No matter your motivation, getting your first apartment is a big deal. You’re essentially giving yourself a new life, with new surroundings and a new routine. You’ll have the freedom to control your environment and the responsibility that comes with it. It’s a rite of passage and you want to handle it well, so here’s how to rent an apartment for the first time.
You should begin by calculating what you can afford for rent, utilities, and moving expenses. Here’s a checklist of items to consider:
- Application fee, which usually includes a credit check.
- Security deposit.
- Renter’s insurance.
- Pet deposit.
- Utility deposits and installation fees.
- Moving expenses.
Keep in mind that your landlord will often work with you on the security deposit by letting you pay in installments. Utility companies will sometimes allow installments by adding a portion of your deposit to the first few bills until it is paid in full.
Very few people hire professional movers for their first move, but if your circumstances allow it, it’s a good idea to use Angie’s List or something similar to find a reputable moving company. The least expensive option, though, is usually to recruit a few friends, rent a moving truck, and spend a weekend afternoon moving. Make sure you allocate some money for beer and pizza to help keep your helpers well-fed.
Also, decide how much you can afford to spend on furniture and kitchen supplies. You don’t have to have the best of everything right away. Keep things functional and affordable, and slowly add to your home when you can.
We mentioned the credit check with the application fee, but what do you do if you have no credit? There are several ways to handle that, once you have decided on your apartment. First, talk to the rental manager or landlord and ask what their requirements would be to rent to you.
- A popular negotiating tactic is to offer an extra month’s rent upfront. Some apartments require this anyway, in which case it’s known as “first month + last month due at signing.” If you could afford it, this gesture might make your landlord more comfortable. Make sure you document it, though, so you have proof that you’ve pre-paid for your final month ahead of time.
- Another way you could show your landlord that you’re serious about renting from them is to offer proof of income and job security. Do this by showing your pay stub and savings balance. You can also tell them how long you’ve been at your particular job to prove stability.
- You might be able to negotiate a shorter-term lease as a sort of a trial rental period. This way, your landlord is able to see that you’re a great tenant who always pays rent on time, but they’re also not locked into a longer-term lease. This way, neither of you are stuck in the event that things go awry.
- Reference letters are like gold sometimes. If you can provide a character reference from a supervisor or another authority figure, it might convince your landlord that you’d be a responsible renter. As you build a rental history, you’ll be able to use previous landlords as references, too.
- Individual property owners may be more likely to rent to you if you have no credit, versus large property management companies with hundreds of tenants, who may want to see a credit history. You may find that they are also more responsive to repairs and issues when they come up. These types of rentals may take a bit more work to find, though.
- If you’re unable to rent on your own, despite trying some or all of the above, you might consider finding a cosigner with good credit. This is usually a parent or close relative.
How do you know what to include when making your first apartment checklist? Consider what your space is like for your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room. Will your new place be able to accommodate your belongings? What will you need to buy? And what appliances do you already own that won’t need to be replaced?
Start with Your Bedroom:
- Mattress and Bed Frame. Some mattresses come with a bed frame when you buy them. You’re not in college anymore – get your mattress off of the floor. Buy the best mattress you can afford. It might help to reference our guide to the best mattresses for a better night’s sleep.
- Mattress Pad/Protector. Don’t skip this—you need to keep your mattress clean if you need to use your warranty.
- Bedding. Sheets, comforter, pillows, and pillowcases.
- Window Coverings. Shades, blinds, or curtains. Sometimes, your apartment will be furnished with one or more of these things, sometimes not. You might even be able to negotiate with your landlord to have them installed.
Then the Bathroom:
There’s not a whole lot you should need to get for the bathroom. It depends on the apartment. You might need to buy a shower curtain — in which case, make sure to also get a plastic liner for it and shower curtain hooks, too. When you’re buying your bedding, grab some bath towels and hand towels as well.
Then your Kitchen:
- Kitchen Knives. Get the “big three” — an 8-inch chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. Use our guide to kitchen knives to help you select which style or manufacturer might work best for you. This is definitely a place where you’ll want to spend a reasonable amount of money. You’ll get better knives made from higher-quality steels that hold their edges better and make cooking more fun. While you’re shopping for your knives, pick up one of our 6 favorite cutting boards, too.
- Dishware, Silverware, Glasses. Get enough for four place settings at first; you can always add more later if you want.
- A Trash Can + Liners.
- Dish Towels. Buy these from the same place you get your bedding and bath towels from. Pro tip: don’t get the thin “flour sack” style kitchen towels. Get ones that are a bit plusher, as they’ll absorb water better.
- Basic Cookware. Don’t go TOO cheap on this — you want it to last at least a couple of years. Make sure you’ve got at least a nonstick skillet or two in different sizes, a small (quart-sized) stainless steel saucepan w/ lid, a medium (4-5 quart-sized) stainless steel pot w/ lid, and a few heat-resistant cooking utensils. A wooden spoon, silicone spatulas in various sizes, ladle, silicone-tipped tongs, and a cooking spoon or two are all you need at this point.
- Appliances. Coffee maker, toaster oven, blender, etc. These will vary based on personal preference.
Then the Living Room:
After you get all settled in, you’ll want a place in your home where you can relax and even entertain guests. This is where a nicely furnished living room comes into play. Similar to other decisions you’ll have to make with your first apartment, you’ll have to consider your space as you make furnishing decisions. Primarily, though, you’ll want a couch, some side tables, a coffee table, a lamp or two, and maybe a lounge chair or loveseat. Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Explore some of our favorite furniture brands, find a couch that you really like, then add other pieces to the room to complement it.
Very few people can simply pay for their apartment and then buy everything they need for it right away. These rental hacks will help you save money and feel good about your new living space:
- Put some feelers out to local subreddits about neighborhoods and landlords. Your happiness with your apartment depends a lot on how well your potential landlord treats their tenants. You want as few bad surprises as possible.
- Check out high-end thrift stores to find furniture and household goods. Places like TJ Maxx have high-quality kitchenware, cookware, sheets, and towels for a fraction of their normal prices. Also, check out your local Facebook Buy Nothing pages. People give away a LOT of nice things that they can’t or don’t use anymore.
- Get a couple of plants to add to your décor. They brighten the room, can help with air quality, and make it look stylish. Here are our 9 favorite indoor plants.
- Learn to cook. You don’t have to be great at it, but learning the basics can save you a lot of money, keep you healthier, and impress your friends. Cooking has never been easier to learn as well, given the content available on YouTube and social media. You could also explore a few of our 23 favorite cookbooks.
- Invest in a basic set of tools. These will help you do basic tasks around your apartment, from assembling furniture to patching small holes in the wall. Here are our picks for 12 tools that every man should have in his toolbox.
Getting your first place is a big step, and it is gratifying and fun. If you stay organized, pay your rent on time, and respect the landlord’s property, you will make the best of your new independent life.
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