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How to Find Your Dream Apartment

Guess what time of the year it is… MOVING SEASON! I’m not sure why everyone chooses to move around June/July time frame, maybe it’s because of recent graduates and nice weather. In my case, I’ll be graduating and moving to Philadelphia. I’m so excited to be moving to a new city and I’ve already found a place, believe it or not. I wanted to share my experience finding an apartment in hopes that it will help you guys find your dream apartment!

Budget Your Rent

Creating a budget will allow you to see how much you can realistically spend on rent and utilities. If you haven’t created a budget yet, but need to start looking for a place to live soon a good way to estimate what you can spend on rent is 25 – 30% of your gross income then divide by twelve and that’s what you can spend on rent monthly. Some places will require you to have 3x the rent in monthly income. Either way, you need to figure out what you can afford before you start looking. This will eliminate the chances of you falling in love with an apartment out of your price range.

Decide Your Nonnegotiable

What is it that you cannot live without? Is it a gym so you don’t have to leave your apartment complex to workout or a pet friendly community so your furry friend can move in too? Decide what are the things you want in your apartment that are non-negotiable. This can be different for everyone. One of mine was being on the top floor because I can’t stand noise. Once you have a list of nonnegotiable also add some negotiable things to your list; things you prefer, but could live without.

Start Looking Online

I started by search online with no, they didn’t sponsor me… I wish! I just really love their website and how seamlessly it works with their smartphone app. The website is pretty intuitive. You’ll decide whether you want a studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedrooms, etc. and then whether you’d like to search a neighborhood (surrounding area) or commute distance. I chose commute distance since I knew I wanted to drive less than 15 minutes to work. Then you’ll enter in price range and an approximate move-in date. Lastly, you’ll enter in your nonnegotiable and negotiable.

Apartment List will then generate a couple of lists based on your information and preferences. I suggest checking these lists out first:

  1. “Best Bets” – a combination of your preferred location, price, and features

  2. “Stay in Your Budget” – look at this list if you’re strict with your budget and could go without a few features or a longer commute to work

  3. “Stay in Your Location” – if you don’t want to commute more than 30 minutes to work or you won’t budge on the area check this list out

Next it’s kind of like tinder, but for apartments. In the app you can swipe left or right to add to your “love it” list or your “nope” list. On the website you can also add it to your “maybe” list or “visiting” list. This helps to organize the apartments you’ve looked at: top picks, the maybes, and the nope, I’d never live here if my life depended on it sorta thing. Apartment List gives you a good starting point to do some research and figure out which apartments you’d like to visit in-person

Make a Spreadsheet

When Trevor and I were looking at apartments we both created our own spreadsheets in Google Docs. It was a pretty simple spreadsheet, but it really helped us on our in-person tours. Before the in-person tour, our headings included:

  1. Name

  2. Address

  3. Sq. ft.

  4. One Time Fees

  5. Rent/Month

  6. Total/Month

  7. Distance to Work (miles)

  8. Location (1-5), Amenities (1-5), Overall Rating (1-5)

  9. Pros/Cons

  10. Contact Person, Phone/email

  11. URL

We filled in the bolded headings before our in-person visit and then after we toured an apartment we would fill in the rest of the headings for that particular apartment. This helped us keep all the apartment straight and by filling in the ratings and pros/cons immediately after the tour, will help you to remember the good and the bad that stood out to you.

Map it Out

Once you have your list of apartments that you will be visiting normally you only have a few days to visit all the apartments. That’s why it is important to map out what the most efficient route for visiting the apartments. I recommend doing this through Apartment List where it shows you the map of all your apartment picks. Then, make sure you call ahead to schedule an appointment at the appropriate time.

Go Visit

Definitely go visit the apartments if possible. For some, I realize you might be moving across country, but you’ll never really get a feel for what the apartment and the community is like unless you visit in-person. When I was looking at apartments I came along some really nice websites with great pictures and I really thought I was going to love it there, but when I went to go visit the surrounding area wasn’t great, the apartment wasn’t great, and the management team wasn’t too shabby either. Also two pieces of advice: 1) TAKE PICTURES 2) ASK QUESTIONS. Both are super important. You’ll probably be viewing a ton of apartments and after awhile they all start blending together. You’ll thank yourself (or me) later for the pictures 🙂

Review, Review, Review

After you’ve done your in-person tours and filled out your spreadsheet just double check that there aren’t any specials on rent or with a preferred employer, etc. Also ensure you’re numbers are correct with the management company so you didn’t agree on paying $1,000 per month and you get a bill for your move-in fees and it turns out to be $1,500 per month.

Decision Day

Once you’ve reviewed the pictures/videos, pricing, and the pros/cons, it’s time to make a decision! This day may come sooner than expected since apartment renting is competitive, especially for our age range. We’re all looking for the safest, coolest, best-priced apartment. I almost lost my apartment by a day! That’s why it is so important to do your research early and come prepared at your in-person visits. If you love an apartment and the unit is up for grabs… the least you could do is put in an application. Usually the fees are pretty low, but don’t apply to too many as there is a hard credit check!

Are you moving to a new city? What tips do you have for finding apartments? Let me know in the comments. Happy apartment hunting 🙂

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I'm a 20-something gal living in Philly working a 9-to-5 by day and blogging by night. I enjoy exploring new places, finding sustainable swaps, and learning to live a more intentional lifestyle.

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