Finding your first apartment after college is a big undertaking — it can be hard to know where to start when you're staring at a stack of listings and the money from your new job is burning a hole in your pocket. And you're new to all this, so you're bound to make some mistakes along the way.
But we can help. Take a look at some of these common slip-ups so you can do your best to avoid them as you search for a new place to hang your cap (and gown … see what we did there?).
“Generally, the best time to start looking for an apartment is no more than three weeks before your move-in date,” said Margaret Fanney, a licensed real estate agent at Triplemint in New York City. But once it's time to start your search, you want to make you aren't …
Whether you lived in student housing and paid on a semester basis, or you are moving to a different state (or even different city) post-graduation, getting your first apartment can be a big financial adjustment.
You can use the time before graduation to research how much apartments are in the areas you're considering and what costs you might pay for additional amenities.
Most people think about the monthly rent check (or charge, if your landlord lets you pay rent by credit card), but that's not the only expense you'll face living on your own. Think about other necessities like laundry detergent, toilet paper and groceries. And remember, there are ways to save on your daily expenses — like making this delicious 16-cent breakfast.
“Monthly payments for student loans are often overlooked … because student loans come with a six-month grace period before you have to start making payments,” said Brandon Yahn, founder of Student Loans Guy.
Most landlords look at a version of your credit report as part of the application process. Things like credit cards or loans (ahem … student loans) are impacting your credit. Depending on how far into the world of credit you've ventured, your credit file may be pretty thin. Not sure? Now's the time to find out — take a look at a free summary of your credit report on Credit.com.
“Graduates usually rush to find an apartment without contemplating on the requirements for renting an apartment,” Kobi Lahav, managing director of Mdrn. Residential in New York City, said. “They don't have any offer letters ready, pay stubs or bank statements.”
Once you've gathered all your paperwork, it's important to also remind any guarantors of what they'll need, as “springing it all on [them] at the last minute is guaranteed to cause delays and frustrations,” Fanney said.
“[Recent graduates] don't typically know the difference in rental versus condo versus co-op building,” Greg Moers, a licensed real estate agent at Triplemint, said. “They tend to just shop for what looks awesome and do not take into consideration the process involved with putting together a board package and the cost.”
To get you started, check out this guide that deciphers 16 confusing mortgage terms.
Fanney suggests comparing schedules and lifestyles to see if living with a particular person is really a good idea.
“You should already be thinking about things like each person's tolerance for mess and budget, but now that you have your first full-time jobs, you'll have to make sure the lifestyles can coexist peacefully.”
Even if you're living with your best friend, it's important to write out responsibilities and agreements you've made about the living situation. You'll also want to outline how bills will be paid and who is responsible for what. Hopefully you'll never need to reference this for any reason, but you'll be glad to have it all in writing if things go bad.
We know, all those fees are the worst. But some of these upfront costs, while painful at the time you see the money coming out of your account, may mean paying less over time.
According to Chelsea Werner, a Bold New York real estate expert, many of the no-fee apartments just add fees to your monthly rent. And, if that's the case, “although you will pay less upfront, over time it will even out, as you will be paying more per month.”
“In college, your neighbors were probably other college students, but that probably won't be the case now,” Fanney said. “Don't let that stop you from getting to know your neighbors and finding ones you can trust.”
“It's sometimes better to pay a premium to be with a better landlord than to pay less and be with a bad landlord that doesn't fix anything and is hard to reach,” Lahav said.
In a time when we all just click “next” anytime we install an update on one of our devices, it's easy to flip to the end of the agreement and sign on the dotted line. But it's essential you know what you're agreeing to and negotiate things that you're not quite on board with.
Tenants (and even applicants) have federal laws protecting them. And, in many cases, there are state laws that help protect you too, so you'll want to do your research and find out what legal rights you have ahead of time.
Renters insurance may seem like one more expense, but just like car insurance, having it may ultimately save you money in the event of a problem. You can read about the little-known ways renters insurance could save you money here.
“Graduates are very price-sensitive, so they will usually go with the cheaper apartment as their rule of thumb,” Lahav said. “However … they don't realize that sometimes a cheap deal is not the best deal for them.”
Apartment hunting can be a lot like a relationship — you start out with a list of ideal qualities, but the odds of finding someone (or some place) that meets all these may not be realistic.
“Regardless of your budget, there is no perfect apartment,” Werner said. “Renting is all about tradeoffs.”
“When looking for an apartment, people have a tendency to not think about a rental as more than a one-year commitment,” Werner said. But, unless you have reason to move, you probably won't want to go through the hassle. So, that's why Werner said it's a good idea to “think about how that unit will fit your life in the next few years.”
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.