Credit Checklist: What You Need to Know to Rent Your First Apartment

Going from campus dorm to city apartment? In between settling on a neighborhood and finding affordable furniture, you’ll need to arm yourself with the ingredients for a successful search. That includes knowing how much you can spend, what key amenities you can’t live without, and the fees necessary to gain the set of keys.

1. Establish A Budget

You can’t really start your search until you zero in on what you can spend. Most experts agree that about a third of your income should go toward housing, including cable and utilities. You want to determine a rental budget based on your net income, not gross salary because taxes and other deductions like your 401(k) and health insurance premiums are taken from your paycheck each month Of course, in some cities, like San Francisco and New York City, sticking to the ⅓ rule can be really tough,” says Niccole Schreck, Senior Brand Manager at Rent Path (www.rentpath.com), “so you may need to consider taking on roommates to ensure you have enough money to pay your bills, cover unexpected expenses and stash some money in savings.” Schreck says that sharing an apartment with a roommate can save you more than $1,400 a month in San Francisco.

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2. Know Your Must-Have Amenities

It’s rare you’ll get everything on your list, but knowing what you definitely can’t live without will help you avoid wasting time looking at apartments that aren’t a good fit. Some renters can’t do without an in-unit washer/dryer, while others have to have a parking spot. Are you an early-riser? You may want to look for a place with an on-premises gym. Can’t handle the heat? Make sure the places you view have air conditioning.

3. Be Prepared For Search-Related Fees

Many renters in large cities rely on the services of a real estate broker to filter the inventory of rentable apartments and set up appointments for you to view them. In return, if you end up renting one of the apartments your broker has presented you, he may charge you a fee for his services. This varies, but is generally around the sum of one month’s rent. If you like an apartment enough to want to apply to rent it, you’ll be given a rental application to fill out, and may be charged a fee to process it, including checking references and even checking your credit score (more on this below).

4. Come Prepared.

Some landlords may request a credit check – often times a fee is associated with this check that you may have to pay. If you do not pass their qualifications you may be required to have a co-signer. Be sure to check your credit report before you go looking for apartments. Without knowing how your credit score compares in your local market, you may find yourself starting your search all over again.

5. Ask Questions.

“Before you sign a lease, ask the landlord or property manager about any roommate restrictions, late rent policy, the process for maintenance requests, what modifications or small renovations are allowed, which utilities are included, pet policy, lease renewal and sublet rights,” says Schreck. “You should always read every word of an apartment lease before signing, even if you feel pressured to sign in the spur of the moment. If it’s your first time renting, it’s also a good idea to have a parent or older friend read it over as well. An apartment lease is a legally binding document that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Legal Disclaimer: The articles and information provided herein are for informational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice. 

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