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So, you’re looking for your first real apartment. It can be a difficult and challenging adjustment if you are not sure how to begin. Here are some tips that might help:
Should you get a roommate? Most college students cannot afford to live alone in their first apartment. If you cannot afford to pay rent comfortably (in other words, the cost of your rent is more than one-third of your total income), then you should get a roommate. It is often easier to make the transition from living on campus or living at home when you have a roommate, too. For more information on finding a roommate, visit www.places4students.com.
When you meet landlords, remember that you want to come across as mature and responsible. Oftentimes, there are several people applying for the same apartment, so you want to present yourself at your best.
The landlord may ask you to pay an application fee upfront that covers a credit or background check, so bring cash with you to the first meeting. For more information on application fees, read the Leases & Legal Matters tab below.
Ask if there is a deposit required with the lease. If, for example, you decide to rent a $500-per-month apartment and have to pay a $500 deposit, that first month could really cost you $1000. Be sure you have the money in your checking account! The deposit should be fully refundable if the apartment is free of damages when you move out. Make sure to read the legal details about deposits in the Leases & Legal matters section below.
Talk to the neighbors. Sometimes the neighbors can make all the difference in your satisfaction with an apartment. When you go to view the apartment, check in with the other tenants. Ask what they think of the property, how the landlord is, and what kind of noise level they experience.
If you have a car, find out if the apartment comes with a parking space. A lot of apartment buildings do not have specific spots for everyone.
Stick to your budget. Most financial professionals say that paying more than one-third of your total income on rent is risky. As a college student, this can be hard to follow, but it’s a good rule to keep in mind.
Know what your credit looks like. Remember that most landlords will ask for a background check and look up your credit score. If your credit score reflects multiple late payments, you are less likely to get approved for an apartment. If your credit is poor, talk to the landlord before he/she runs the credit report and be honest.
Look at more than a few apartments. Especially as a first-time renter, make sure to take the time to look at a variety of apartments in a few different neighborhoods. That way, you’ll know what you don’t want and what’s feasible.
Do you have a pet? Find out if the landlord allows pets. If they do, ask if there is a fee for pets and what type or size of pets are allowed. Do not try to hide the fact that you have a pet just to get out of the fee. This is a violation of the lease agreement and is cause for kicking you out of the apartment.
Before you move in and sign your lease agreement, check the following items. Remember, once you sign your lease agreement, the lease is legally binding. If there is anything broken or stained, make sure to point it out to the landlord and write it down in the notes on the lease before you and the landlord sign it. That way, when you move out, the landlord cannot charge you for those problems.
- Do all the appliances work? (Fridge, Microwave, Oven, Stove, Dishwasher, Lights, Heater, etc.)
- Are the locks on the entrance door of the building and on the door to the apartment in reasonable condition? Check the doors for signs of break-ins. Since it’s impossible to determine who has a key to your apartment, the lock on the apartment door should be changed when you move in (this is usually at the tenant's expense).
- Check the taps for hot water and the water pressure. Are the drains clogged?
- Are any of the sinks or the bathtub cracked or leaking? Check for water damage.
- Do the pipes freeze in the winter? Rust in the sinks, mold on pipes, and leaking faucets are all evidence of poor plumbing.
- If the apartment or room is furnished, is the furniture in reasonable condition? Does it belong to the landlord or to the previous tenant?
- Are there three-pronged electrical outlets in every room? Are there enough electrical outlets for all of your lamps and appliances? How would you shut off the electricity and the water in case of an emergency?
- Is heat included in the rent, or does the tenant pay for it? Is the apartment heated with gas or with electricity? Does the apartment have its own thermostat? Are there radiators or heating ducts in each room? If you are responsible for the costs of heating the apartment, make sure that you do not simply accept an approximation of what these costs are likely to be from the landlord. Ask to see a previous utility bill.
- Is the apartment well insulated? Check to see if the windows fit properly. The number of outside faces (roof, outer walls) the apartment has will also affect heating costs.
- Is there proper ventilation? Do all the windows in the unit open? Are there locks on windows that are at street level?
- Are there fire exits in the back and front of the building? How would one get out of the building in case of fire? Make sure that fire exits are not blocked or used as storage space. Is there a smoke detector in the apartment or hallway? Familiarize yourself with where fire alarms and fire extinguishers are located within the building.
- Are janitorial services offered? Find out from someone in the building how responsive the landlord is to problems with the dwelling.
- Is there enough storage space? If there is a locker in the basement, find out who has access to that area, and what kind of lock is on the door?
Now that you’ve signed the lease, you’re ready to move into your first apartment. Consider these important tips for first-time renters:
Turn on the Utilities
Most utilities in your apartment will probably be your responsibility. That means you are going to have to have them turned on and changed to your name before you move in. Your landlord can usually give you a list of utilities and contact information for the companies. Call as early as possible (a month isn't too soon) before you plan to move in to make sure the utilities will be on. If you haven't had utilities in your name before, you might also have to pay a refundable deposit.
Have the Necessities
If this is the first time you will be living on your own, there are a number of things you will have to purchase before or immediately after you move to make things like cooking, cleaning, and even taking a shower possible.
Get Renter’s Insurance
It is a really good idea to have renters insurance. It is an inexpensive (often a few dollars a month) way to protect yourself, your family and your belongings in case the unthinkable happens. Make a phone call or hop on the website of your chosen insurance company to get yourself a policy. Typically your car insurance company will offer several types of renter insurance plans.
Clean the Apartment When You Move Out
Chances are you paid a security deposit when you moved into your new apartment. This deposit is to protect the landlord in case he has to make major repairs or do excessive cleaning when you leave. Usually all or a portion (after deductions) of the security deposit will be returned to you, provided you clean your apartment before you leave.
Whether you are already friends with your future roommate or just getting to know each other, having a roommate can be challenging at times. Often it is difficult to discuss differences when you and your roommate are first trying to get to know each other. Resolving differences early on can make living together much more enjoyable. You may want to have a discussion about differences before deciding to live with someone (even if this person is already a close friend!). Here are some tips to starting some of these difficult, but necessary conversations.
1. Open, honest, and constant communication is key. The first step in this is to begin talking about things you value about your lifestyles so you can see where differences lie. Here are some topics that can help you start that conversation:
When it comes to smoking and drinking, I…
The kinds of grades I want to get this semester are…
My dietary restrictions and preferences are…
The amount of sleep I like to get is…
The things I do for fun are…
Do I like to study in complete silence or with noise?
Do I like to sleep in complete silence?
How do I feel about overnight guests?
How do I feel about friends visiting?
2. A great way to understand your roommate is to learn how he or she feels in certain situations. Here are some conversation starters:
The way I react when I’m happy is…
The way I work under pressure is…
When I’m sad, I act like…
When I’d rather be alone I act like…
The way I react when I first meet someone is…
Something that cheers me up is…
My biggest pet peeves are…
3. Roommates often have different ideas of how clean or neat things should be. You and your roommate should discuss your preferences early in your relationship. Here are some things to discuss:
Cleaning the kitchen (Including dish-washing—What are my expectations of myself and my roommate?)
Laundry (Where do we hang clothes that line dry? How often do we do laundry?)
Taking out the trash
Cleaning the bathroom
4. Overnight guests. Discussing expectations about intimate guests can sometimes feel very awkward. But it doesn’t have to. All roommates deal with this issue and by choosing to be mature and clear about it from the beginning, many misunderstandings can be avoided. Be honest with your roommate about your feelings and expectations around this issue. Anything that you or your roommate do that affects the other person should be discussed and agreed upon beforehand. You both have the right to privacy and room use, but you also have a responsibility to each other as roommates.
5. Post your schedules. This way, it will be easier to remember when one of you needs the apartment or dorm room quiet.
6. Establish boundaries and rules for the use of each other’s things. One of the biggest areas of roommate conflict is in unauthorized borrowing. Be clear about what you do and do not want to share and have your roommate do the same.
7. Address even the little problems. Talking about something while it is not yet a big deal can help your roommate be aware of something he/she may not have known about. This practice can help you avoid what might otherwise lead to big blow-ups.
8. Address the big problems, too. If an issue does blow up and become a major issue, make time to work it out, ASAP.
9. If nothing else, follow the golden rule. The golden rule tells us to treat others in the ways we want to be treated. This is the easiest way to get along with your roommate. If something annoys you, assume that it will annoy your roommate, as well.
10. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Even if you follow the golden rule, you can make some wrong assumptions. Use the conversation starters in this guide to discuss the important issues before they become problems.
Are you in a place in your life where you are ready to buy a home? Consider these tips when getting started in the process:
Find a realtor who you trust. Don’t just pick the first realtor you see in a billboard advertisement. Ask friends who own homes which realtors they used. Getting a few personal recommendations and making some calls will help you feel more comfortable choosing the person who is going to help you make one of the most significant financial decisions in your life.
Avoid predatory mortgage lenders. You can learn more about how to watch for signs of this dangerous practice here.
Study up! Don’t buy property until you understand concepts like amortization and other basics.
Check out these other helpful resources:
The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority provides homebuyer education, fixed rate mortgages, and other resources.
HUD (Housing & Urban Development) offers a list of other housing counseling agencies which provide free workshops and resources.
HG TV (Home & Garden) also provides some great tips! Check out their website and TV shows like Property Virgins and My First Place. Seeing what other homebuyers are going through can help you learn about the process before trying it yourself.