Angie's LIST Guide to
Apartments

Finding the perfect apartment can be overwhelming, especially if you're just leaving the family nest for the first time. If you've never lived on your own, how do you start the search? No matter if you’re a recent college grad or grandparents looking to downsize, be sure to review these tips for finding an apartment.
 

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When searching for an apartment, make sure you find one that accommodates your needs and your budget. Monthly expenses include more than rent, so make sure you know whether or not utilities are included or will be an additional expense. (Photo by Joseph Martin)
When searching for an apartment, make sure you find one that accommodates your needs and your budget. Monthly expenses include more than rent, so make sure you know whether or not utilities are included or will be an additional expense. (Photo by Joseph Martin)
 
 

Before you start the apartment search

Finding the right place to live is important — and there's more to it than just "location, location, location" when it comes to apartment living. Take the time to consider what you need versus what you want, and what your budget will allow, before you lock yourself into an apartment lease.

What's most important to you? Make a list of what matters most in an apartment. Include things like distance from work, friends, family and shopping. Do you want to be surrounded by hundreds of other units or would you rather live in a small apartment building? Does it matter if you're on an upper or lower floor?

What are your transportation needs? Will it be important to be near major roads, a bus route, subway or a bike path? For car owners, take note of an apartment's parking situation. Will you get a designated parking spot or is there on-street parking?

How much space do you need?  Do you plan to live alone or will you have one or more roommates? Do you expect to work from home? If you're sharing the apartment, consider that you may want more than one bathroom. Get a sense of the minimum square footage you will need, but know that with a little imagination, even the tiniest of spaces are livable.

What extra perks would be nice?  When you know what your basic needs are, consider what additional amenities you'd like, such as a balcony or porch, fitness room, swimming pool, paid utilities and security.

Do you have good credit? A part of the apartment rental process requires property managers or landlords to run a credit check to ensure you’ve got the funds to pay the rent. If you don’t know what your credit score is, you may want to obtain a copy of your credit report ahead of time so you can fix any discrepancies.

Apartment expenses beyond rent

Rent is only one consideration when budgeting the total cost of living in an apartment. Here are other expenses to consider as well:

apartment over garage
An apartment can be anywhere, from a deluxe highrise building to a single residence over a garage. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Kathy G., of Tulsa, Okla.)

Utilities: Unless you're moving into an all-bills-paid unit, you'll need to consider utility costs in addition to monthly rent. Don't forget to factor in the possibility of utility deposits. Determine what each apartment complex requires you obtain on your own, and have an estimate of what the utility deposits will be before you decide on an apartment.

Pet deposit: Some apartments allow pets, some don’t. For those that do, you’ll most likely have to pay a pet deposit before moving day. In some instances, the monthly rent may be slightly higher as well. Be sure to inquire ahead of time.

Other deposits: Deposits can add up. Apartment complexes may ask for a straight security deposit or they may require a security deposit plus the last month's rent. You should verify what the complex's policy is before deciding if you can afford to move there.

Maintenance and insurance: Ask questions so you are clear about your responsibility for maintenance, insurance and fees. The apartment agent should be able to provide a detailed list of what you must pay to keep a lease in good standing.

Other costs: If you aren't moving yourself, factor in the costs of hiring a moving company or renting a trailer or van. For additional consumer tips about moving, read the Angie's List Guide to Moving.

Before you sign a lease

apartment exterior brownstone
Thoroughly review the lease before signing. Take note of any penalties should you need to get out of the contract early. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Frank, C., of Brookline, Mass.)

A signed apartment lease becomes legally binding between you and the landlord. Therefore, it's important to carefully review a sample lease before you sign. As you examine a lease, keep these tips in mind:

Ask questions. As you review the lease, make note of anything that causes concern or confusion. Discuss each matter with the apartment management before signing and if something is decided, be sure it's added to the lease document. If what you're told can't be put into writing, reconsider signing.

Be clear about duties and deposits. The lease should outline your responsibilities for maintenance, repairs and damage. It should also include information about how deposits are handled.

Know the cost of breaking the lease. Check the lease for information about breaking the contract. Be sure to know how you're affected if you move out before the lease is up. For instance, if you pay less than the monthly market rent, you may find that breaking the lease makes you responsible for paying the difference between your rent and the market rate for each month you were in the apartment. Or, you could be held responsible for paying the rent for the remaining months on your contract.

Should you consider renters insurance?

Some apartment complexes require renters to have insurance. But even if it's not mandatory, consider buying a policy for the length of your lease. A 2014 Insurance Information Institute poll found that while 95 percent of homeowners had homeowners insurance, only 37 percent of renters had renters insurance.

Renters insurance typically covers loss due to theft and damages from various causes. It's important to review exactly what items are covered, in case additional insurance is necessary. Plans typically average $15 per month, and can be paid in full for the length of your lease so you don't have to worry about making a monthly payment. Start your search for renters insurance with the agent connected to your auto insurance. You may get a price break, and it's possible the renters insurance covers belongings in your vehicle.

 

Comments

I am interested in finding an economical appartment in the Seattle area. Studio or one bedroom around $800 inclusive. Please advise on how this process can work and the fee for this kind of service.
Thank you.

Hi Vickie, Angie's List does not list local apartment listings, but we do rate Seattle real estate agents who may be able to help you find the best economical Seattle apartment for you. Thanks for your interest!

 

The information you shared above is very useful. I like it.

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