A Guide to Renting Your First Apartment

Published by: Justin Turner

Renting your first apartment can either be a memorable milestone in your life or a brutal lesson in due diligence. From nosy neighbors to noise levels, there’s a lot to consider when looking for the right apartment. To make your apartment search as easy as possible, we’ve gathered our best first-time renter tips to set you up for a successful move.

  1. Set your apartment budget

    To figure out how much you can afford to spend on rent, you will need to calculate your monthly expenses. You should include money spent on groceries, gas, insurance, memberships, subscriptions, utilities, shopping, entertainment, and more. Subtract your monthly expenses from your gross monthly income to determine your budget. You should also give yourself a small buffer for unexpected costs.

    Another way to figure out how much to spend on rent is to employ the 30% rule—which means spending around 30% of your gross income on rent. If you earn $3,000 per month before taxes, your rent should be no more than $900 per month.

    Now that you have an apartment budget, you should consider saving money for upfront rental costs like security deposit, first month’s rent, hiring movers, and renting a truck. Security deposits will vary per property, but you should expect to pay between 1-3 times your rental price.
  2. Select a neighborhood that works for you

    After you finalize your budget for rent, you can focus on the fun part: picking a location. The budget you’ve set should give you an idea of which cities or neighborhoods you can afford. Other things to consider include proximity to work or school, crime rate and safety, access to public transit. PocketList is the only rental platform that lets you search and filter by areas, even if the areas you’re interested in aren’t near each other. This makes it easier for you to find places that are close to the things you like and the places you frequent.  

    If you have the time, you should drive through the different neighborhoods you’re considering to get a feel for each area. While you’re exploring these neighborhoods, take note of parking availability and noise-levels. Properties close to train tracks, freeways, and bars will likely be louder than areas further away from city centers.
  3. Determine your amenity needs

    Create a checklist for your apartment needs and determine which amenities are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves. If you have a pet, for example, an apartment that allows pets will be a must-have. If you have a car, an apartment with a garage could be a must-have or a nice-to-have depending on parking availability in the surrounding area. In fact, you can use PocketList to see what other renters are saying about ease of parking. Other amenities to think about include on-site laundry, a dishwasher, a gym, an elevator, smart home features, gated security, car-charging stations, and bike storage.
  4. Account for living expenses

    Rent is not the only living expense you should expect to pay every month. You will likely need to set up and pay for utilities like electricity, natural gas, water, garbage disposal, internet, cable, parking, pet fees, and more. Be sure to ask your property manager about what's included with your rent so you can factor the expense of utilities into your budget.

    First-time renters may need to pay one-time fees for equipment rentals when setting up utilities. You can always ask utility providers for pricing estimates and special offers that may be available to you.
  5. Take a tour of the apartment

    It’s always a good idea to visit an apartment (or a few) before signing a lease. While touring an apartment, be sure to ask questions, take photos, and use a measuring tape to figure out the dimensions of your potential home. Jotting down measurements can also help you visualize and plan out your furniture. Take note of the number of electrical outlets and cable jacks—older properties might only have one outlet for an entire room.

    Don’t be afraid to turn on lights, check faucets, flush toilets, and make sure appliances are functioning correctly. If the apartment has a shared laundry facility, you should check to see if there are enough washers and dryers. If anything is broken or damaged, you can ask for the problem to be fixed before you can sign a lease. You should also check to see if you have cell service from inside the apartment.

    You can also use an app like PocketList to gather more data on what a rental is really like with insights from a person who has lived there. Then use PocketList’s chat feature to reach out to properties and schedule viewings without sharing personal information like your phone number and email address. This can help you keep track of your conversations with realtors and property managers easily and securely, in one place.
  6. Know what the rental application process involves

    Once you find a place that you like, it’s time to fill out a rental application. With your application, you may also need to pay a small fee to run a credit check (between $20-$50 per applicant), provide proof of income, and submit rental references. As a new renter without rental references or established credit, you may need to have a cosigner. This person could be a parent, relative, or close friend that is willing to vouch for you. If you can’t pay your rent for whatever reason, your cosigner will be held responsible.
  7. Read and understand the apartment lease

    Once you’ve found the right place, it’s time for the less exciting but vital step of reading and understanding your lease. Read your rental contract—yes, the whole thing—take notes about anything that concerns you and feel free to ask your property manager any lingering questions you may have. A few key things to look out for in a lease include move-in fees, rent increases, subletting policies, and a notice of lease termination. Your lease should include details about: when rent is due, acceptable payment methods, late fees, repairs and maintenance, and any house rules. Don’t forget to set up a calendar reminder when rent is due, so you can avoid late fees. Most rental payments are due on the 1st of the month with a 5-day grace period.

We hope these first-time renter tips set you up for a successful move and make your first apartment living experience a good one. Sign up for free and start using PocketList to find exclusive information about places to rent from people that have lived there. Find the perfect apartment before it’s even listed.