What to Look for When Buying a New Apartment

Here are some things a first-time renter should know.

By Wendy Wrzos

 

Whether you’re a first-time renter, or you’ve moved homes more times than you care to remember, what to look for when buying a new apartment is different every time. There’s no perfect system, but what I discovered was that it was best to approach my apartment-hunting with a good mixture of excitement and caution.

 

When I started, I had no idea where to begin, so I have no shame in saying I just looked at the prettiest ones in the best neighborhoods – reality set in pretty quickly, as I realized they were professionally staged, and the photographs were edited beyond recognition. A few apartments in, I realized there were definitely things a first-time renter should know:

 

Decide on a Budget before you even start looking: They say approximately one-third of your take-home salary should go toward rent, but don’t forget to include money for utilities and expenses (garage and parking fees, cable/internet, gym subscription, renter’s insurance, etc).

 

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Photo by dreamstime

 

Narrow down your idea of the best neighborhood or town: You need to have a reason to visit a potential apartment. Research it on the Internet, and then go for a visit. Tedious, I know, but seeing it in person is completely different from zooming in on Google Maps, or reading anonymous reviews on apartment hunting guide dot com.

 

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Photo by dreamstime

 

So, once I discovered how much it was actually going to cost me to find the home of my dreams, I had to regroup, and save up a bit more money. As my expectations crashed (I completely forgot that I would need food, and that toiletries and mom’s laundry service were not included), I began frantically asking everyone I came in contact with for their own apartment buying tips:

 

Is it safe? As an independent 20-something year old, this had never occurred to me. But it was a good point. A street may be all sunshine and daisies by the light of day, but what about when I come home from a late night out? Is it well lit? Is there a doorman, or some type of security system for getting in and out? What is near my potential apartment building? Am I OK with the thriving adult business on the left, and the unkempt cemetery on the right?

 

What will the commute be like? Not just for me, but will my friends and family make the trek out to my new home, or will it require a six-month warning and an inflatable mattress? Visit during rush hour, and see what your train, bus, or car ride would be like.

 

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Photo by dreamstime

 

Call me crazy, but I decided that I was okay with the business next door, but not the cemetery. Which led me to getting inside these apartments, and finding out what a walk-up and 327 square feet actually looked like?

 

Apartment Viewing Etiquette: Who knew this was even a thing? I learned that I should always call the number on the listing first. It’s definitely OK to do a drive-by, but arriving unannounced will irritate just about everyone, and, if competition is high, you may have lost your chance for the apartment of your dreams.

 

Call between normal hours – 9 to 5 is considered appropriate - and ask if the apartment is available, and when would be a good time to see it. If you get a voice mail, leave a brief message with your reason for calling, and your name and phone number.

 

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Photo by dreamstime

 

Oh, and when you do go in to view the apartment - try to arrive on time, ask beforehand if you can bring your baby or Rottweiler, don’t use their toilet, jump up and down on the bed or criticize their decorating skills, and (whether you liked the apartment or not) thank them at the end.

 

Hopefully, by now you will have found an apartment, and you can’t wait to move in and make it your own. Just a few thoughts on what to look for before you move in.

 

Do a walk through. It’s not usually a legal requirement, but who knows what has happened to it since you were there last. Take a friend if you can, and look for any obvious changes or damage (now that the apartment is vacant, its flaws will be more noticeable).

 

Check outlets (bring one of those plug-in nightlights to check them with), turn on and off light switches, run the hot water and flush toilets, open and close the doors, windows and cupboards (check the locks) and look for mouse or insect evidence – basically anything and everything you can think of.

 

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Photo by dreamstime

 

Check the papers. I know it goes without saying, but read your lease and liability clauses carefully before you sign. Verify what you’re (and aren’t) responsible for, and ask as many questions as you need to.

 

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Photo by dreamstime

 

You’re done! Time to relax and enjoy your new home.