at one point it was, but here’s the kicker. This rule was established over 50 years ago, when financial expectations were incredibly different. For example, 401k payments and high student loan debt were only mere nightmares. 

So what the heck do we do now? Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all answer. Calculating a personal budget is the only way to truly see what you can afford to pay per month in rent while also making the necessary payments to other portions of adult life. However, there is one piece of advice I have for you that might ease the pain from this inevitable financial blow. 

Suck it up and get a roommate. 

Now I don’t know how old you are, or what the state of your personal pride looks like, but having roommates is not something to be ashamed of. Let’s throw it back to the 2016 study conducted by Zillow and look at the facts. With increasing student debt, delayed marrying ages, and rising housing costs, buying into a “doubled-up” household just makes the most sense.

Need more convincing? Just take one look at the hit Fox sitcom “New Girl” and try telling me roommates aren’t the bee’s knees. 

Lastly, you need to remember to leave some wiggle room in that brand new personal budget not only for standard utilities like gas, water, trash, etc, but for the fun easter egg costs that always worm their way into a new lease. Things like parking fees, security deposits, and application fees are just some of the wonderful surprises that may be lying in wait for you – but more on this later. 

Step Two: Finding Where to Land

Insight on location pragmatics and sense of belonging

Now that you theoretically know what you can afford, you have to get smart about shopping. There are two overarching categories that you need to keep in mind when browsing through listings: location and something I’ve decided to call “hermit prevention”. 

Finding a desirable location should be something you’ve already pondered. How close is it to work? Would my usual grocery store change? Does the neighborhood give me the heebeegeebees?  If you’ve been asking yourself these questions it means you’re on the right track, but let’s take it one step further. 

Start asking yourself what the resident community is like. Are you searching for a place with frat-house-style pool parties every weekend or would you prefer to only know your neighbors as creepy strangers? Most of us land somewhere in the middle, but how can you get a sense of a property’s community vibe? Well, you do some digging.

Online reviews are a great place to check to see if previous residents have left you any deadly warning signs. Dropping by the location during different points of the week can also give you an overall feel for how the community operates. Recently, some apartment complexes have started to implement outside software to help foster a positive resident experience by building closer community ties. Two examples of companies growing in this market are NextDoor and LittleBird, and they’re definitely worth checking out. Finding a place that utilizes resources like these may help you feel more comfortable when it comes time to integrate into a new community.

Next Up? Hermit Prevention. 

This is crucial, especially if you consider yourself to be one of the world’s many great introverts. Depending on the location you choose, there may or may not be a long list of wonderful property amenities like a fitness center, community pool, or cosmic bowling (hey you never know! Which is why you gotta ask) that will help get you out of your apartment without having to go too far from home. Having these facilities included in your rental may greatly improve your time as a tenant, so it might just be worth coughing up a few extra buckeroos. Make sure to know what is included and what is not. Do not just assume that because something is there that it doesn’t come with hidden fees. If you want more insight on the importance of amenities, check out our previous article “2020 Residents Are Drooling Over These New Amenities” .

Step Three: Don’t Fly Blind 

Know what questions to ask

And now we have come to the end of our lesson. Let’s say you’ve found a complex that shortens your commute, falls within your (and your new roommate’s!) budget range, has a pool with a built-in water slide and weekly bingo nights (okay tweak the fantasy to suit your dreams but you get the idea). What are the final boxes you need to check off? You’ll be happy to know that there are only two. 

Before you sign your life away, know what you are agreeing too. This does not mean you skim over the pages of your new lease. If there is something that doesn’t make sense, you NEED to ask. If management isn’t willing to explain parts of their contract to you, that may be a red flag about how they’ll handle future issues during your time as a tenant. Additionally, you should be able to confidently walk away with a detailed list of what you are paying for. We’re talking about knowing any additional fees the property includes, agreeing to your monthly rent, and understanding one-time fees and recurring payments. If you can confidently say you have no reservations or questions about any of these things, you’re almost there. Before the ink hits the paper and you make that final step, you need to do one last thing. 

Ask if there are any discounts available.

Now I know this seems silly, or you may be worried about coming off as a cheapskate, but like my father always says, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no”.

Surprisingly, many apartment managers are willing to provide a price break in order to fill their empty units. Some of the more common offers you should look out for are signing bonuses like one month’s free rent in exchange for a longer lease, waiving amenities fees, and discounts offered if you can pay lump-sum amounts. However this, of course, depends on your personal demeanor and how charmingly you can uphold this conversation with your future landlord. 

Hey, Look! We’re Done!

If you’ve made it this far, congrats my baby birds. Hopefully, you’ve retained enough information to make the transition from the nest to your first apartment a little less daunting, but if not, just know that you’re not the only one who feels like they are tumbling through the air. Know that here at Multifam, we have the utmost faith that you all are designed to land on your feet eventually….wait, actually no, that’s cats.

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