Getting an Apartment: Part II

Today in our “getting an apartment” series, we will be talking about the actual search process behind finding your ideal apartment. In my previous post, I covered budgeting for your apartment, deciding on where you want to move, and what you need in an apartment. Please check it out, especially if you are moving for the first time!

Searching – Where to Look

It will probably come as no surprise that Craigslist was the first place, and only place, that I looked at. Where I am located, this is the best resource for up-to-date listings; I would say there were around 5 apartments posted a day that we were interested in, and at least 30-50 new listings a day, especially on the weekends.

We decided to start our search on a Sunday, and I think we visited seven apartments that day. The easiest way to look was to filter by the max price, and normally I only looked at apartments with pictures. I didn’t really want to waste any time visiting apartments that were potentially a dump.

If Craigslist isn’t offering much near you (I know not every location is the same), then some other resources you can use are Padmapper, Trulia, your local newspaper, and social media! Don’t underestimate the power of asking.A friend might know of someone who is looking to rent out their downstairs apartment, and you get the added bonus of not renting from a complete stranger.

I had looked at Trulia a few times, but most of their postings were geared toward leased apartments, and some were a little outdated. Padmapper was similarly disappointing, as it basically aggregates apartments listings from various resources.

Searching – How to Look

As we looked at listings, I compiled a list that consisted of the necessary information: rent amount, utilities (if they were included or not), location and contact information.

I further divided this list into Brokers and non-Brokers. We really did not want to pay 3 times – the broker fee, security and first month’s rent – so we focused mostly on privately owned houses.

The few times we did try to reach out to a Broker, they seemed utterly confused as to why we were calling, as well as rude, so we decided after those incidents that we wouldn’t bother with them. Security + first months rent was a lot more manageable for us anyway. Definitely factor this in if you don’t want to pay too much up-front!

We went down this list, calling each person or emailing based on preference. We spaced out appointments as best as possible, so that we didn’t go crazy driving around, but that was inevitable no matter how much we planned.

I felt rushed anyway; the nicest apartments don’t stay on the market for very long, and chances are if you love one you see, others will as well. However, I like to weigh the pro’s and con’s of everything before making a huge decision, so I am not a proponent of jumping into anything, especially if you feel pressured. No matter what, this decision was going to take us longer than a day.

Factors We Took Into Consideration

I based a lot on the look and feel of the apartment, as well as how easy it was to get to and find. Some questions we considered: Did R fit (he is 6’4″ and some basement apartments aren’t very friendly to him), or did he feel cramped? Did we think all of our possessions would comfortably fit? Most importantly: would we be happy there? Could we picture ourselves living there?

Another huge factor was the landlord! If we met someone who seemed off-putting, would we want to deal with them for possibly a year or more? They hold power over us; landlord/tenant relationships are important to sustain, and we didn’t want to feel awkward or have any tension with them.

Photo Credit: www.apartmentwiz.com
Photo Credit: apartmentwiz.com

This is going to vary, but as R and I are both young, I took my mom along to most of these visits to kind of ease the skepticism that some people displayed. We had to go alone a few times, and the kind of reactions we got were disappointing.

One lady seemed very hesitant while showing us around, and finally let out a nervous chuckle and said, “you guys are so young though!” She then basically grilled us on whether or not we could afford it.

While the place was gorgeous, we didn’t want to deal with that kind of person, so we crossed it off the list. Would we be looking and wasting OUR time as well if we didn’t think we could afford it?

As a side note, sometimes having a deposit ready to go is beneficial because it shows that you are serious about the place, but only one person asked for it, and it was the same person mentioned above, so I have a feeling she was still questioning our ability to pay.

Respect the landlord

The biggest tip is to be honest. When at the start of a relationship like this one, it is important not to misrepresent yourself. Present the requested information and give people the whole picture.

I don’t want to make anyone’s life harder if they don’t want any pets living in their apartment. I heard several stories where landlord’s let their tenants have ONE pet, only to find three the next day. In some cases, they had no idea a pet was going to be involved, but didn’t want to go through looking for another tenant so soon.

In the PF community, renting out apartments is often the topic of discussion for extra income. Put yourself in the landlord’s shoes: you’d probably be upset if anything changed from what was originally discussed. Don’t leave something to be a nasty surprise for someone else.

Plus, in some cases, the pet can damage the place, which you will have to pay for, and an uninvited pet is not going to make people sympathetic. In some cases, people were also allergic, so it just comes down to being considerate.

Cliché: Looking for An Apartment Is Like Looking for A Job

Not even kidding here. I found myself thinking this more than once along the way. We would leave an apartment after giving references and proof of employment only to never hear back from anyone.

They are wondering if we are the right fit for them and vice versa, but someone with better credentials income/stability/history might come along, who looks like the more attractive choice when compared to us. We trusted these people with sensitive information (sometimes a credit check application) and to never hear from them again seemed a little cold.

Obviously, you could follow up, but if you never receive an answer…well, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? *cough*jobsearching*cough*

Overall, it was stressful (for me), and the best advice I have is to not get your hopes up. It’s like house hunting – don’t fall in love before you have it, because it might not be available the next day. I had a lot of anxiety wondering if my calls were going to be returned, if I was too late, what if nothing works out, etc. If you are 100% certain you want an apartment, GO FOR IT before someone else does.

Getting An Apartment: Part I

Since starting the process of looking for an apartment about three weeks ago, I have learned a lot, my hatred of packing included. My parents are packing at the same time for their move, so it’s been a little hectic and the house generally looks like a maze of boxes in every room.

I can’t wait until June 1st so we can move, unpack everything and get settled! I feel a bit disorganized with all my belongings dispersed throughout boxes.

Here are some of my thoughts on getting an apartment, and what to think about prior to making the move.

Our soon-to-be cozy little kitchen
Our soon-to-be cozy little kitchen

Deciding to Move

It comes without question that first you must decide there is a need for you to move. In my case, my boyfriend (R) and I had been wanting to move in together for a while, but it wasn’t financially feasible due to him working a seasonal position.

The choice, for me, came down to timing. If my parents moved first, then I would get a smaller place by myself, or if R got a full-time position, we would find a place together. By chance, they coincided, which turned out to be great! We were in negotiations with the house the first week of R’s new job.

I do want to quickly say there is absolutely nothing wrong with living with your parents for as long as your situation allows. The Atlantic reports that 45% of college grads are moving back home. There’s nothing wrong with saving some money this way until you are ready to move! Take your time to think about all the options available (including gathering friends to share an apartment with) before jumping into it.

What do you want to spend?

Before we considered anything, we crunched the numbers and came up with what we could afford. I wasn’t completely comfortable with it, but R’s new job offers bonuses at the end of every month, and he has already received one. I’m also not one to part willingly with money, whereas R isn’t as strict with his budget.

The easiest way we went about this was to simply add up our necessary monthly expenses, estimate food costs, and subtract it from our monthly income to see what we had left. Then, we asked ourselves what we were comfortable having leftover at the end of the month after rent. We settled on $1,200 as the max we would like to spend, split between both of us.

Our expenses were student loans, cell phone bills, car insurance, car payments, food and gas. This will obviously differ from person to person, but it worked for us as a preliminary budget. The worst thing was not really knowing how much it will cost us to live together, as we haven’t lived on our own yet.

I am in favor of overestimating and preparing for the worst, while R doesn’t seem to think we have much to worry about. In any case, I have a healthy emergency fund built up, and R is working on his. Always have a backup plan!

What do you need in an apartment?

R and I wanted a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment with a kitchen so that we could cook. Besides that, we were okay with studios that had the bedroom and kitchen connected, as long as it was open enough.

We definitely didn’t need 2 bedrooms or any extra space (they would have been over our budget anyway). As we are not sure how long this situation will last, we did not want to sign a lease.

Essentially, we were looking at a basement apartment, or something in a single-family home. The “regular” commercial apartments in communities were way too expensive. We also knew we wanted utilities included, unless the apartment was under budget. Ultimately, utilities included won out when we compared apartments to each other. It was one less thing we would have to worry about.

I do have to note that we were totally willing to forgo cable and phone hookup, as we only really need the internet. I don’t watch much TV, and I always try to rent from our library. Make sure you evaluate this as well beforehand, and don’t be afraid to ask about the utilities!

Additionally, if you have a pet you are bringing with you, you should think about how much space they need. Most of the apartments we saw did not allow pets at all, and I have heard of pet deposits being required in some cases. Make sure your pet is well-behaved!

Where are you going to live?

Now, where to go? Obviously, moving closer to our jobs was a priority, as that would be more convenient, and tons of PF blogs advise to go that route. R works further East than I do, but we both work along the same major highway, and we agreed that we wanted to be located near there.

Your budget is also probably going to dictate where you can live, at least in part. Where I am, most 1-bedroom apartments were similarly priced – there wasn’t a huge difference in the areas we were looking at. If we couldn’t reside close to one of our jobs, then we at least preferred to live in the opposite direction of traffic. Once we became seriously interested in an apartment, I would check how the flow of traffic was during rush hour.

I would have loved to be within walking distance of either of our jobs, but there were no apartments available nearby. If you have that option, you should definitely consider it! Saving money on gas and potential car expenses would be great.

Please stay tuned to the next portion, which to me was the most stressful: actually searching for and looking at apartments!

Welcome!

Welcome to Journey to Saving, a blog dedicated to helping those that are just starting out with their financial plans. Have you just started a job, earning an income for the first time ever? Are you in debt-repayment mode, trying to save as much as possible to use toward paying your debt off? Or have you found yourself with some nice savings in the bank, but are unsure as to what you should use it for, or where it should go?

Regardless of the reason you’re here, I want you to know you’re not alone. Saving money is important at any stage of life, and we will be focusing on various ways to save, how to trim down your budget, and how your mindset can affect your savings, among other things.

Even if you are in the process of paying off debt (I have student loans myself), I believe you should save something, even if it’s a small amount. Getting into the habit of putting money away for the future is the first step, and knowing what to do with it is the next.

How do you expect to save if your mind is constantly on what you think you need to purchase next? The mindset behind saving is also crucial, as some people lack self-control, or just aren’t fully aware of their own financial situation. We will be going over this, as well as many more topics, in the future.

For now, I will tell you a little bit about myself, because this blog is also my journey into the field of personal finance. I have been reading various PF blogs throughout the last year, and have been inspired to share my story and journey with the community.

I recently graduated college and entered the world of entry-level jobs not in my field of study. Interestingly, I ended up in a job I wasn’t aware existed after pursuing a 4 year degree in Criminal Justice. Useless or not, I enjoyed my time spent studying, and my experiences in college helped get me to where I am today. However, having student loans isn’t fun, as most people can attest to, so they are my main focus right now.

I have always been a saver, but I don’t have any experience in investing. One of my goals that I hope to have completed soon is to learn how to navigate the world of investing. It seems intimidating, but with the wealth of resources out there, I’m sure it’s do-able!

I want to be able to share my journey with those that decide to join me, and this will be a big part of it. I will also be sharing my attitude toward saving, and how it was shaped.

The other is learning how to pay my own way. I’ve been living with my parents my whole life as I attended a local college that didn’t have any dorms. My parents have been more than accommodating, although I’m pretty sure my mom just didn’t want me to leave :).

Unfortunately, now they are the ones leaving! Our house had been on the market for seven months, but last month we finally got interested buyers, and my parents are in the final stages of closing.

It’s scary and exciting all at once. Scary, because my rent is about to go way up, but exciting because I know it’s the next logical step in adulthood. I am very thankful I’m not doing it alone, as my boyfriend is making the move with me. Without splitting the rent, I don’t think I would be able to afford to live here! It has definitely forced me to think long and hard about a budget, which I will share in a later post.

So now that you know my situation, I hope you guys will join me as I graduate to the next stage of my journey – both personal and financial.