Moving into a new space is equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking, You want everything to be perfect, from the location and the layout to the amenities and, of course, the overall price. But before finding your dream apartment and signing a contract, there are a handful of crucial questions you must answer. Can you really afford it? Is there a hidden fee for Fido? Is it close enough to work or school?
With so many details to consider, it can be easy to lose track. So let us serve as your guide for finding your ideal apartment.
1. Focus on the location.
Location is quite possibly the most important aspect to consider before committing to a property. If you’re looking to be near your job, school or family, make sure the site of your soon-to-be space is either a short drive away, within walking distance, or close to public transportation.
Take into account the area’s potential traffic during rush hour, too. A place only 10 minutes away without gridlock might actually be more than an hour away in the mornings and evenings. Apartment listings occasionally exaggerate how close a rental is to important spots, regardless of traffic. To be safe, it is best to turn on your GPS and track it yourself. On GoogleMaps, opt for a feature that allows you to map a journey with a specific time in mind. For example, set the time to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, and Google will factor in the usual traffic for that area.
2. Find your ideal layout.
Depending on the size and structure of an apartment or single-family home, layouts can be starkly different. Even in the same complex, future renters might find a handful of varied styles all with the same square footage. Some may include reading nooks and office spaces, while others forgo small, separate areas for larger dining rooms and bedrooms. It is crucial to determine whether or not a layout will work with your lifestyle.
If you work from home, don’t settle on a place without a designated area for an office. If you enjoy hosting guests and parties, keep an eye out for large entertainment areas.
3. Evaluate the space.
During apartment and home tours, bring along a notebook or a tablet to record the property’s details. Does the paint need freshening? Does the stove look like it’s from the 1990s? Is there any visible damage? It is best to take photos of what you observe. And when it comes to damages, make sure the landlord takes note, too.
4. Consider the amenities.
What’s important to you? An in-home washer and dryer? A shared gym, additional parking spots or storage areas? Make sure to get information regarding pet fees, building costs (water, trash, maintenance), utilities and internet and cable services, too. They are all important tidbits to take into account when you crunch the numbers. Your $1,500 monthly price tag might jump a few hundred dollars depending on fees.
5. Ask yourself if you can really afford it.
This is a big one. Before you sign a lease, compare neighboring properties. Is the price similar to other rentals in the area? If it is slightly more expensive, does it include amenities that make it worthwhile?
Then, it is important to ask yourself whether or not you can comfortably afford the spot. Do you have enough savings to make rent if your job falls through? While you’re evaluating the cost, budget your other monthly expenses, too. If you fall short, consider adding a roommate into the equation.
6. Move quickly.
When you start your rental search, be prepared to move fast. Properties come and go quickly. That means when you find your ideal spot, it might require a speedy turnaround — sometimes less than two weeks.
Before you begin your apartment search, it is best to have some of the logistics (such as moving companies selected and cardboard boxes purchased) already in place.
7. Before you sign, read closely.
Once you’ve found the right property, make sure to read the fine print on the lease. Included amenities, additional fees and previous damages should all be there. The lease term and the monthly payments should be clearly stated as well.
Before you sign, make sure you fully understand the contract. Do you know how much it would cost to break the lease? Are you allowed to sublet during long periods of travel? What if an appliance breaks down? These are all questions you should have answered before putting pen to paper.
Now that you know the steps to take to find your dream spot, start looking!
Clarissa Buch is a writer and editor based in South Florida. Learn more at clarissabuch.com.