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Our guide to renting your first apartment


Renting your first apartment is a moment to celebrate. It does not matter if you are moving out of your parents’ house, upgrading from dorm life, or jumping into professional life in a big city. Figuring out how to find and rent your dream space can be tricky.

Anyone can feel overwhelmed looking for a first apartment. Researching the perfect neighborhood, navigating applications, budgeting for costs, and all the logistics come with ups and downs. Moving in and creating your sense of home is worth it.

Our team is a group of lifelong renters building for other renters. We want to help make your first apartment search as smooth as possible. Here’s our guide for everything you need to know about how to rent your first apartment.

Choosing a neighborhood

Researching all your options can feel daunting. To help narrow down your choices, think about what really matters to you. Do you care more about being close to work or to friends and family? Is your dream location alive with nightlife or a calm sanctuary? Is your preference to drive, ride public transportation, or walk? Will saving money matter more than finding an apartment with full amenities?

Your goal at this stage is to narrow down your options. Write a list to rank what matters most. Search online and ask friends or family what neighborhoods match your top 3 factors. You’ll probably get a bunch of different answers and that’s okay. Create a list from the answers and you have a starting point for a deeper dive researching availability and price range.

What apartment can I afford?

First-time apartment hunters can often overestimate how much they can afford. It’s common to forget that your monthly costs will include day-to-day living and not just rent and utilities. A monthly budget needs to include groceries, transportation, savings, and more.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends spending no more than 30% of your gross income on rent. 30% might not be possible in expensive cities, like New York, Boston, or San Francisco, but it’s important to stick as close to 30% or less as possible. One way to help might be splitting costs with a roommate or finding a side hustle to bring in additional income.

Do I need a roommate?

Tight finances make every decision more difficult. Living in an expensive city might make renting seem even harder. If you estimate that you need to spend more than 30% of your income, consider teaming up with one or more roommates. Roommates come with pros and cons, but splitting costs is firmly a pro.

The first step is to decide if you want a roommate. If you do, then your next step is finding the ideal fit. Take a moment to consider what traits you want in a roommate and what kind of environment you hope to create in your new living space. It’s a good idea to write up a list of preferences as well as lines you do not want to cross.

- Do you want to entertain often or throw parties?
- Do you expect all shared spaces to tidy and clean?
- Do you need to think about living in a pet-friendly location?
- Do you want to set ground rules around having overnight guests?
- Who will sign for utilities and how will you organize payments?
- How will you divide responsibility for furniture and appliances?

Being a good roommate is as important as finding the right roommate. Make sure you communicate openly and clearly. Set clear expectations. With a little effort, you can make a lifelong friend as well as keep your costs under control.

Are apartment amenities worth it?

First-time renters should equally weigh location and amenities. Different areas tend to have apartments with different options like swimming pools, fitness centers, grills, firepits, terraces, and more. Beyond shared amenities, consider in-unit amenities like laundry, a dishwasher, a balcony, extra storage space, or smart home options.

What floor should I live on?

Every floor in an apartment complex comes with pros and cons. Lower floors tend to be more affordable, require climbing fewer stairs, and are often closer to amenities and the mailroom. If you live on the bottom floor, then you don’t need to worry about noise bothering downstairs neighbors. That said, you might experience more overhead noise and you may not have much of a view.

Middle floors offer the most flexibility. You pay less than top-floor apartments, the units tend to offer more consistent temperatures, and you often enjoy decent views but not the best. Heat rises and in apartment complexes that means top floors often face the highest temperatures.

Top floors often offer unmatched views and the highest prices. You won’t have any overhead noise, but you will pay extra for the luxury. For some renters, the quiet is worth the higher price. Others might prefer to save the extra cash or spend it on meals or entertainment.

How long does it take to find an apartment?

Certain times of the year are less competitive and more affordable than others. Rent prices vary by season. You can pay lower rent by planning your apartment search strategically. For example, demand tends to be the least competitive during the winter. When demand is lower, properties tend to offer lower prices. This trend happens in all cities, not just in places where the weather gets cold. The job market, school calendars, holidays, construction cycles, and other factors impact the market, not just snow.

Once you know when you want to move, plan to give yourself enough time. Finding the right match may take a few months. Our team recommends starting your search early. You can always take advantage of extra time. If you do not leave enough room on your calendar, you may end up in a situation where you need to move before you find an apartment. Timing can especially impact your move if you plan to relocate across the country or to a place you’ve never lived before.

When should I tour an apartment?

You’re ready to tour an apartment as soon as you find one that matches your moving needs. If you find a deal that seems too good to be true, make sure the listing is not a scam. Once you feel confident about the opportunity, reach out to the leasing team or property manager and schedule a tour. Don’t forget to ask as many questions as you can think of when you tour the apartment. Be specific, thorough, and remember to ask about noise levels and improvements that will happen before you move in.

When should I sign my lease?

Landlords often ask tenants to complete a rental application before offering a lease. The application may include your credit score, rental history, proof of income, and references. Some properties may ask for your social security number to perform a background check.

Some landlords and property managers charge an application fee. An application fee is usually a small charge that offsets the time and expense of reviewing an application. The fee helps the landlord make sure that only serious renters apply. If you want to keep your costs down during your apartment search, then only submit applications for apartments that you are serious about renting.

Once you complete an application and receive a commitment from the landlord or property manager, you’re ready to sign your lease. The landlord or property manager should provide you with a copy of the lease, often over email or sometimes in person. Sign and be sure to retain a copy for your own records.

Additional costs of renting to consider

Move-in costs only make up part of the true cost of renting an apartment. Other costs can include utilities, parking, repairs, furniture, appliances, decorations, and more. The costs can vary by city or state and by the service provider, like for internet. Don’t forget to factor in all these costs when you plan your rent budget. You might also want to consider costs for transportation, gym memberships, entertainment, and any other recurring purchases that you typically make each month.

Moving is stressful, easier renting with Safely Finance

Be sure you know exactly how much you will owe before you sign a lease. Security deposits and upfront move-in costs can cost thousands of dollars. Some tenants may prefer to find apartments or homes with more flexible payment options, like Safely Finance.

Safely Finance turns upfront moving costs into monthly payments. With Safely Finance, you can move today and pay over time. Signing a lease should be a moment of celebration, not financial stress. Safely Finance gives you options.