Set a budget
First, estimate what your monthly income will be, factoring in savings, debt and recurring bills. Financial experts often cite that rent payments should not cost more than 28% to 35% of your monthly income. Online calculators can assist with budget estimates.
Be aware that broker fees may be involved, which is often a big surprise for first-time renters. Sometimes landlords pay for the broker fee, but in competitive rental markets like New York and San Francisco, broker fees are a typical expected cost for apartment seekers.
The broker fee is based on a percentage of one year's lease, typically around one month's rent. It could be well worth it, since working with a reputable broker allows you to see multiple legitimate properties at once. This is important during a time when fake listings online are common.
It is possible to negotiate down a broker fee. Slower times, like the dead of winter, will see a drop-in demand, so that may be a good time to ask a broker to bring down his or her fee. Because a broker fee could be as much as one month’s rent, don’t forget to account for that extra cost when you're determining how much you can afford.
Search for a place
Outline the amenities you want and the areas you can afford. Next, begin looking for affordable rentals via vetted sources such as websites catering to rental seekers, including Zillow.com, Rent.com and StreetEasy.com. Visit places and take pictures. Also take into consideration the size of the furniture you have now. Will it fit, or will you need something new?
Brush up your credit and get finances in order
First-time renters may not realize that their credit status is an important factor in being granted a lease. Landlords will ask for a credit application to confirm your income and financial standing. Young college graduates, with student debt and little work experience, may be asked to have a parent or guardian co-sign a lease if the landlord considers the young renter to be a financial risk. There may also be a fee for a background check, which some landlords require.
Also, while every landlord is different, it’s common practice to expect renters to pay first and last month's rent plus a security deposit at the signing of the lease. You should also take this into consideration when planning your budget.
Document damages and understand your lease before moving in
When you’re ready to move into your new apartment, take photos of the empty space and document any damage you find. Make sure to ask questions about the terms of your lease and follow them to avoid eviction or legal troubles. For example, make sure your roommates are on the lease and take care to note what the lease says about subletters.
One of the conveniences of renting is that your landlord is responsible for much of what would normally fall on your plate as a homeowner. But, it’s important to make sure that you completely understand what is and isn’t covered by your landlord’s insurance (like your belongings, for example).
Often, you will be on your own to replace stolen or damaged personal property. Many landlords require their tenants to have renter’s insurance. Don’t consider this a burden. Between your landlord’s insurance and renters insurance from Nationwide, you can consider yourself protected from the majority of risks you’ll face as a renter.
Once you’ve moved in, keep your lease and all of your rental documents in a safe location. Then, enjoy your first new place!