Searching for your very first college apartment can be overwhelming, especially if you’re completely unfamiliar with the process. There are so many different factors to take into consideration and so many apartments to look through! Narrowing down your prospects before you start browsing through apartment listings is essential. Here are a few things you can do to make your search a hell of a lot easier before you even start touring houses and chatting with landlords:
Determine Your Budget
The last thing you want to do is fall head-over-heels for an apartment that you can’t afford. This can be not only heartbreaking, but also just a plain ol’ waste of time. Consider your budget before you start looking for prospective places. How exactly do you set a budget? This largely depends on your financial situation. If your parents are paying for your place, ask them about their ideal rent price and what their financial limits are. If you’re paying with a student loan, determine how much cash you have to play with (and always keep in mind that you’ll someday have to pay it back). Paying the rent out-of-pocket? Then take a look at your total income and determine how much can realistically be carved out for rent (keep utilities in mind too). Setting a budget early in the process will keep you from touring or committing to apartments outside of your price range!
Make a List of Must-Haves & Dealbreakers
Finding the perfect apartment can be a lot like finding an amazing partner. You’re never going to find every single thing that you want, but there are some things you just can’t live without. Before you even begin scrolling through Craigslist or scouring through apartment search websites, create the ultimate list of must-haves and dealbreakers. What do you absolutely need to have in your new place? Close proximity to campus? A separate bathroom? In-house laundry? What things just aren’t going to fly? A bedroom the size of a closet? Only one bathroom split three ways? Windows that won’t open? Like a budget, having a list of standards to guide your search will quickly weed out unsuitable options.
Make Living Arrangements
It’s important to determine what kind of living arrangement you’re going to have early in the search. Are you going to be living alone or with a roommate? Maybe 2 or 3 other roommates? Aside from figuring out how many bedrooms you’ll need, determining who you’re living with affects budgeting, dealbreakers, and just about everything else. If you’re going to be living alone, you’ll likely need put out more money for less space. If you plan to live with roommates, you’ll first need to figure out exactly who you’re living with. Maybe you have a friend or classmate who also needs a place. Roommates can be a great fix for a tight budget, but it also requires more coordination during the search process. What are their ideal budgets? What are their must-haves and dealbreakers? What’s their financial history like? These are all things you’ll need to take into account before looking around for a place.
Figure Out Where You Want to Live
Determining what neighborhood you’d like to live in can really help narrow down your apartment options. When considering the best area to live, you’ll want to think about your ideal walkability score, public transportation access, proximity to college hot spots, and overall safety, as well as a number of other factors. Of course, determining exactly where you’d like to live can be a bit complicated. If you want a little advice on pinpointing your perfect neighborhood, check out our in-depth post right here (coming soon)!
Set a Target Move-In Date
Leases can begin and end at all sorts of different dates, and unfortunately you’re legally bound to the lease’s terms. This means that once you sign your name on that piece of paper, you cannot move in until the listed date. Of course, this can present a real problem. If you need a place by July for a summer internship, but can’t move into your place until September, then you’re SOL. Think about your needs – and those of your roommates, if applicable – when you set a target move-in date. Make sure that you only look at places that have flexible move-in dates or move-in dates that will work for you. Keep in mind that negotiating with a landlord is always an option, but don’t lean on this possibility.
Keep Your Paystubs
If you’re paying for an apartment on your own, it’s important to keep a few paystubs before you start getting deep into the apartment search process. Many apartment complexes will want a credit history or proof of income, which helps landlords determine if you’ll be able to afford your rent. Don’t take it personally! It’s simply part of the screening process and helps landlords protect themselves. However, many apartment complexes that cater to college students won’t necessarily require proof of income because they’ll assume you have a co-signer. This brings us to the last thing you should do, which is…
Secure a Co-signer
If you lack a substantial income or generous financial aid to give potential landlords adequate proof of income, then start searching for a potential co-signer. A co-signer’s name appears on the lease, meaning that they’re responsible if you don’t pay the rent. An ideal co-signer would be a parent or relative, but if you don’t have financially stable family members, then you can always seek the help of friends. No matter who ends up as your co-signer, always keep in mind that your payments will be tied to their name and their line of credit. This makes choosing an affordable apartment especially important!