When do I start my apartment search? What questions should I be asking? What exactly qualifies as a good deal?
These are legit questions concerning apartment hunting. There’s so much that goes into finding a place to call home (at least for a year) and sometimes those little things can slip through the cracks and come back to bite you in the butt later. Whether you’re a first time renter or an all time pro, renting can be tedious, overwhelming and just plain annoying, but we’re here to help!
Our Ultimate Guide to Renting is broken down into easy to read sections, especially for the skimmers (you know who you are), and covers everything from pre-search prep to move in day! So, sit back, grab a snack and let’s kick some rental ass!
01. Prep Work
Before you deep dive into the abyss of internet apartment searches and start scheduling tours, you need to figure a few things out first:
- Your budget: What can you comfortably afford with your current income?
Apartment complexes typically require that you (or the combined household) make an annual income of 3x the monthly rent. But we gotta go a little further and ask that even if you qualify, would spending $1600 on rent every month starve you to death? …we’re not into that.
- The size of the apartment: One, two, three bedrooms?
Figuring out what size apartment to rent depends greatly on your needs, your lifestyle and how many people will be living there.
- Roommates: Living alone or sharing your space?
Having a roommate(s) comes with its perks, like splitting the cost of rent and utilities, but sharing a living space isn’t right for everyone. Figure out if getting a roommate would benefit everyone’s financial AND emotional wellbeing, if you’re capable of being a good roommate (not everyone is and that’s okay, too) and if you know where to find one!
- Location: Which neighborhood fits your lifestyle?
Where you live has a huge impact on your life. Things to consider when determining a neighborhood that suits you are:
- How long it will take you to get to work.
- What you do for fun and where you spend most of your free time (at the gym, checking out live music, hitting up clubs, chowing down at restaurants, getting pretty neat with nature, etc.) and the proximity to those things.
- Where your friends/significant other live.
- What kind of noise can and can’t you tolerate (traffic, nightlife, etc.)?
- Consider both what you do and don’t want out of a community because you’ll be married to it for about 12 months.
- Pets: Accommodating for a pet(s) or wanting to become a pet parent?
Apartment properties have breed restrictions, weight limits, and fees specifically for pets. If you’re in love with your bff pitbull, that’s going to cross a number of properties off your list. You’ll need to take Spike out for a ton of walks, so maybe being on the top floor isn’t ideal. More into cats? Purrrfect, but how many are you willing to pay a monthly “pet rent” charge for? Be sure to consider your pet’s wellbeing in all of this. We’re not saying you can’t live in a studio apartment with a great dane, we’re just suggesting that you make sure he’s happy at home too!
Alright, so you’ve gotten a pretty good understanding of your pre-search but we’ll go a little deeper for the detail oriented people (you also know who you are).
Let’s talk budget because this is one of the most important factors and, in our opinion, the very best place to start your apartment search.
So what’s your max budget?
As previously mentioned, this is not only what you qualify for, but also what you can truly and comfortably afford to pay every single month for the entirety of your lease–sadly, the two aren’t always the same.
If you don’t already know (because who does), sit down and figure out exactly how much you can afford on rent with consideration to all other necessary costs like utilities, gas, car notes, groceries, etc.
We’ve read that experts suggest housing costs be only 25-35% of your monthly income. A quick way to calculate this number is by taking your monthly net income (read: after taxes) and multiply it by either .25 or .35 and voila, a rental budget. But keep in mind that this rate might not be realistic for everyone, millennials especially because finding an apartment you love for 25% of a $3000 monthly income would be uh… tough! That said, we don’t condone living wildly above your means either. Spending your entire income on rent and then struggling to manage a balanced, enjoyable life is not cute and/or healthy. In our opinion, being honest with yourself about what you can and can’t afford is more important than what percentage any expert suggests.
PRO TIP: create a spreadsheet and note your monthly income and expenses, then allocate rental and spending budgets from the remaining amount. You’ll thank us later.
One way renting your dream apartment can become more affordable is by scoring a rent concession!
What the heck is that?
It’s a win, win!
When a property is working extra hard to lease up their units, it’s not uncommon for them to offer rent specials and discounts, which means you can score a more expensive apartment at an affordable rate *the coupon clippers in all of us rejoice*!
But, what’s the fine print? Is it prorated for you (wtf does prorated even mean?) or is it an upfront credit that you’ll need to save yourself and delegate throughout your lease term?
That all depends on what type of concession the properties are blessing you with, but to help you understand the different types of savings and how to apply them, here is a very useful article on specials, concessions and self-prorating.
When talking specials, here’s some need to know terminology:
Market Rate: Is the price of a unit (or set of units) before any specials, concessions, or discounts are accounted for. It is the price that the market says a unit is “worth” and it changes all the time.
Effective Rent aka “Net Rent”: Is the price of a unit (or set of units) after all specials, concessions, and discounts have been applied–the out of pocket expense.
**Keep in mind that most properties approve on (three times) MARKET rate**
Size does matter:
It’s true, size matters… especially in relation to your living space. Your lifestyle and living situation largely effect which layout and size of apartment are right for you (and anyone else involved). For instance, if you’re rarely home and/or constantly traveling, a micro-unit or studio may be the best fit for you and your wallet. If you’ve got roommates, a family, or are planning ahead for either, you’ll need more rooms, more space, and maybe even a layout set up for splitting rent (no master bed) and more privacy (rooms on opposite sides)!
Just an obvious yet fair warning, larger apartments and more occupants do tend to increase the utility usage *dollar, dollar bills y’all*, so you will definitely want to plan and budget accordingly.
Deciding to live on your own or with another person is big commitment. Do you prefer your own space or are you capable of sharing a living space with another human? Either way, there are some clear pros and cons to having a roommate:
Pros to having a roommate:
- Having a roommate generally means cheaper rent and bills
- Splitting rent also means you can afford a fancier/larger apartment
- Built-in friend, hangout/going out partner, or just someone to socialize with (because we all get lonely sometimes)
Cons to having a roommate:
- Less privacy
- More distractions, aka unwanted visitors and noise
- Cleanliness and hygiene issues — you left your bowl in the sink… again!
If you are still having trouble deciding on whether or not it’s worth having a roommate, check out To Roomie or Not To Roomie, That Is The Question: Dallas Edition to get more insight.
Location, location, location…whether in downtown or the burbs, the location of your next apartment = the community you become a part of, the streets you drive, the shops, restaurants and bars you spend time and money at, and overall
Now with that in mind, you need to think of what you are into and what type of neighborhood would be best for you.
You also need to consider if you want to be close to work, retail stores, nightlife, and other places. Being close to the places you frequent most definitely has its perks because it will decrease your transportation costs versus commuting everyday. However, commuting isn’t always bad especially if you can get an awesome deal on an apartment or if you just love the location.
All in all, selecting your potential neighborhood you should feel safe and comfortable, but maybe have a few backup locations just in case.
Pets, the magical creatures that make life so much brighter, so why shouldn’t you have your furry friend in mind when looking for an apartment?
Let’s be honest, pet owner or wannabe pet owners (because puppy fever is real), you must make this a criteria when renting an apartment. Almost all apartments have breed restrictions, weight limits, and restrictions on the number of pets you can have. What’s even more sad some complexes won’t even allow pets *faints*. However, in Dallas there are few gems that don’t have any breed restrictions at all. Do keep in mind if they allow pets there usually will be pet fees. Those usually include pet deposit and monthly pet rent.
We know sometimes those pet fees can be steep, but sneaking a pet in when you didn’t pay the fees or they are not allowed can result in you getting evicted. An eviction is a game changer when it comes to finding another apartment in the future, so don’t sneak your pet in!
Now it’s time for the real fun, especially with you knowing what you truly are wanting and needing in an apartment. With this day and age, apartment searching is a lot easier with a computer or smartphone at your disposal. No more checking the classified ads for you…unless you want to keep it old school!
- Setting up appointments to view.
Try to schedule them on the same day, so you can compare when all the information is fresh.
- Touring your potential homes.
When visiting the apartment complexes, you definitely want to be observant and look out for any damages or negatives. If you have a questions or concern this is the time to ask.
Setting up appointments:
Once you did the digging, internet surfing, and narrowing down your apartment options it’s time to start calling those properties to set up appointments! You are finally past the photo stage and onto seeing the unit in person. YAY!!
When making appointments try to schedule them on the same day such as a Saturday because weekends seem to work better. That way each place is fresh in your mind to compare. Also remember to be polite and speak clearly on the phone when making the appointments. You definitely don’t to come off rude!
The day has finally arrived for you to see your potential home in person. This is the time for you to look over everything with a fine-tooth comb. As well as ask any questions you have about the unit, property, and surrounding area. You don’t want to be surprised on your move-in day.
A good rule of thumb is to be very observant when touring while checking for any issues and functionality of the basics such as opening doors and windows. Quietly take notes of anything that catches your attention for later discussion.
Things you should lookout for:
- Anything broken (i.e. tiles, windows, washer & dryer)
- Water damage
- Holes in the wall
- Condition of the floors
There also a few things people don’t think about checking when apartment shopping, but they really, really should. Because you don’t want an apartment that has horrible cell reception or the water pressure is subpar, so you feel like you didn’t shower at all. So, when you are out touring keep these in mind to check out:
- Cell reception
- Water pressure
- Green space for your pup
- Parking & visitor parking
- Commute with traffic and without traffic
- Life around the complex in the day and night
These small things may not seem like a huge deal right now, but you will be thanking us later when your doggo has a place to play and potty without having to search for some green space around the city.
The main thing is for you to feel comfortable and safe in whichever apartment you choose. So, definitely don’t be afraid to ask the leasing agents questions.
Here’s a few questions to consider asking:
- What is the neighborhood like? Quiet? Lively?
- Have any homes or cars been broken into in this area recently?
- What is the pet policy and weight limit? (If you have or plan on having a pet)
- Are any utilities included in the rent? (A lot of the time water and trash are)
- What is due at application?
- What is refunded if you decide to cancel?
- What is the parking situation like?
Just remember anything that you have questions about or concerns address nicely and keep complaints to yourself. But, the nice thing about touring in person–you won’t be fooled by pretty pictures and will be able to get a good feel for the property and leasing staff.
The Application Process
Dun, dun, dunnnnn….it’s finally time to start filling out applications.
The application process can take a bit of time, especially since you are expected to provide multiple pieces of personal information and fees in addition to filling out the application. The application process include the following:
- Filling out the application
- Application fees
Application fees depend on the property, but except to pay between anywhere from $100 or more per person for application fees, administration fees and deposit.
- Proof of income
You have to have money in order to rent and the property want to proof of that income.
- Social security and driver’s license
Properties need copies of your social security and driver’s license in order to run credit and background checks. They need to ensure you will pay and be able to pay your rent on time.
- Co-signer application
Sometimes you need a co-signer or guarantor when you don’t make enough or your credit is bad. This just ensure the property that someone you or your co-signer will pay rent.
- Vehicle registration and proof of insurance
Most apartment properties have parking garages or lots which require a parking sticker or pass to park. They need your vehicle registration and proof of insurance in order to give you that pass to make sure you don’t get towed….who wants to wake up to learn their vehicle isn’t where they left it?
- Submitting your application
- Signing your lease
Filling out the application:
With technology so advanced you can usually fill out the application on an online tool, but a pen and paper also does the job. If you do end up filling the application out with pen (never pencil) then make sure to your handwriting is legible. Messy or sloppy handwriting can lead to unwanted errors especially when transferring it to the database. So, it’s better to nice and neat.
Either way, once you narrowed down to one apartment, get an application in as soon as possible. By turning in that application and paying any fees due at that time will get your dream apartment off the market. Don’t let someone else steal it from you!
So, you may have guessed, but applying for an apartment generally comes with a few fees. Some are refundable and some are not…
Depending on the property, you may be required to pay an application fee, administrative fee, and a security deposit. Application fees could cost anywhere from $40-$80. However, expect to pay anywhere from $100 or more per person with the addition of the administrative fee and security deposit. These cost definitely add up quickly. The good news is a lot of properties have cancellation policies where you are refunded your money. However, not all properties do this so it is definitely wise to ask before you start your application. The security deposit may not be due at application, but before you receive your keys to move in. Keep in mind the deposit can be a pretty large expense depending on credit and income.
Proof of income:
Not to be too obvious, but you need to have money in order to rent an apartment and that also means you are going to need to prove that you make enough.
Generally, properties require you to make three times the rent to qualify, whether that’s market or effective rate. Meaning you will need to provide evidence you have that income to cover rent each month. This is where you need to submit documentation such two or three recent pay stubs, employer letters, or a W-2 tax form (only if you have been with the job for more than a year). You will only need to submit one type of document, so ask to see which they prefer or whichever one is easiest for you to provide.
When submitting your proof of income ensure the document has your employer’s details such as company name, address, position title, contact information, and a date. This helps the property verify that you actually are employed and will be able to make rent.
Social security and driver’s license:
When applying for an apartment, you’ll need to give the property permission to do a credit and background check. This is done by providing your social security number and driver’s license.
A credit check allows the property to see how financially responsible you are and it will be a great indicator of how well you will pay your rent on time. Keep in mind if you have bad or new credit (aka you still a baby), it’s definitely is harder for them to get a feel for your dependability. However, be upfront about it and try not to cover it up. Either talk about it when you are applying or note this on the application, that way if you end up needing a co-signer or needing to depend on your roommate’s credit then they will be able to let you know.
Much like the credit check, the background check shows your dependability and personality. It allows the property to check for any criminal history. This is well known, but properties generally find someone without a criminal record more reliable than someone with a criminal record. The application will have a line giving the property authorizing to do a background check, and a place for you to explain anything on your record. If you do have a record, you will definitely want to explain it here, that way you don’t let them find out without giving context.
As mentioned above if your income isn’t three times the cost of the rent or your credit is poor you may need a co-signer. Co-signers or guarantors are people who sign the lease with you. By signing the lease, they are saying they will take full legal responsibility for covering your rent if you are unable to.
Now keep in mind having a co-signer isn’t a bad thing, especially if you don’t have any rental history. Since, the property won’t have any information to verify how dependable you will be with paying rent or if you’ve caused any damages before, they will feel more comfortable leasing to you with a co-signer, who has good credit and a strong financial background.
Vehicle registration and proof of insurance:
Okay, so this information is not always required. However, if the complex you are looking at has a parking garage then 9 out 10 times it will be. The reason being, most apartments have gated parking lots or garages which require a parking sticker or pass to park.
Your registration and proof of insurance verifies your vehicles, so the property is able to give you the necessary sticker or pass to park behind the gate. This way you don’t have to worry about getting towed…
We know this sounds unfair especially when you have friends or your boo thing staying over, but the parking garages are exclusive for tenants who’s vehicles were approved to park there. It adds an extra safety measure for you and the rest of the residents by keeping random people from parking in your complex and neighborhood. Good news is a lot of complexes provide visitor parking for any guests you have.
Submitting your application:
Once you have completed the application and collected all the necessary documents as mentioned above, then it is time to submit it.
There are four ways you can send in an application via mail, in person, email or the most popular one, online. Now remember when submitting your application by mail it will take a much longer time for it to be processed verse online. So, if you are cool with waiting then go for it. However for the most part, applications take around 24 to 72 hours to be processed, but you should definitely check with the property for the best estimate on the time it usually will take. You can always call or check online (if you created an account) for the status of your application.
We understand about getting a little impatient when waiting, but understanding why it takes so long is major. Just as we mentioned above, properties run credit checks and background checks to verify if you are employed and trust worthy. These two checks are what take the longest. From there it’s generally smooth sailing, so now it’s just time to wait for you to get noticed on being approved for your new apartment!
Signing your lease:
Hurray, you were approved! Once your application has been approved, it is time to sign your lease.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Before signing anything, you need to read through the lease thoroughly. You want to make sure you understand everything and if you have an additional questions this would be the time to ask. Do expect the lease-signing process to take a little bit because you will be covering a lot. You also might have to pay first month’s rent and move-in fees at the time of signing, but they also may have you wait until your actually move-in day to pay.
The lease will cover all expectations for the term (normally apartments are rented for 12-15 months), rent, pets, maintenance, subletting, termination, and another aspects of renting.
Getting Ready To Move:
Moving definitely can be a real pain in the butt, especially since it takes so much time and energy. Between packing your stuff up, loading it in the moving truck, unloading, and unpacking…it can be a little overwhelming to say the least. But unless you are planning to throw everything out and start free, then it has to be done.
Here’s a few tips and tricks to help moving be less painful:
- Get help!
- Utilize a moving vehicle
- Stay organized
- Get packing materials
Pro-tip #1: Get help
Moving on your own is never fun. So, ask family or friends to help or even hire a moving company.
We know a moving company can be a little pricey, so check out Groupon for any deals or see if the property has a company they partner with to give a discount.
Otherwise, stick to family and friends. They will eventually have to move themselves and what better way to pay them back then helping them move?
Pro-tip #2: Utilize a moving vehicle
If you are willing to spend a little extra cash then movers are best thing ever, they are professional and usually cut the moving time in half. Plus, you don’t really have to do anything except supervise.
If you don’t have the cash for movers, then definitely utilize a moving vehicle to transport your belongings. If you know anyone who owns a big truck or trailer, ask to see if you can use it to save.
Whether it is a moving truck or Toyota Tundra, be strategic when you pack up the truck, treat it as a puzzle. Strategically packing your moving vehicle does two things for you, one it maximize the space meaning less trips and two prevents items from damaging each other or breaking during transport.
Pro-tip #3: Stay organized
It’s easy to get disorganized in a move, especially when it comes to packing. To stay organized and make unpacking easier, group things by room such kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and so forth when packing. Make sure to label everything clearly that way you know what is in each box and where it goes.
Pro-tip #4: Get packing materials
This one may seem a little obvious, but having packing materials ahead of time will help you out greatly. Utilizing the correct packing materials will ensure items are packed securely and decrease breakage.
Here’s a short list of helpful moving resources:
- Moving boxes
- Packing tape
- Packing paper
- Bubble wrap
- Moving blankets
- Saran wrap
Before or a few days after you move in you need to do the following:
- Set up utilities and services
- Change your address to your new one
The day has finally come to pick up your keys to your new amazing pad! When it comes to getting your keys there are a few things you need to provide:
- Proof of renter’s insurance
- Proof that you set up utilities (electric, water, and gas if they aren’t included)
- Paying any final fees.
Check beforehand on how you are able to pay for the final fees. You don’t want to be running around like a headless chicken trying to get a money order on your move-in day.
Most properties allow you to provide these things a few days before your move date or on your move date. If you provide them before your actual move date, you may be able to grab your keys a day early to help the moving process go more smoothly.
Just so you are prepared there may be a few hiccups on your move day such as rain, the movers getting delayed, or even the elevator breaking…nightmare central! So, make sure to take deep breaths and know it will all work out in the end.
Set up utilities and services:
Depending on your new apartment and what they include in rent, will determine which utilities you will need to set up yourself. Most properties include or have an extra fee for water, trash, and pest on your monthly rent statement, making it convenient on you to have everything in one place. Normally the only utilities you need to set up are electric and gas.
You can ask the apartment complex which companies they recommend and then call each company individually in set up your account. Also ask your friends or family which utility companies they use because sometimes they have referral codes meaning you can get a discount off your service.
Once you get them set up, keep all of the important utilities information such as account numbers, usernames, passwords and phone numbers in one place. That way you have easy access to them and won’t have to reset your password a million times. Now-a-days you can set up online accounts for each utility. This allows you to have direct access and to view your account at any given time.
Just like with your utilities, you will need to set up any services you would like to have such as cable, internet and phone. Call ahead of time to set up your services and to schedule a time for them to come out to install, this way you have more options are installment dates. Because no one wants to wait a week or weeks on setting up their internet. It’s also a good idea to keep these information such as account numbers, logins, and passwords and billing dates in the place as well.
You can always take it one step further for both your utilities and services by putting everything on automatic payments. That you never have to worry about missing a payment.
Change of address:
The final and most overlooked step is notifying companies and the people in your life of your new address. Here is a list of people and companies you need to update with your new address.
Family and Friends: You definitely want to update your family and close friends about your new pad. How else will they know where the party is?
Current Employer: In order to process your taxes and in case of emergencies, it’s very important to update your address with your employer.
Post Office: Even though it would be nice to not get pre-approved credit cards, you still need to let the post office know of your address change in order to receive important mail like birthday cards from grandma. Pro tp: you can also do this online for $1.
Banks, Financial Institutions, and Credit Card Companies: Call or update your address online, depending on the financial institution. When that’s done, be on the lookout for some form of confirmation via mail or email.
Insurance Companies: Did you know that your insurance rate could change based on your location? It is critical to have the correct information because that could mean more money in your pocket. Keep in mind, to file claims you will need up-to-date contact information.
Department of Motor Vehicles: Make sure to update your driver’s license and car registration information.
Educational Institutions: Depending on if you are in school or have kids in school, you need to notify the school of your change in address.
Well folks, there you have it, the ULTIMATE guide to renting an apartment. We hope this information has been helpful.
If you need help finding an amazing space of your own, then hit us up here at Smart City to get your own hyper-personalized experienced. If you want to learn even more check out our page: How It Works. Call/text 214-586-0519 or fill out our webform to get hooked up with one of our badass SC agents!