Before 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.

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.)

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:

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.

Before you sign a lease

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.

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.

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