Joseph | Jun 24, 2016 | 0
First Apartment Checklist: 21 Questions You Should Ask
If you’re at that point in life when you’re ready to start looking for your first apartment, you’ve come to the right place. The process of getting your first apartment can be lots of fun, but you must also be weary, as there are many decisions you’ll need to consider before you find an apartment that’s right for you.
Moving is a big step, and there’s not only a lot of pressure from all parties involved, but also a whole lot of decisions, many of which you don’t even realize you’re making. Pressure and decisions don’t always make the best baby, so we decided to collect some of the most important questions you should be asking to make sure your first step towards your new home are successful, well planned, and – well – fun. We’ll call it the first apartment checklist. (If you’re writing it down, you can even get all personal and title it “my first apartment checklist,” but that’s entirely up to you).
Ordered only slightly by matter of importance, here’s our all inclusive checklist to the most important decisions you’ll make when choosing your next pad. If you come up with any that we missed, please let us know in the comments. Otherwise, enjoy our list of first apartment essentials for your consideration.
1. Style – house or apartment… apartment or house?
The first question you should probably ask yourself here is, what type of home do I want? With this question comes the options of apartment complex, house, duplex (triplex, quadriplex, etc), or other various considerations such as condos. For simplicity’s sake, let’s first focus on the basic three: complex, duplex, and house. We’ll discuss urban options as well throughout the post, such as high-rise apartments and condos.
Each home style has its nuances. For example, with a house, you’re likely to have more privacy and space from your neighbors, but it will also require a higher level of upkeep and, sometimes, a higher cost. A duplex can potentially remove a small portion of privacy, but also add a degree of cost effectiveness. Complexes, on the other hand, tend cover a wide variety of styles. Let’s start with them.
Picking an apartment complex can be tricky. Some will pose as the faux-luxurious all-in-one, with all sorts of amenities, lounges, and perks (like swimming pools or tennis courts), while others will go as minimal as minimal can go. It all depends on the area and targeted audience. You might think that with complexes, you’ll be saving a bit of cash, but that 1) isn’t always the case and 2) isn’t always worth the tradeoffs that are made. The truth is, complexes are generally unpredictable and, even after the walk around, you never know what issues are just waiting to surface.
The takeaway here is that, if you’re going to live at a complex, it would behoove you to do thorough research and make sure it’s truly a nice one (and don’t get me wrong – there are some really nice apartment complexes worth your money!). I tend to stay away from complexes if they aren’t on the higher end of quality (and price) – and for that matter, if they aren’t downtown in a high-rise – because with cheaper complexes, your neighbors can potentially change a lot and the management companies that act as your landlord are often subpar at best. You can do better than that on your first place and still save a chunk of change.
While these babies aren’t widely available in every state, they are still quite abundant and popular in many areas, and with good reason. The beauty of the duplex is the locale – unlike with a complex, you will get a real neighborhood environment while living in a duplex, with real neighbors and any perks that come with that particular neighborhood – all with a bit of savings wrapped in. Not to mention, you get a real landlord as opposed to a management company. While any landlord is capable of being a terrible one, your chances of having an adequate landlord will greatly increase in the switch from a complex to a duplex.
On the other hand, you will still have neighbors that are a little closer than if you were living in a separate house. Some duplexes are truly split, meaning you only see your house buddies when you run into them on the front lawn. Others will have split living areas while still sharing amenities such as the kitchen and laundry room. This can work out great if you end up liking your neighbors and building a relationship with them. On the other hand, you have no control of who the landlord leases the other half to unless you go into it with some buddies, and if it ends up being someone you don’t get along with (whether it be due to personality, noise levels, or the guests they invite over… nightly… ), you’ll just have to cope until the end of the lease.
In any case, we believe duplexes (or triplexes, or quadriplexes) to generally provide the an acceptable blend of cost effectiveness and homeliness for first time movers, especially if you’d prefer living alone without roommates.
Perhaps the most independent of all, we have the house. With a house, you have a few very unique perks, most notably more privacy and more space. Often times you’ll even get a personal yard. Another nice perk about houses is that they usually have at least two bedrooms, so if you have a friend or two who you know would be good roomies, you can very easily take a large, beautiful home that would normally be way out of your price range and split it with your friends. This way is perhaps the best bang for your buck, as you’ll be in a home much nicer than most complexes and duplexes and you’ll be paying the same if not less than you would with other options.
The tradeoff is that you’ll often have some more responsibilities such as yard work, and if you are searching in a more active location such as a city or college town, the prices have a much higher ceiling to linger around. I typically only recommend houses as a first place if you have good roommate options to chip in and help you grab a steal.
As a side note, if you’re in an urban areas (which we talk about below) you will also have high-rise apartments to choose from, often times called condos. These also cover a broad spectrum in quality and price, but typically tend to be a lot better than suburban complex options as mentioned above. If you end up living in the city, a high-rise studio or loft apartment is almost definitely where you will want to live.
2. Location – urban, suburban or rural?
Next, we have location to consider. As mentioned earlier, location has a direct and noticeable effect on price. It also has an effect on transit time, lifestyle, and overall quality of the life you want to live. If you have a particular lifestyle and a very specific price range that you must abide by, those will have a lot of pull on what type of location you choose to live in. On a broad scale, your three major locations to choose from are urban, suburban, and rural.
Ah, the city. It’s where people go to work, play, and generally get away from their normal everyday environment at home. But maybe that’s not you – maybe you’ve always dreamed of moving to the city, calling it home, and this is your first real chance. There are some amazing perks to living in the heart of your favorite metropolis, and many people claim that the best time to live there is when you’re still young and not yet ready to settle down. If that’s you, then you should pursue your dream. Just be sure you know what you’re getting into.
When it comes to lifestyle, there’s a lot offered in the city. You can avoid the cost of a car by using public transportation, and more often than not you’re able to walk almost anywhere. You also get the irreplaceable perk of the beautiful skyscraper views – that is, if you’re able to afford the lofty price tag of a high floor in a high-rise.
That brings us to the downsides of the city, most notably the pricing. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors of just how much a half-decent city apartment can cost, and they aren’t at all far from the truth in many cities. While pricing will vary by city and location within the city, it can sometimes be more difficult to find reasonably priced studios than in suburban areas. That said, if you want to take your first step of independence in the city, you’re probably going to have to give up some things, namely space and privacy.
Other things to consider when moving to the city are safety issues (some areas of a city are safer than others), accessibility (if you have lots of places to go with no car to take you) and car-friendliness (if you do have a car – after all, you’ve gotta park it somewhere!).
Suburban is likely the most popular and cost effective choice. with suburban areas, you can almost always find the perfect compromise to match both your needs and your wants. If you are in love with the city but either can’t afford it or don’t want to spend all of your time there, you can pick a suburban neighborhood that sits just outside of the city. If you’re a college kid moving away from home and want to live around likeminded, young individuals, there are often many good suburban college towns to choose from.
Since most people cannot afford to live in the city but they still work there, you will find a great variety of neighborhoods, small towns, large towns, etc on the outskirts of the city built to accommodate people from all walks of life. Since this is likely your first time moving out, I would highly recommend searching primarily in suburban areas as they will provide the best range of options for you to choose exactly what it is that you want.
Here are a few common examples of environments you will encounter in your suburban search:
- college towns
- enclosed neighborhoods
- historic/preserved communities
- small high-rises
- roadside towns
- renovated/repurposed communities
Rural isn’t typically an option considered by those moving out for the first time, but if you don’t have too many places to be and you appreciate the quite, spread out atmosphere, rural living might just be for you. One wonderful perk about living in rural areas is that you can snag an amazing house for much less than you would while looking anywhere near the city.
That said, there aren’t nearly as many renting options in rural communities and you’ll most likely end up in a house if you do find anything. Chances are, you aren’t looking to live in a fully rural area, so we’ll just leave it at that for this post.
3. Size and shape – cozy and small or space for roommates?
When considering the size of home you want, there’s a whole lot more behind choosing than the actual square footage. Layout and space management is in fact the most important aspect to consider here, so when you’re walking through prospective homes, try to ignore the square footage and focus more on 1) how much usable space there is and 2) how the space feels. There are a few different layouts that you will encounter, and they will each provide a different feel and cater to a different goal. We’ll go over just a few.
Open floor plan
While mostly encountered in high-rise loft apartments, the open floorpan is gaining popularity in various venues. It is typically minimalistic, straightforward, and accommodating. With open layouts, it is not uncommon for the bedroom area to only slightly be partitioned from the main living area without any real door. This type of apartment is best suited for a single inhabitant, and will give the most flexibility for creating the desired feel and organization.
Studios can represent anything from an individual bedroom in a house for rent to an apartment that isn’t necessarily open floor, but also doesn’t have any separated bedrooms. Some studios even have an open second level, just big enough for a bed and essentials, though most studios combine the living and sleeping areas in one space. They are typically small, less than 500 square feet, but can still serve as a wonderful first apartment, especially given their low(er) pricing.
This style is great if you’re living alone, but you’d still like your personal sleeping area to be private for when you have guests. They provide a much more established feel and allow more options for arranging the living area to fit a different aura and style than that of the sleeping area.
Apartments with 2 rooms are wonderful for living alone or with a roommate, but 3+ bedrooms can get pricey, so at that point you’ll probably be looking at duplexes and houses (unless you are living urban). With 2 bedrooms, you can choose between living alone and having one roomie. If you live alone, then the second bedroom can serve as a great study, lounge, or workbench area depending on your hobbies and interests. If you don’t want to live alone or don’t have enough money to, then a 2 bedroom with equally sized rooms is a perfect fix for the problem.
In the case of roommates and houses with 3+ bedrooms, you’ll want to consider a few things:
First, are you and your roomies going to be spending more time in your rooms individually, or out in the living area?
Second, how well separated are the rooms from the living areas in case schedules or social interests clash?
Depending on your answer to the first question, your scope will focus in on either houses with supple rooms and more cozy-sized living areas, or minimal room space with large, open living areas. As for the second question, this is more of a concern for single story homes where the bedroom walls are often shared with the living areas. In multistory homes, bedrooms are often on a separate floor from the living areas which makes it easy to get away if need be. In a single story home, that’s not always the case, so be sure to pay attention to floorpans and how they might influence yours and your roomies’ lifestyles.
4. Amenities – what’s necessary and what’s fluff?
Some may forget to give amenities fair weight when choosing a place, but truth be told, amenities can either be the icing on the cake or the straw that breaks the camels back. They make a difference and should be considered on every first apartment checklist. Below is a list of amenities that sometimes are and sometimes aren’t standard -you should look for all of them and decide which are most important.
You might think washing dishes isn’t that big of a deal, and if you’re living alone, it really isn’t. However, if you’ve never washed a dish in your life, OR you plan on having roommates, then a dishwasher is a must.
Having an in-house washer and dryer isn’t a deal breaker, but it can have a decent-sized effect on your life. If you like to do your laundry 1+ times a week, it would definitely be helpful to have the machines in the same building. Also, if you tend to not be around immediately after your clothes are ready to be moved, then public washing machines are not going to be the best choice.
Heating and cooling are certainly deal breakers. The ideal situation is central air with a thermostat for keeping your home nice in all weather, but you will also encounter other options such as radiant heating, window AC’s, and sometimes even nothing (which you will almost always want to avoid!).
Not all living situations will provide full garages, but if you have a car and you want to keep it safe, covered parking of some sort can be a deal breaker. If you’re in a safe residential area, street parking can be fine too, but in that case you should be sure to find out about any nearby events or businesses that could potentially take over your street parking on busy days. Having a car with no place to put it isn’t a fun problem to solve. You’ll also want to take into account seasonal weather and what issues that might bring if covered parking isn’t provided.
If you are into TV and streaming services just don’t cut it, then you might want to check with landlords on which cable and satellite services are available at each residence. Many apartments have restrictions on satellite placement, and not all homes support all providers.
In this day and age, internet is a must, but just like with cable and satellite, some homes and apartments won’t support specific ISPs. In some cases, if you’re buying an older home, you might not be eligible for the speeds you need due to outdated hardware. In order to find out what is available at a specific home, simply go to the desired internet provider’s site and type in that address to see what options from that company are available.
Extras, such as a balcony/patio or fireplace
These certainly shouldn’t tip the scales at the beginning of your search, but if you’re really into grilling on the patio or want a warm fireplace to gather around in the winter, these are fun amenities to weigh into your decisions if they are available, especially if you’ve narrowed your search down to a few homes that already contain the essentials.
5. Pets – free, fined, or against the rules?
This is a big one if you have any pets or intend to own one soon. Restrictions on pets can be a personal choice of the landlord that are negotiable, or they can be nonnegotiable rules from management based on the specific type of living environment they would like to maintain for current and future tenants. There are three possible arrangements that you will run into.
Against the rules
Many complexes, if not most, have solid rules against all dogs, cats, and the bunch. Sometimes they will be a little nicer about it and allow only small dogs or cats with a fine, but bar out large dogs altogether. That brings us to our next option.
Many landlords and apartments will allow most pets with the requirement that the tenant pay an extra fee known as “pet rent.” this can be anywhere from an extra $25 to $100 per month depending on the location.
This is a lot less common than the other two possibilities, and usually shows up when you’re renting a house. Management companies don’t go for this due to the revenue opportunity of charging, but individual landlords can be a bit more down to earth and allow a pet – per their approval of each pet – without paying any extra on rent. Sometimes they will limit you by breeds and types – one of my previous landlords had no issues with dogs, but was allergic to cats and didn’t allow them – but this changes from landlord to landlord.
6. Roommates – how many and who with?
Mastering the art – yes, art – of picking the correct roommate(s) is almost more difficult than finding the right boyfriend or girlfriend. There can always be exceptions, but when heading into a lease with someone else you must prepare for the fact that no one is going anywhere until that lease is up, so you better make sure you’re happy with who and how many you pick.
Honestly, having no roommates is one of my favorite scenarios, because it can allow more room for “error.” for example, if you think you’ll love life in your new 2 bedroom apartment without roommates and end up hating it, you can always ask a friend or post an ad for someone to move into your spare room. This isn’t always an option, but it’s within the realm of possibilities. You also don’t have to worry about coping with pet peeves, fighting over organization, or deciding who should take which responsibilities. It’s a simpler life.
On the other side of that, you will definitely need to shell out more money if you’re living alone, and if you spend a lot of time at home, you might find yourself quite lonely when there’s no one to converse with in the apartment.
This is perhaps the most common and sensible way to do it. Moving into your first apartment with one roommate can really make life easier. You cut down on cost and choose one good friend you think you’ll mesh well with. With only two people in the house, there is less possibility of plans clashing, as you only have one other person’s plans to work around when it comes to inviting friends over, having parties, using the TV, showering, etc.
With two+ roommates – 3 or more people in total – you’re treading into party house territory. The great thing about having more friends to contribute is that you can often chip in on an amazing house and still manage to pay less rent individually than if you lived with just one roommate or alone.
The potential downsides here are 1) with more people you have more issues with interest and who’s using what when (watching TV, showering, etc) and 2) since you have at least three people bringing their groups of friends over to hang out, your house will often turn into the hang out house in every capacity whether you want it to or not.
Having the hangout house is lots of fun and can often pay off in the form of always having someone to talk to and always having free, left over alcohol (if you’re into that). If this isn’t your cup of tea, then you need to either stay away from having more than one roommate, or choose your roommates very wisely. Also, make sure the house has at least 2 bathrooms. Can’t really stress that enough.
7. Utilities – who pays and how much?
Utilities are one of the most overlooked aspects when new tenants are searching for their first rental. Most rental guides will mention it, but sometimes the landlords won’t. Even worse, utility costs are arguably in the top ten moving considerations, if not top five. If you’re living alone, then considering who will pay the bills won’t really matter so much as cost will. If you’re living with roommates, the opposite is true.
There are 5 major utilities you should calculate roughly when sizing up the overall costs of living at an individual location:
- City (water, sewage, trash)
- Cable/satellite (TV)
Being equipped for TV isn’t necessarily an interest to everyone, but it’s worth considering. As for the first four, these can be real kickers depending on the season – especially gas and electricity.
When working out the basic costs, consider that electricity will be high in the summer for AC and gas will be high in the winter for heating. Ask your landlord for estimates from past bills in each season. Once you have the total cost, split it up between however many people are going to live with you and consider it as part of the price of rent.
You only need to worry about this if you’re going to have roommates. That said, if you are going to have roommates, you’ll need to put serious thought into this by considering the following:
- Who will have the bills in their name?
- How trustworthy are your prospective roommates with money?
- Can you afford to cover utilities for a month if someone drops the ball and doesn’t have the money?
Some people choose to split the bills so each roommate pays one of the bills and thus everybody is responsible for paying something. The issue with this is that, since different utilities rarely match up in price, someone always pays more and then you have to figure out who owes who what. Some people remedy this by alternating who pays the bills each month. This can work well with 2 roommates, but gets risky with any more than that.
I’ve found that the best way to manage utilities is to have the utilities in one person’s name and setting up rules so that utility money is as important as rent in everybody’s mind. Then one person can add up the bills each month, divide the total by however many roommates, and everybody pays the same thing to the bill manager. The caveat here is, if you choose to manage the bills, you need to make sure your roommates will follow through on their end each month and not screw you over.
Personally, I like being in control, so I always manage the utilities and make sure that my roommates pay me at least 2 business days in advance of when the first bill is due. This allows everything to clear in my bank account so that I can pay all of the bills at the same time.
8. Landlord – management or individual, and will you get along?
Picking a landlord is difficult, mostly because the choice often comes down to picking the right home or picking the right landlord. They rarely come together. Even more than that, you can’t always predict a landlord’s tendencies and usefulness until you’ve lived under their roof for a few months. Despite this, you should always do your best to know what you’re getting into with the landlord you choose.
With apartments managed by companies, it’s harder to really tell what you’re going to get. The best way to determine what they will be like is to look up reviews on Google or rental sites to see what other tenants have had to say about the handyman, the management, and the general upkeep of the grounds. Renting your first apartment under terrible management could be a big step in the wrong direction. This step is vital for apartment and complex shopping.
More often than not, your best bet is an individual landlord; you will commonly encounter this when searching houses, duplexes, and sometimes condos. Unlike apartments, the landlord is almost always the person giving you a tour of the place. You should use this as an opportunity to really feel out their personality, maturity (yes, maturity) and willingness to help you out as a good landlord always will. If you can build a relationship (albeit a distant one) with your landlord, your life will be 10 times easier, so try to make sure that you get along well.
9. Building level – low floor or high floor?
This is mostly a matter of preference, but there are some minor inconveniences with each option that are worth weighing into your decision.
Low floors are great if you have lots of furniture – or big furniture – that will prove difficult to move via stairs or elevator. That’s moving tips 101 for you. If you tend to make less trips to the grocery store and come back with a lot at once, the first floor will prove useful. Also, you will have no one below you, so you’re less likely to bother other tenants with floor noise. Lastly, high floors are valued higher than low floors, so you will likely pay less on a low floor. Unfortunately, you will have a bigger possibility of having to deal with pests on the lower floors due to the proximity to the ground, but this isn’t always an issue depending on the area and the quality of construction.
High floors are always prized for their views, but you must remember that not all apartments will have great views, so take this with a grain of salt. Since you will have people on all sides of you, noise is more of a concern. On the other hand, you’ll never experience as much traffic as on the first floor. This is nice for a few reasons, including less potential for break-ins and less hallway noise. As mentioned before, high floors are typically more expensive, but the difference won’t always be too noticeable, so take it on a case by case basis.
As a side note, I personally love high floors, but that never made it onto my first apartment checklist – I lived in a basement the first time I moved. It’s not always going to be glamorous!
10. Lease term – 6 month, 12 month, or month to month?
Lease terms come in many different variations, but the most common are 6 month and 12 month. It’s not typically until one lease is completed that paying month to month becomes an option. Each apartment may vary on their terms, but rule of thumb is the shorter the agreement, the more costly.
With short term leases, the landlord and the tenant each have the right to end the agreement a lot sooner, be it at the end of every month, or at the end of every 3-6 6 months, etc. The biggest reason to choose a shorter lease is if you know you’re going to be moving somewhere else soon but need somewhere to stay until that point. It’s more of a transition point option and, for the sake of price, it should probably be avoided unless you know you want to end up somewhere else in a few months.
Long term leases are typically a minimum of 1 year, but can go up to 2 years. Besides the benefit of possibly being cheaper, there are also other perks that can accompany long term leases. Namely, at the end of your first lease, if you want to continue living there you can often resign your lease with a special discounted rate. Alternatively, if you don’t want to continue living there for long, you have the option of continuing month to month until you know exactly what you want to do.
A bit less common than the first two, subleasing comes up when someone rents out an apartment they are currently renting themselves due to traveling often or needing to leave before their own lease is up. The only benefit here is that you can sometimes get a better price and a shorter lease period, but it’s not necessarily something to pursue if you don’t absolutely love the place.
11. Storage space – closets, cabinets, basement, garage?
Storage space is another important aspect that is often overlooked, and also another reason as to why square footage isn’t the end-all be-all when considering apartment size. You may be between two homes with similar square footage – one that seems bigger and one that seems smaller – and realize that the difference in “size” is actually the result of how many storage areas are built in.
This matters because any storage space that isn’t built into the home will need to be made up for with furniture, which isn’t always as space efficient or clean-looking as built in closets, cabinets and drawers. When considering storage space you should be looking for coverage over two areas – indoor and outdoor storage.
This type of storage comes in the form of closets, cabinets, recessed drawers, and other structures such as cubby spaces. Consider that while most homes come with some form of closet space, some don’t, and sometimes they do but they aren’t at all big enough. When estimating how much storage space you need, take the following locations into account and be sure to check for them:
- Bedroom closet space – is there room for all of your clothes?
- Kitchen cabinet space – is there room for dishes and appliances?
- Coat/cleaning and closets – is there space to store coats and cleaning goods?
- Bathroom cabinets – is there space for towels and toiletries?
- Pantry – is there space for food storage?
Outdoor storage manifests through garages, crawl spaces, and sometimes even dedicated storage units. This is perhaps less important a consideration than indoor storage and is often considered a bonus if anything, but still worth looking into if you have a habit of savings boxes or anything else that you don’t need immediate access to.
12. Time period – is it outdated, renovated… or brand spankin’ new?
Old or new, it’s a question that’s often asked for the wrong reasons. You might think it’s exciting to move into an old antique home or vintage apartment, but you must consider the extra care and issues this will bring. Below are some things to consider if you have some older homes on your list, in order of each type: Outdated, Renovated, or New.
Lot’s of people enjoy purchasing older houses and apartments for the joy of fixing them up. For the same reasons they enjoy doing that, you’ll probably want to steer clear of older locations as your first place, say 50 years or older without renovations or proper maintenance. Here are a few things that can commonly cause issues in older homes if you don’t have the time or money to fix them:
- Poorly sealed – it means your air gets out and the pests get in. Not fun in either case.
- Outdated utilities – if an old home hasn’t been updated or maintained, you may have issues with temperature control as well as what type of internet service you’re eligible for.
- Weak floors – this is more of an issue in stacked apartments, as any type of movement becomes very loud and obnoxious.
- Plaster walls – most places built before the 1950s used something called plaster walls, which if you don’t know anything about, they are about 8x more annoying to trying and hang things from for a few reasons.
If you dig the classic styles of older domestic architecture but don’t want to deal with the issues above, renovated can be the way to go. Depending on the quality and style of the renovations, this can even end up saving you money compared to a brand new apartment or house. If you are in a large city and live in a high rise, there’s a pretty good chance it will be an older building that was renovated at one point.
Otherwise, living in a renovated house out in the suburbs or even on the edge of cities can be great fun. Some areas near Chicago are know for the old multistory homes that have been renovated, updated and turned into apartments, sometimes separated by floor.
Another benefit of living in a renovated house or apartment is that the appliances and amenities are almost always updated along with the space, which can be a big plus for some people.
Depending on where you are looking to live, there are typically a whole lot of new apartment buildings and neighborhoods being built. As a first time renter, you almost definitely won’t be looking into newer neighborhoods, but you will be looking at new apartment buildings.
The benefits of brand new living environments is that you don’t have to worry as much about outdated utilities or weakening construction. What you will have to worry about is price and a waiting list. Since brand new apartments are often much nicer, cleaner and more technologically advanced, they have a higher popularity level as well as a higher asking price.
13. Decorating – are there rules, and how much can you alter?
Are you one to adorn your walls and halls with posters, pictures and TVs? You may want to place some importance on this one. Many landlords have restrictions on what’s done on and with your walls, so a wise question to ask each landlord would be what you can and can’t do.
Some landlords will allow you to do anything, even paint if you so desire, just as long as you patch up any holes and repaint back to the original color when your lease ends and you leave. The caveat with the painting, of course, is that you often have to paint it back. Patching up holes is no big deal though.
Other landlords, depending on the venue, won’t even like the idea of nails, and may want to be involved in the mounting of anything large such as shelves or a TV. This extreme is less prevalent, but you’ll typically run into a combination of the two. Every landlord is picky about something – you just have to find out what that something is and make sure you can live with that.
14. Lighting – how many windows and how many lights?
Remember how I said earlier that there’s much more to determining the size and aura of an apartment than square footage? Lighting – both natural and artificial – has a large effect on that. When you’re considering the effects lighting may have on your lifestyle, you’ll want to consider a few things.
The best form of light for many reasons. Many people appreciate living in darkness, but if that’s not you, then natural light is the best solution. When making your assessments, you’ll first want to see how many windows there are per room, and more importantly, how many windows you’d feel comfortable actually leaving uncovered. If you’re in a sketchy neighborhood, ground level, it’s probably best to not make your possessions and presence (or lack thereof) known to outsiders.
Next step is to determine where the sun rises and sets relative to the windows you have. Of course, you can always cover the windows you need to cover, but it’s helpful to know if the sun is going to blind you every morning if you leave your drapes open at night.
The next form of lighting to consider is typically overhead lighting. This is important particularly in older homes, as overhead lighting is typically less common the older the house is.
The thing to keep in mind here is that any rooms that don’t have adequate overhead lighting will have to be lit by floor lighting or lamps when the sun goes down. Many people are perfectly fine with this – I personally prefer the ambiance of a lamp-lit room in the evening – but if your nighty activities require better lighting than a loop, overhead lighting is something to keep in mind.
15. Floors – carpeted or non-carpeted?
This is a consideration that will for the most part be preference based – that is, unless you have a pet. Below are some pros and cons of each option.
The go to for many, carpeted apartments will be what you encounter most often (except in the kitchen, naturally). Carpeting is wonderful for many reasons – it’s nice and soft, comfy to walk or sit on, and it muffles noise. If you don’t have a pet and are undecided, then carpeting is a safe bet.
Hardwood, tile, cement
These options can sometimes cater towards more specific looks and preferences, though they can be appropriate for almost any lifestyle. They are stylish and practical. Minimal yet adaptable. Another nice feature with non carpeted floors is that, if you want carpet in any specific areas, all you need to do is put a rug there. In this way, non-carpeted floors are very versatile.
There’s one more thing to be highlighted about these type of floors, and it’s that they are much easier to clean. This is particularly important with pets. There is of course nothing wrong owning a pet in a fully carpeted apartment, but you must be prepared with the proper cleaning equipment in case your furry friend ever leaves you with a stinky mess.
16. Outdoor space – is there a yard/porch or are you boxed in?
Yard space or outdoor space can vary depending on the type of home you are looking at. Sometimes having a personal outdoor area isn’t important to you, but having a park nearby might be. Consider these options.
Many complexes and nice high-rise condos with have a personal porch or patio, the size of which can vary. This won’t do much for a pet, but if you have a grill you’d like to use or just like a place outside to sit and smoke, this could be a valuable option to weigh into your consideration.
Courtyard or shared commons
Unless you’re in a separated house, as mentioned above, you won’t have a yard to yourself. However, there are many living communities that provide a shared courtyard or grassy common area. If it’s in a suburban area, this is usually an area that is surrounded and enclosed by the apartments themselves. In many ways, this can be better than a personal yard as you don’t need to upkeep it (that’s management’s job) and you can use it in almost the same way. Another benefit is that you have the opportunity to mingle with fellow residents there.
The downsides of a shared space are that you have less privacy and you don’t [necessarily] have the opportunity to use a grill or have a cookout if that’s your thing
Personal yard or no yard
If you’re getting a house, in most cases you will have either a front or back yard. Whether you have to take care of it is up to the landlord, and something you should look into. In any case, you will almost definitely benefit with extra privacy and the ability to grill, or even let your pet run freely if it’s fenced in.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll live with no porch or yard area, private or otherwise. If this is the case, the next best option would be to check for any nearby parks. This isn’t a necessity, but it is recommended.
17. Travel distance – walk, drive, or public transportation?
Whether you’re looking at urban or suburban options, it’s possible to encounter all ends of the spectrum here. The question is more a matter of the type of lifestyle you’d like to live than anything else.
Walking, biking & public transportation
If you’re into this type of life – many people are – then you may want to prepare yourself for a bit more research. The areas that accommodate this type of life are often more expensive, so you may need to do some searching to find the right price.
Within the city, public transportation and walking may be the ideal scenario, but depending on the city, it may not be – not all cities have good public transportation, and some cities are spread out to the point where walking is possible but not always safe or efficient. Keep this in mind.
College towns, or areas inhabited mostly by younger people, are perfect examples of a suburban living environments where you can walk to almost everything. If the city you were looking at doesn’t offer the best transportation or walking options, then this is the way to go when it comes to suburbs.
For some people, walking or taking the train isn’t appealing. Maybe you just have a lot of places to be and public transportation can’t get you to everywhere you need to go or isn’t quick enough. Either way, you will have a lot less trouble finding a home that is more geared towards personal transportation via car if that’s what you desire. The only thing here is that you may want to stay away from city living this way, as some bigger cities just aren’t as car friendly for those who live within it.
18. Proximity – how close are you to home, and how close do you want to be?
Some people are set on getting as far away from home as possible. Some aren’t. This is something you need to work out with yourself, but keep in mind a few things no matter what your initial preference is. This is probably in the top 5 first apartment tips that get overlooked.
Staying close to home
The overarching benefit here is the extra support you can and likely will receive from your parents. If you’re close to home, staying in state, you can continue to visit home as often as you’d like. Whether you go for the company, the laundry room, or the free food, there’s almost always some form of benefit. Your parents will almost definitely appreciate you visiting and you can stay close, which is wonderful for those who spend lots of time with their family.
Moving far away
On the other hand, maybe staying close to home isn’t the type of life you’d like to live. Many people moving out for the first time take it as an opportunity to really become independent. It’s an exciting and brand new experience that can allow you to shape your life exactly how you want it shaped.
One thing to keep in mind here is that, the farther you move away, the harder it may be to visit home from time to time if you work a job or go to school full time. This may not matter to you, but it’s worth considering that you may become homesick every once in a while. Maybe you won’t. But many people do. In any case, moving far away is possibly the fastest track to full independence and can provide you with a lot of new and exciting experiences, so if you think you can handle it, it’s definitely worth it.
19. Furniture – fresh start, or keep what you have?
I’ll start this section by saying that I take moving as an opportunity to buy and/or make all new furniture to fit my new habitat. This is perhaps the funnest and most interesting way of doing things, but it’s also a lot more expensive – that is, if you don’t do it correctly. We’ll go over some of the things to consider whether you want to keep your current furniture, or buy all new pieces.
Keep what you have
Perhaps the most logical option here would be keeping what you have. It’s cost effective and means less change to deal with. In some ways, it’s less to think about and it helps you start off on the right foot with at least a partially furnished bedroom or apartment in whole, depending on how much furniture you already have.
On the other hand, keeping what you have means a lot more that you are required to actually move. Given the price of paid movers, you’re almost definitely going to be moving things yourself with maybe a few friends, so consider what’s worth keeping and what isn’t.
Something that most people don’t consider is door width and accessibility. That’s right. If you plan on moving already constructed furniture into your new place, you’d best make sure it’s going to fit through the door, hall, or wherever you need it to fit through. You should also make sure that the furniture you want to keep will have a good place to live within your home. Not all furniture is suited for all living environments, and if you’re not careful, you may realize that your furniture is really out of place.
This is, in my opinion, the funnest way to do things. Each living space is unique, and if you’re going to spend a lot of time there, then it makes sense to buy furniture that fits the space in both size and style. If you’re starting fresh, it allows you to perfectly scalp the space and feel to create the living experience you desire.
The most common downside to this option would of course be cost. If you’re buying all new furniture – a very expensive thing to shop for – then you could easily shell out a few paychecks worth if you’re not careful. The best way to avoid overspending if you choose to buy all new furniture is to first sell the furniture you already have. This will give you a good base to fund your shopping.
Another thing that will help is shopping not just for band new furniture, but also for used and antique furniture. Craigslist and stores such as Goodwill can sometimes surprise you with the selection and prices you’ll find. If you’re in the western region of the U.S., particularly anywhere around Utah or Idaho, check KSL as you will be blown away with what you find.
20. Socially acceptable – will your social habits be accommodated?
If you’re a party animal with a constant flow of guests, or a study bug who prefers their peace and quiet, you’ll want to be sure where you’re looking will accommodate your social habits just the same. After all, there’s nothing worse than your daily habits being interrupted by disagreeable neighbors. We’ll consider this the college apartment checklist portion of the post.
Consider the type of community you’re in
Something to consider here would be the age range of the people that live in the area, as well as the typical type of community the area attracts. You will never be able to choose your neighbors, but you might be able to predict their lifestyle if you know the type of community it is.
Consider the type of home you’re in
Another thing that comes into play is the style of home, as mentioned briefly in the section above on home styles. If you’re living in a separated house within a suburban neighborhood, you’re less likely to run into trouble when having parties, and also more likely to have a consistently quiet environment due to not sharing any walls or floors with your neighbors.
Alternatively, if you live in a high-rise condo within the city, you’re less likely to encounter noise issues from neighbors (who will more than likely be established adults), and conversely more likely to run into neighbor complaints if you tend to host a loud group of friends often.
21. Miscellaneous considerations
There are many smaller things to consider when choosing a new home, be it your first or your fifth. We’ll cover a few here.
Yup! If you’ve never considering how reliant you are on power outlets, this would be a good time to start thinking about it. Otherwise, if you end up in an apartment without the right amount of outlets, you’re bound to run into issues. Whether than means shorting out circuits by stacking too many power strips, or simply having to eliminate some of the objects you typically have to plug in to use, you’ll feel it.
This one may be more difficult to check for, but it’s a lot more important than checking for outlets. Included in your areas to either check yourself or ask about would be the windows, the molding along the floors, and the attic or crawlspace if there is one. This is particularly important (and almost necessary) if you’re looking at older locations.
Now, all that’s left is making the final decision!
At this point, you should have more than enough considerations bouncing around in your head to help you make the right decision when moving out. Moving out for the first time can be quite a process, and if you’re not careful, you might end up missing something.
My hope is that, now that you’ve made it through the post, making the right decision will be that much easier. If you’re about to move into your first apartment, I wish you the best of luck with your moving endeavors. Have fun, and be sure to check out some of our other posts before you leave!