Your First Apartment and Managing Finances
You’ve graduated from college, and now you’re hunting for your first home. This can be a nerve-wracking time. You’re starting a new job and it’s time to become fully independent from the campus meal plans and dorm living you’re accustomed to. Life on campus is often a carefree time when you don’t have to worry about paying rent, landlords, or deciding which neighborhood is best for you to call home.
Take a deep breath and remember that moving is about taking one thing at a time; you can’t do everything in one day. That’s why we broke down the moving process into three steps: planning your move, making sure it’s successful, and important factors to consider when you’re getting settled in.
Planning for the Big Move
The first aspect of moving is often the most daunting because it’s difficult to know where you should begin. It’s important to stay organized at this stage and contemplate what you’re looking for in a home, the rent you are able to afford, and what you require to furnish your new place.
When you’re moving into your first post-college residence, a checklist plays a vital role in aligning your needs with what’s available on the market. You should consider the amenities you’d enjoy in your apartment. This checklist can help differentiate “needs” from “wants” during your big search. As you evaluate apartment listings, you’ll be able to gain insights into the price ranges for these amenities.
You may be interested in looking at features and amenities such as:
- Large Kitchen
- Optimal Layout for Entertaining
- Neighborhood/location (balance of proximity to work versus proximity to leisure activities in the vicinity)
Next, you should create a mock expense and budget spreadsheet. The aim of your spreadsheet is to calculate the bills you expect to pay, like rent, renters insurance, internet, utilities, and more, so that you know what to expect and what you can afford. It’s best to overestimate the amount you expect to pay so you can be sure you’re not shorting yourself on a bill.
This is also a stage where you should compare local living expenses to your income to decide whether you’ll need to consider a roommate or two to help with expenses and help you save. According to research conducted by MarketWatch, the average renter in a large housing market saves 13 percent of their income by living with a roommate. If you reside in some cities, you could save even more.
After you develop a checklist for apartment needs and your estimated expenses, write down all your ideal neighborhood features. It’s never fun to move into a new neighborhood only to realize there isn’t a grocery store or coffee shop nearby! See how far your neighborhood is from work, public transportation routes, local parks, and whatever else you feel is important to your lifestyle.
The final step is to review your credit score. You’re young and likely still building your credit. Understanding how to responsibly use and leverage your credit could help you build a good credit history. If you have a credit card, you should consider setting up auto-payments to avoid missing a payment – since making payments on-time is a large factor in determining your credit score.
As you work to build your credit score, you’ll have a better chance of securing an apartment and getting loans for other needed expenses. According to Entrepreneur, landlords are looking for specific traits in a potential renter.
Making it clear that you can follow these guidelines could improve your chances of being selected by a landlord.
Making Your Move Successful
Not every recent grad is going to have a credit history. This is normal. One way to build a credit history is to use a credit card. According to an Experian college graduate survey, only 58 percent of soon-to-be grads own a credit card. This makes for a lot of graduates who have little to no credit history once they set foot in the working world. Landing a lease may prove to be a difficult task for those without credit.
Keep in mind that prepaid credit and debit cards do not generally report to the credit bureaus and therefore are unlikely to help you build your credit history. Consider a secured credit card instead which, when used responsibly, can help build credit. 1
Management Companies vs. Individual Landlords
You may find it easier to rent from an individual landlord rather than a management company, as well. Management companies have strict guidelines and enforcement policies, which may provide little wiggle room. With individual owners, however, it all comes down to personal preference. Some owners have strict rules listed alongside their housing advertisements, while others may only want someone who is able to pay rent and take care of the property.
Getting Your Application Accepted
Another credit workaround is to offer to pay your rent in advance. How much you pay in advance is up to you. Advanced payments are a great way to build a positive financial relationship with a landlord, while also reducing the burden of rent payments during the moving period. This is a big incentive for landlords to take you on and can demonstrate your commitment and level of responsibility.
If you’re still not having luck finding the right landlord, or if these options do not work for you, then you can consider finding a cosigner. A cosigner is legally responsible for paying back your debt if you are unable to make rent payments. A cosigner should be someone financially secure, such as a parent, sibling, or grandparent. Keep in mind, however, that cosigning can be risky business. It’s also difficult for your cosigner to back out of the contract if they have a change of heart. If you default on your rent payments, your cosigner risks damaged credit, too.
What to Watch Out for In Your Lease
Once you find an apartment, it’s time to thoroughly review the lease agreement. In the age of easily skipped “Terms and Conditions” statements, our eyes glaze over when we see that dreaded legalese. Even though it’s tedious, acknowledging and signing a lease agreement is an important stage and should not be taken lightly. If you don’t agree with something in the lease, you should try to negotiate changes to the agreement. There are a few things to pay attention to in your lease agreement:
- Roommate Policy
- Parking Policy
- Rules Regarding Subletting
- Reasons for Contract Termination
- Your Responsibility for Damages/Repairs
- Penalties for Moving Out Early
- Pet Policies
You may discover that your lease agreement doesn’t have any stipulation to help you deal with noisy neighbors, issues with appliances, or any other problems that may arise.
If you have any concerns, make sure to ask questions. Approach renting an apartment like buying a home. Ask about recent renovations, when the roof was last replaced, how efficient the heating is, the average cost of utilities, and anything else you may be concerned with.
Cost of Living Considerations
The day is finally here! You’ve finally accomplished your next big milestone in life – becoming a first-time apartment renter. This is an exciting moment, but you’re not done yet. There are still a few important things you should consider.
If you’re living with roommates, this is the time to build some ground rules. Living with roommates can be a great way to save money on your living costs. Setting a few house rules can help avoid issues down the road. During the early weeks, make sure everyone is on the same page about living expectations regarding apartment cleanliness, visitations by friends and family, and respecting each other’s personal privacy.
If you’ve hired a moving company to move your belongings, you should also run an inventory to make sure everything has arrived as expected. Before the movers grab your boxes and furniture, create a list of everything that’s valuable. This process is often exhaustive, but worthwhile, as moving crews can misplace items. It’s better to make the effort than to lose something and wish you had created an inventory. In addition, read up on your moving company’s insurance policies in case anything does come up missing or damaged.
Even though you have already visited your apartment with your landlord, you may have missed something that’s damaged. To avoid losing your security deposit, inspect and document and photograph any existing damages before moving your belongings into the apartment. You can find a renter’s inspection worksheet online and your city may even provide one in your local renter’s handbook of rights. This can help keep you off the hook for any damages from previous tenants.
Finally, it’s time to explore your new area (for a health care provider, grocery store, etc.), change your address, and (possibly) register your vehicle. You’ll want to get these things in order as soon as possible because the longer you wait, the less motivation you may have to complete them in the future.
You’re in the midst of an exciting adventure! Sure, moving is stressful, but it’s also going to be a time full of memories and self-growth. Remember to approach one task at a time and take deep breaths. You don’t need to do everything at once. Finding an apartment and moving is a process that often takes months. Give yourself enough time to ensure your move goes smoothly and to enjoy this exciting time in your life!