Are you sick of your digs? Are you looking to rent a new pad? Well, before you box up your belongings and settle for the first complex whose landlord hands you some papers to sign, check out your other rentable options.
To help you locate that one-of-a-kind, perfect new home, we've come up with 10 tips to guide your apartment search. We'll give you the info you need to save time and get moving, regardless if you're finally checking out of your parents' basement or you're looking to switch high-rises. We'll explain why some complexes may refuse your application over the (furry) company you keep and how spending an extra $50 a month can save you from finding suspicious hairs on your soap.
Click over to the next page to learn why some apartments' rules for breaking the lease may send you packing.
Be Sure You Can Make an Easy Break
If there's one thing you need to know before choosing your new apartment, it's what will happen should you suddenly need to move out. Many apartment renters have been burned by contracts that require several months' additional rent before a lease can be broken.
It might not seem like a very critical caveat right now because you're planning on staying through the full term of your lease, but you never know what's going to happen. You could land a really sweet, one-of-a-kind job that's out of state, or perhaps you'll do anything (or pay any fee) to get away from that guy upstairs who blares polka music at 2 a.m.
Luckily, if you bring it up before you sign the contract, many landlords will agree to waive any penalties if you give at least a 30-day notice and find a subletter to take over the lease.
Consider Your Work/Life Balance
As any large corporation's employee handbook will tell you, establishing a good work/life balance is important. However, it's often the travel to and from the job that makes many of us fantasize about early retirement. No one likes being stuck behind the wheel for hours every weekday, so use your apartment search to cut down your commute.
If you're frequently late because you can't get your old beater to start (or you don't have a car at all), look for an apartment with close access to public transportation. If you'd rather invest in a new pair of shoes instead of a set of tires, try finding a place within a few blocks of your job.
Of course, if you don't mind a long commute, you can always embrace the suburban life -- just be sure to read about some of the common problems with apartment parking on the next page.
Beware of Parking Problems
Many apartment complexes have strict regulations about parking. Some only offer a space or two per apartment, which can be extremely problematic for renters with multiple roommates. And where will your guests park? Also, many slender-spaced apartment parking lots are ill-suited for large trucks and SUVs that have trouble fitting into a normal spot to begin with. Of course, those cruising around in eco-friendly hybrid and electric cars have no problem fitting into the smaller spots, but charging outlets are a rarity in most apartment parking lots.
To prevent any parking-related problems, make sure to choose a residence with appropriately sized parking spaces or pay extra for a personal garage (the only real option for electricity-dependent drivers).
Stay on Budget
When you're looking for a new place to live, it's easy to get carried away. We all like to dream big, but you also have to set realistic expectations for your future rented homestead. If you're reading this article from the comfort of a limousine, you can go ahead and skip to the next page. However, if you're living on a budget and don't have an infinitely disposable income, you shouldn't be too hasty about moving into that trendy neighborhood downtown. Even if you can float the payments, remember that everything -- food, clothing, drinks at the bar -- will be more expensive in upscale areas, and dwelling in a posh high-rise isn't worth having to live off ramen noodles.
Know Your Neighbors
Price and location aren't the only issues you need to consider when choosing an apartment -- you should also know who your neighbors are. Are they in your age range? Do they have kids?
You should take a close look at the people who populate your favorite few complexes and make sure the demographics are similar or at least compatible with your lifestyle. After all, you won't care how close to work you are if the constant college party next door prevents you from getting any sleep.
Different complexes offer various amenities -- a pool here, a covered parking garage there. But if you plan on cohabitating with a roommate (yes, spouses count) there are certain features you just shouldn't live without. Locking doors are probably the most important feature in any multi-person dwelling, but they're often absent or nonfunctional in many apartments. Have an unthinking roommate burst in on you in the bathroom or bedroom a few times, and you'll be ready to live all by your lonesome long before your lease is up.
Speaking of bathrooms, it's also critical to find an apartment with at least two of them. Couples should opt for a double vanity if at all possible. It'll cost a bit more, but you'll wish you sprung for the extra $50 a month whenever you find suspicious hairs near your toothbrush or on your soap.
Regarding Furry Boarders
Be prepared to pay extra if your roommates are of the nonhuman variety. Virtually all apartment complexes charge extra fees and deposits to renters with pets to cover any potential damages your furry friend may incur. Chewing, scratching and carpet-wetting problems and lingering animal odors are so common and costly that many complexes won't accept pets at all.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per dog, though many apartments won't allow large pooches or multiple animals to inhabit a single apartment. Some complexes charge less for cats, though you'll still probably end up paying several hundred dollars for some feline companionship. Pets like hamsters, fish and snakes aren't usually such a big deal, as most landlords won't charge you anything to hang out with a creature that spends most of its time in an aquarium or tank.
Make Sure It Has All the Options You Want
As any experienced apartment hunter will tell you, complexes with the best amenities cost more. It makes sense, as these options are costly to put in and expensive to maintain. But you shouldn't pay for amenities unless you really plan on using them. If you live for racquetball, it may be worth it to pay an extra $20 or $30 per month for an apartment that has a court, but if you don't know a lob from a foot fault, take your apartment search elsewhere.
Know Your Utilities
It's important to know your utilities -- at least, the ones you're responsible for. Many complexes pay the water bill, but the power, gas and everything else is the renter's responsibility. Some apartments have a shared utility meter, which means that your utility cost is just a percentage of the overall bill. So, if you have a shared meter with the apartment next to you, the bill covers the utilities of both apartments and will most likely be split in half. That's great if the apartment is vacant, but your bill will skyrocket if you're sharing a meter with an energy-hog.
Fortunately, many complexes using shared meters offer budget plans where you're charged a flat monthly rate based on an estimate of the total annual utility costs. Budget plans ensure that your bill remains consistent over the course of the year, though you could still end up paying more than you would if you had your own meter. Make sure you discuss any concerns you have about your utilities with your landlord before you sign the lease.
Look Past the Models
You've found a great complex in a good neighborhood and have even managed to stay on budget. You're almost ready to cut a check for your deposit, but there's still one thing left to do: go see your actual apartment.
Model apartments are specifically designed to showcase the best a complex has to offer, so even though you toured a series of spacious, sunlit rooms overlooking a pool and a beautiful wooded area, there's no guarantee your apartment won't be in a dark corner that faces a parking lot.
If your specific apartment is currently occupied, ask to see some other recently vacated units with a similar floor plan. Find out where your apartment is located, and give it a walk-by. If it's not to your liking, let your prospective landlord know. Many complexes try to fill up their least desirable spaces first, so chances are you'll be given a better-situated home if you ask.
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- LawHelp.org. "Shared Utility Meters" 2009. (Aug. 23, 2010).http://www.lawhelp.org/documents/286151H-08%20Shared%20Utility%20Meters.pdf