As with any lifestyle reboot, searching for the perfect apartment can be exciting, but you’ll also need to be practical to ensure your new pad is a home sweet home for the duration of your lease, and that your move is a success. Before you head out, you might want to pause and get some apartment hunting tips from our expert to ensure you get the best place for you.
Of course there is plenty to consider. Beyond information about the unit you’d be renting, you’ll want to know how the property is maintained, the community’s rules and the fit of the neighborhood. For help thinking ahead, we turned to expert Kevin Miller, President of Westside Rentals, “Southern California’s largest home-finding service”.
Kevin emphasizes the need to set expectations early on, especially for anyone who is downsizing. “In a house you can be king of your castle and do what you want, but in an apartment you have to be respectful because you’re sharing walls and common areas where you park, and hallways. You have to keep the noise down, clean up after yourself and just be a good tenant.”
Know Your Options Before You Rent
The first step is to know your budget. No matter how good a place looks, if you can’t afford it, it doesn’t matter. A good rule of thumb is that housing should cost 30-35% of your after-tax income. And be prepared to have first month, last month and deposit money to pay at the time you sign the lease.
After that, map out a list of areas you want to live. Much of that will depend on your lifestyle, where you work and what kind of commute you are willing to take on. “The trend over the last 3-5 years is that young people want to live close to where they work so that means urban areas where there are jobs,” says Kevin. “These apartments are usually small but in great locations where at night, they can be around bars, restaurants, movie theatres and shops. An older, married couple will probably want more space, and a yard so they may have to go to out to the suburbs to afford that, which potentially means a longer commute.”
Once you have your budget and area set, you can start thinking about the amenities you want, such as parking, a pool, what appliances are included, and most importantly pets if you have them. Be forewarned, many apartment buildings do not allow them. “Don’t move into a no-pet building and try to sneak in a pet! That’s how you get evicted!” cautions Kevin who says he’s seen this happen more times than he cares to count. “Once you get an eviction, that will follow you around on your credit report.”
Go See Before You Sign the Lease
Now it’s time to start looking at some places. Kevin warns, again from his wealth of horror stories, to never rent a place without a thorough inspection. “A lot of people want to rent just based on the photos and description in the listing. Make sure you go do a walk through to see that it is what it says it is. Meet your landlord and see if you get a good gut feeling.”
When making an appointment to see an apartment, Kevin suggests treating it like a job interview. Be on time, dress nice and clean, and have your paperwork ready. “The landlord is deciding who moves into their asset and who they want to go into partnership with.” Keep in mind the competition can be fierce in popular areas.
When you visit, it’s OK to get a little nosy. Look in cabinets for bugs or rodent droppings. Run the shower and check the hot water and water pressure. Flush the toilet. Check screens, locks and lights. “Any good landlord would want you to do this,” Kevin says.
He also suggests doing a couple of visits at different times of the day to check the neighbor noise and “walk the grounds. If you see things are broken or the pool is all green and nasty, then you have an idea on how this property is cared for.”
Lastly, Kevin suggests trying to talk to some neighbors to get insight on what it’s like to live there. Ask what they like and don’t like about living in the building.
Be Prepared for the Background Check
Landlords typically do a screening of all tenants to check their:
- Criminal Record
- Credit Report
- Eviction Records
- Employment and Income
If possible, fill out the landlord’s credit application beforehand. You’ll also want to bring information to answer the following questions:
Be Smart when You Sign the Lease
Once you decided on a place and cleared the background check, it’s time to sign the lease. Make sure you fully review the details in your contract and the community’s rules. Only after the lease is signed should you hand over the money and get the key in return, says Kevin who cautions. “Don’t ever send the money in before you sign the lease and get the key. If any landlord asks you to do that, run!”
If you take all the proper steps to prepare and search, you should be happy in your new apartment in no time!