How to Find Your First Apartment in 6 Easy Steps
tips for finding your first apartment
Category : Home
Read Time: 7 minutes
Sometimes it baffles me that it's only been 7 months since I graduated college and started my full time job.
It's almost even more baffling that I spent the first 3 weeks out of college completely stressed and overwhelmed as I tried to find my first apartment. I had so many questions that nobody seemed to answer and was ultimately trying to figure out how to navigate this scary and uncomfortable area in my life without falling into pieces.
And now look at me --- 7 months later, sipping Moscato in my own apartment and eating overpriced guacamole from H-E-B without a care in the world.
Okay, okay, so my life isn't completely care-free, but when it comes to apartment hunting, it's pretty darn close.
So I thought I'd take some time to share my tips and tricks to finding your first apartment in order to help make this stressful process just a tad bit less stressful.
Don't worry girl, you'll be clinking "Welcome Home" wine glasses in no time.
** Please note that I am not a House Hunting guru or a Realtor wanna-be. I'm just a post-grad babe trying to make it and share a little bit of knowledge with the rest of the world, so please take my advice with a grain of salt. Also I live in Houston, TX, so my information could differ based on location.
Alright, now that we're done with the formalities, let's get started ---
How to Find Your First Apartment in 6 Easy Steps
STEP 1: DECIDE IF YOU WANT A ROOMMATE
The first and most important step to finding your first apartment is determining if you're up for the roommate life or not.
Why, you ask? Because that one decision will be the determining factor of your apartment budget, location, and overall search. Although there are some cases where people find their place and then their roommate, in my opinion, it makes the process a whole lot easier to have this figured out from the jump.
Just remember this: the quicker you figure out if you will be rooming with someone, the quicker you can actually start looking for an apartment.
If you're not entirely sure if you want a roommate or not, no worries - I wasn't either. But here are a few questions I asked myself that helped me decide if I ultimately wanted to room with someone.
IF YOU'RE TRYING TO DECIDE TO HAVE A ROOMMATE:
How are your finances? (Believe it or not, splitting rent, utilities, and other things can make a big difference when it comes to the cost of living)
Do you like being around people?
How well do you deal with conflict?
How much do you value your personal alone time? (Keep in mind that having a roommate doesn't disqualify you ever having personal space, but it is something to consider)
IF YOU'RE TRYING TO VET A POTENTIAL ROOMMATE:
What are your potential roommates habits/behavior? Would they go to bed early or stay up late? Are they social and like hosting gatherings or prefer to stay in and visit other people's place?
Does your potential roommate have a significant other that will potentially stay over? If so, how much of the time would they be staying over (and would they be willing to help pay rent if it's majority of the time)?
What would a disrespectful roommate look like to you?
Do you have any serious pet peeves when it comes to living that your potential roommate has? (I.e. You hate hair in the shower, or dirty dishes laying around everywhere.)
Hopefully those questions help to start the process of deciding and selecting a decent roommate.
STEP 2: DETERMINE YOUR LOCATION
Once you and your roomie have decided to live together (or you decided to solo-it) the next step is to determine WHERE you want to live.
The easiest way to determine this is having a physical location to anchor your apartment around.
For example, when I graduated college, I wanted a 30 minute or less commute to work but also wanted to be close to school since my roommate was finishing the semester at the University. Therefore, I was able to find an array of apartments to choose from in the middle of those two locations.
If you have a roommate, you will both need to sit down and talk about locations that are even distances from both of your responsibilities (for example your job or her school).
If you're singling it, then all you need to worry about is yourself! How close do you want to live from your school? Your job? Your friends? Your parents' house? Decide what's important to you and plan your apartment location around it.
If you don't have a physical location to anchor your apartment around, try researching local neighborhoods and see which one you'd like to live in.
Always make sure to check out the ISD schools in the area you're looking to live at. The rate/rank of the school can help show you how good the neighborhood is.
Pro tip: If you live in Houston, this blog does a great job of breaking down the different neighborhoods and what's in it. It's called the Newstonian Guide and gives a great rundown of what's in the neighborhood.
STEP 3: SET AN APARTMENT BUDGET
Now that you have your location picked out, it's time for you to set a budget for your apartment.
Try asking your family or any friends in the area how much they pay for rent to help you become familiar what the average price is, since it can differ geographically. Make sure to pay attention to the different prices based on different apartments (like rent for a 1 bedroom vs. rent for a 2 bedroom).
For example, the average price for a 1 bedroom in Houston in a decent area is gonna be around $900 and for 2 bedroom around $1500 (so $750 each). That way you know if you see a unit below that price it's a good deal and above that is a little more pricey.
Once you feel like you have a decent idea of the average, look at your personal income to determine what you can afford. Most apartments require a proof of income with a certain requirement before you can live there so it may be a good idea to base your budget around that. Or have someone with a higher income, like your parents, co-sign with you.
A good rule of thumb is to not spend more than 30% of your income on rent. Therefore, if you'll be making approximately $4,000 per month, then your rent should not go over $4,000 x 0.3, or about $1,200. This isn't the end-all-be-all but is definitely a good place to start if you have no idea how much you should spend.
STEP 4: START YOUR SEARCH
Now that you have your roommate selected, location decided, and budget determined, it's time to actually start the searching! Woo-hoo! Take some time to sit down and use different online search engines to help you find your apartment in your desired location and within your budget.
My favorite websites that I used for my apartments search was Padmapper.
Padmapper is an online tool that allows you to draw your location and select criteria, including desired price. Then it will pull all of the apartments in that area that fall under your categories in your desired budget.
You can also use Apartment List, Apartments.com, Zillow, or other apartment hunting apps.
If the search starts to get a little overwhelming (especially if you don't have time to wait by your computer constantly tracking down the best deals), have no fear.
There are apartment locaters out there that will help you find your apartment for afree.
Let me say that again:
THERE ARE APARTMENT LOCATERS THAT WILL HELP YOU FIND YOUR APARTMENT FOR FREE.
No like seriously, they won't charge you a dime and can start looking for you as early as 3 months out!
I’m a firm believer in working smart and not hard, and apartment locaters can be your life saver.
My favorite apartment locater is Smart City Apartments. They have locations in Houston, Dallas, and Austin and their HTX instagram account is full of beautiful apartments with the best deals!
You can also use UMoveFree, a locater that has a deal where if you find your apartment and utilities through them, they will move you for free (or a $200 rebate)!
STEP 5: BOOK TOURS AND VISIT YOUR FAVORITES
Once you've gotten a handful of apartments that you actually like, now it's time to visit them in person to see which one will be your new home.
I recommend booking your tours in advance because it makes the process 10x easier.
When I was trying to find my first apartment, I would take a Saturday morning and tour about 4 or 5. This gave me enough time to check out the area as well as ask any questions without feeling rushed because I had to be back at work (which would've happened if I went during a lunch break).
TIPS FOR BOOKING APARTMENT TOURS
If you plan to see apartments back-to-back, try giving yourself 45 minutes for the tour and leaving a 30 minute+ gap in between your tour scheduling. For example, scheduling a tour at 10am and one at 11:15am, vs a tour at 10am and one at 10:45am. This will give you enough time to make it to your next appointment in case anything goes longer than planned.
If you're moving from out of state or somewhere farther a way, call in advance and schedule all of your tours in one weekend so you don't have to go back and forth in between locations.
Prices constantly change so make sure you call the apartment the morning you want to tour them to check. I’ve been in a situation where the same apartment that was $1400 on Thursday went up to $1800 by the time I went to visit and tour on Saturday. That’s a huge difference and became a waste of time since it was no longer within my budget.
Try to have 3 non-negotiables for your apartment to help narrow down your list. That way when you're calling to book, you can ask the manager and cross off any apartments that don't have your non-negotiables. (My non-negotiables included an in-unit washer and dryer, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, open kitchen floor plan/island, and a parking garage.
Make sure to keep a spreadsheet or notes in your phone of each apartment and things you liked/didn’t like about them. This will help you later when you're trying to compare and decide between all of the apartments you toured.
If you want to be on the safe side, drive around your potential apartment at night to make sure it's a safe neighborhood that you feel comfortable living in. Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe should immediately raise red flags and may not be the best place for you to live.
GOOD QUESTIONS TO ASK WHILE YOU ARE APARTMENT HUNTING
What is the lease term?
What are the penalties for breaking the lease?
Are there income requirements?
Does the owner allow a co-signer?
Who covers the utilities? What is the average cost per month?
Have they received a lot of applications?
How much storage/closet space do they have?
How did this apartment do during national disasters, for example Hurricane Harvey?
How’s parking? Gated or not? Any recent break-ins?
How does trash work? And what is the the average bill for trash?
Are stoves electric or gas?
Are you limited to one internet provider or can you pick your own?
How much is a typical water bill and is that automatically added to rent bill?
Are you allowed to decorate/paint the apartment without penalty?
When will they enter your apartment without notice?
How many days do you have to pay rent? What are the late fees?
STEP 6: APPLY FOR YOUR APARTMENT & LOCK IN THE PRICE
So you toured 4 apartments and fell in love with one of them! Congrats! Your next step is to lock in the price by applying for it an waiting to get it approved. This is how me and my roommate were able to lock our price down on our apartment 3 months before we actually moved in.
Please keep in mind that some apartments require a monthly income of 3x more than the rent and could require someone to cosign for you. You can find out all of this information from the apartment manager and they should be helping you walk through this process. (Don't be afraid to ask questions --- better safe than sorry!)
Once you've applied and been approved then you will be ready to read and sign the lease and move into your new home!
So I hope this alleviated *some* stress from this overwhelming process. If you have any more tips and tricks to finding your first apartment, or any additional questions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments! Or you can DM me on my instagram.
Happy apartment hunting!
- The Corporate Queen
2 Corinthians 5:1 ESV
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.