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Everything a First-Time Apartment Renter Needs to Know

Whether you are moving out, moving up, or, selling your home, renting an apartment for the first time can be a daunting experience! First-time renters are often faced with a puzzling process and confusing contracts that everyone else seems to know everything about. But if you are a first-time renter, never fear! We have compiled a list of first-time renting tips that every renter needs to know:

Choosing the Right Apartment

When renting your first apartment, it can be easy to be dazzled by luxury apartment communities promising every amenity under the sun, from hot tubs to tennis courts. You may also have a desired location in mind, close to downtown, close to your friends and family, or close to your university. But when choosing an apartment for the first time, your priority should be ensuring the rent is within your budget, and this may mean sacrificing your desired amenities or perfect location.

When renting for the first time it can be very easy to miscalculate your budget and quickly accrue expenses you never expected. Eating out, grocery shopping, hanging out with friends, weekend activities, and more can quickly add up and leave you with less money for bills than you expected. It’s important to create a budget before you choose your apartment and ensure your rent payment is your first priority. Ideally, your rent shouldn’t be more than 30% of your gross monthly income (IE: before taxes).

Once you have your budget decided, narrow your search by your desired location and features that are must-haves. While the perfect apartment for you will always be a personal choice, the budget is one aspect you should not compromise when choosing your apartment.

Get a Tour, and Ask Lots of Questions

If you are close enough to your desired apartment to get an in-person tour, do it! Seeing your desired apartment community in person is the best way to ensure you understand exactly what the apartment community offers, what the apartment is like in person, and what your apartment management is like. If the landlord refuses to give you a tour, it might be a sign this is an apartment scam! If the community employees seem disorganized, disgruntled, or annoyed you are there, it may be a sign they will not be a great place to live.

If you are not close enough to get an in-person tour, ask for a virtual tour. Many communities offer video walkthroughs for long-distance renters that allow you to see the apartment and ask any questions you have.

Before the tour, make sure to write down any questions you have so you don’t forget. Ask about availability. Ask if you can see the exact floorplan you are interested in, or if not, how the toured apartment is different from yours. Ask about features you want and amenities they have. Ask about fees, costs, and average utility bills for the apartment you are interested in. If you have pets, ask about their pet policy. Now is the time to ensure this apartment meets all of your requirements, before moving forward with an application.

Yes, Your Credit Score Matters

Many people believe that your credit score only matters when you are borrowing money, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! Landlords will probably pull your credit as another measure to ensure you are a responsible adult. If you are responsible with your credit, the more likely you will be responsible with their apartment. But if you don’t have good credit or any credit, this doesn’t mean you cannot rent an apartment, it will just make it a little harder. Be prepared that you may have to pay more rent forward, or your landlord may ask for additional references before renting to you.

apartment leasing paperwork

Read the Lease and Ask (More) Questions

Ensure that you read your lease before signing and don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Be sure you understand what is expected of you, what’s expected from your landlord or management, what is allowed/not allowed, any additional costs, if they are performing a background and credit check, and any additional questions or concerns you may have. Remember this is a legal document binding you to a year or more of an agreement, so it’s okay to take your time and ensure you understand what you are signing.

Be Prepared For Upfront Costs

While renting does not require nearly the amount of cost as a down payment on a mortgage, there can still be upfront costs for your apartment you will need to prepare and save up for.

Application Fees: Apartments usually charge between $25 and $100 just to apply for your apartment of choice. To help save money, it’s best to narrow down your apartment search to one or two communities before applying and ask to see if you meet their requirements before filling out the application. You should also ask to ensure your desired apartment is available before applying. You may be approved, but then find out the only apartments they have available are out of your budget. This is especially true for first-time renters who are most likely looking for one-bedroom apartments to rent, which are by far the most popular apartments, especially in student areas.

Upfront Rent Costs: Some landlords may require 1 to 3 months of rent payments up front, especially if you are a first-time renter or if you have bad or little credit.

Security Deposit: Your security deposit is typically equal to 1 to 2 months of rent. Remember that your security deposit is not a cost but a deposit, meaning if you take good care of the apartment, you will receive this money back when you leave and can put it toward your next home in the future.

Pet/Amenities Fees: If you are moving in with a pet, the landlord may require a pet deposit in addition to your security deposit. Depending on the community, there may also be a monthly fee for parking, access to their amenities, etc. Ensure you ask the apartment community about all fees you will need to pay, so you can have this money set aside for when it is due.

Utility Costs: If your utilities are not included in the rent, you are responsible for setting up these utilities yourself and paying them. If you are a first-time renter who has never paid utilities before, the utility companies may require an upfront deposit. This may be a few hundred dollars, depending on your area. Keep in mind your utility payments will come out of this deposit, but it’s still an upfront cost you will need to be prepared for.

Moving Costs: Even if you have friends and family helping you move, moving costs can still add up. The further distance you are moving, the greater these costs will be. From buying gas for vehicles, acquiring moving boxes, packing tape, and materials, to buying lunch for your helpful friends, and more. Be prepared to set aside a little money for moving day, so you aren’t blindsided by an empty bank account at an inopportune moment.

If you need to pay movers to move you a greater distance, this cost will be exponentially more. Before scheduling your move, call a few different companies in your area and receive quotes to ensure you are getting the best deal!

Insurance: Your landlord may require you to get renter’s insurance before moving in. Even if it’s not required, renter’s insurance is still a good idea to have. This extremely affordable insurance can help protect you from theft, loss, damage, accidents, and much more, making it an essential asset for renters.

Additional Costs: It’s never a bad idea to set additional money aside as an emergency fund until you are settled into your new apartment. You may need a parking pass you didn’t expect, or get a parking fine while moving because you don’t know the area, need a bus pass, or need to pay taxes no one warned you about. This can help you handle any unexpected costs promptly without stressing about blowing your budget.

apartment keys

Setting Up Your Utilities:

If your utilities are not included in the rent, it will be your responsibility to set up these utilities yourself. This may include electric, water, and gas, as well as optional utilities such as internet, cable, or phone. Your apartment community should inform you of what providers you will need to contact and may provide contact information. It’s best to contact these providers a few days before you move in, to set up accounts and perform any required credit checks. If possible, ask your providers about automated bill payment options. Not only do some providers offer discounts for automatic bill pay, but it will also help you avoid forgetting to pay your bills if this is the first time you are responsible for them.

Renting for the first time can be an exciting and nerve-racking experience, all at once! While the process may seem confusing and overwhelming at first, a little bit of preparation and research can help ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. If you are looking for apartments for rent in Harrisonburg, Preston Lake Apartments would love to be your first apartment! Contact us today to get started on your rental journey.