Apartment How-To's: What I Wish I Knew

So you’re ready to move out? You know it’s time to spread your wings a little, but aren’t ready for the long term financial commitment of a mortgage. You want to start looking for a cute little apartment--a space where you can entertain friends, enjoy quiet study time, and experiment with cooking for one--but you aren’t sure where to start. Finding the right apartment can lead to decreased stress and increased quality of leisure time, not to mention a whole new chapter of adventures (just think of all the crazy-funny memories that were made in Monica Geller’s apartment on FRIENDS). Here are some practical tips to keep in mind as you search for and move into you first (or next) apartment: Questions to consider… Should I have a roommate? Can you afford not to have one? Is there someone else looking to rent an apartment that you trust and have a good degree of confidence that you could get along with? Could you move in with someone who is already settled in an apartment and split the rent? Should you interview roommates? What qualities would a person need to have for you to live with them in harmony? Do any boundaries need to be set up to ensure that your time living together will go smoothly? What is my budget? It’s important to consider how much you can afford to spend on an apartment each month. In order to allow yourself to pay other bills, rent should amount to no more than 30% of your monthly income. Consider how much you make per month and calculate how much you can afford to spend. Make sure to only look at apartments in your price range! Where do I want to live? Is there a certain city, side of town, or specific neighborhood you are interested in living in? Be sure to note how long it will take to drive to your job and other routine weekly activities from your prospective new home. Also, consider how close your new apartment will be to your favorite parts of the area. Is it close to the beach, downtown, or your favorite park? Location can be a huge pull for renters and it’s important to consider how your new location will affect your lifestyle and daily routine. What is included in your monthly rent? What is separate? Some apartments have great amenities like trash service, internet, cable, garage space, certain utilities, parking spaces, and pool access, while others make you pay for everything separately. Definitely consider what is included in rent as those extra monthly fees can really add up! Sometimes it’s worthwhile to pay a higher monthly rent price if many amenities are included. Also, be sure to ask about any upfront costs! Apartment complexes vary greatly on their policies for things like security deposits, pet deposits, application fees, and upfront rent payments. What are the rules? Are pets allowed? Can you use a gas grill? Can you burn candles? How many guests can you have over at one time? I once took a weekend trip with my husband and left my car at his apartment complex! His friend called to say they had tried to tow my car, and he had to intervene! It’s important to know any particular rules that might cause fines, major inconveniences, or put your housing stability in jeopardy! What are my lease options? Often rent rates decline in correlation to the length of your lease. Some apartment complexes offer to pay one month’s rent if you sign a year-long lease. Others will allow a month-to-month rent rate or a six-month lease for a higher monthly rental price. Consider how long you are comfortable renting for and also weigh the pros and cons of a shorter versus longer lease agreement. Tips to make life smoother after you find the perfect apartment… Purchase a renter's insurance policy! Many apartment complexes will require this before allowing you to move in, but even if they don't, having renter's insurance is still absolutely crucial! When I was living in North Carolina my roommate and I’s apartment flooded after a frozen pipe burst. We had to have some major repair work done to the living room and my bedroom, and everything was covered under renters insurance. I can only imagine what the bill would have looked like without that insurance coverage! You may think that nothing is going to happen to your cute hangout space, but there’s no way to tell the future (that I’m aware of); therefore, having a renter's insurance policy is a non-negotiable. Cut the clutter. Apartments are typically small spaces, and clutter makes them look and feel even smaller! By regularly decluttering your living space, you can relieve the stress that clutter creates and ensure you’re not driving your roommate bonkers! Try to throw away old mail, handouts, knick-knacks  etc. Clear your surfaces regularly and clean out storage spaces (such as closets) where stuff tends to pile up every couple months. Set aside time to clean. If you’re anything like me, there’s always something better and more urgent to do than cleaning. Unfortunately, apartments don’t clean themselves (yet), so setting aside time to clean regularly is a good way to keep your apartment ready for friends. Cleaning is also the best way to avoid unwanted guests! If you regularly allot cleaning time a few times a week, you can divide up the spaces you need to clean and rotate the areas you cover each time, making the task seem less daunting. Organize your space! Make the most of both your designated storage space (such as closets) and your living areas! Store off-season clothes in bins under your bed, hang shoes on your door, and make use of your closet with stackable bins and shelves. IKEA and many other stores sell nightstands, bookshelves, bed frames, etc, that are composed of square cubby holes that you can fill with cloth bins and use as a cute and space-savvy storage area! Don’t be afraid to buy a few cute decorations that will double as storage as having a place for your things will be worth the extra pennies and planning! Make the space your own. Your apartment isn’t just where you lay your head at night. It’s your new home! Take time to decorate and make the space feel more “you”. In my apartment I had black and white framed posters of Taylor Swift and James Dean with Marilyn Monroe. I hung a portrait that my uncle painted and gave to me as a graduation gift. You could find a “FRIENDS” calendar hanging in my walk-in closet, along with quotes on the wall and a sassy sign on my door. Blue decor and fuzzy blankets made the space feel even more like home. Take time to select a few pieces of decor that reflect your personality as it will help transform this new space into a haven of comfort. While this list of tips and questions to consider is by no means exhaustive, it’s definitely some of the major things I learned while living in an apartment and shopping for a place to call home. I’d love to hear your advice and additional learned lessons from your first time moving into an apartment! Here’s to your new home sweet home! Happy hunting! Written by Deborah Dunman

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