A Rent to Own Guide

First Time Renters Reminders

Moving into your first apartment is among the most exciting experiences of your life. The independence, the sense of your own space . . . it's all wonderful. With this in mind, making sure you are organized and prepared ahead of time will help stave off something that happens all too often to first time renters: the terrible first apartment experience. From slum lords to overwhelming monthly rent, moving into the wrong apartment can make the whole experience a nightmare (and one that you're contractually obliged to live with for a year at least). Where do you start? This quick and easy go-to guide will make sure you're on the right level for your first rental.

#1. Budget straight. Make sure you have a solid understanding of what you can comfortably afford. And don't use the maximum you can afford as your baseline: you should anticipate monthly utility costs and give yourself an adequate cushion in the case of unexpected hardship. Living on your own becomes exponentially more stressful when coming up with your rent is a struggle.

#2. Prioritize amenities. What really matters to you in the long run? Coming out of the comfort of home can make decisions like this seem odd to make, seeing as how you are accustomed to a certain setup, size, structure–and often all the amenities you need. Ask yourself whether size is more important, or a specific type of flooring. Do you need covered parking, walk in closets, a newer shower? Chances are you will need to sacrifice a few comforts . . . think long and hard about which ones you're cool with losing.

#3. See the place first. Do not sign a lease on an apartment before you step foot in it. I feel as though I should repeat this several times. If you are unable to go and look at the apartment yourself, see about having a trusted friend or family member go check it out for you. You will want to inspect the structure, check for signs of infestation, and make sure the neighborhood isn't being mischaracterized by the ad. See the place first.

#4. Research neighborhood. Neighborhoods are dynamic environments, often changing dramatically from street to street. Getting an apartment under the umbrella of a great neighborhood name doesn't necessitate you moving onto a good street. When you check out the apartment, be sure to return at night and get a feel for things. Read up on things such as local blogs, weeklies, and crime reports to make sure you hip new hood is up to snuff.

#5. Moving sucks, think long term. Something you learn the more apartments you live in: moving is a terrible, terrible process. From apartment hunting–fun now, on your first run, but nevermore–and actually packing and moving, getting a new apartment is a mix of stress and labor. Don't go into an apartment with a one-year-and-out strategy . . . find a place you can stick with for a couple years. This is especially true in areas where rents are rising fast if rent control is available.

#6. Read and understand lease. That piece of paper is everything legal between your landlord and you for the next year. Navigating your lease can be a minefield, rife with clauses and terms that can cost you money in the long term. Thoroughly read through your lease with informed family members, and if you have any questions feel free to contact a professional. A loaded lease can thoroughly complicate your living situation in the drop of a hat.

#7. Utilities–who pays? When you're reading your lease, pay special attention to the section on who pays utilities. Some landlords will offer to pay for a portion of the utilities–often water and/or sanitation costs–whereas others will not. These costs can mount up quickly and cut into your budget. Keep an eye out for gas, water, electricity, internet, sanitation, gardening, and any other costs that may crop up.

#8. Oh, get them turned on too. Once you sign a lease and have a move-in date, contact all your utilities and schedule time for them to be turned on. As charming as eating pizza on the living room floor surrounded by boxes is the first night you move in, it quickly gets old. Especially when your internet isn't hooked up and there's no netflix escape hatch. Be prepared!

#9. Renter's insurance. A lot of people skip out on renters insurance, but I can't quite say why. Renter's insurance covers your property in the event of an accident or robbery. It's generally inexpensive and many auto insurance providers will give you a good deal along with your car coverage. In the small likelihood that your home burns down or gets robbed blind, it's nice knowing that you have support as you start over.

#10. Nothing but the kitchen sink. Prepare before you move so you don't find yourself constantly in search of items you don't have. Get your pots, pans, plates, tea kettle, and shelves all set before you move in. Save yourself several dozen trips to Target in the coming months by creating a what-I-need-list and following through. Often, you can get a little financial help from parents or family getting these things before you move, which can prove more difficult when you're on your own and learning things the hard way.

Walking into your first apartment with everything ready to go is a great feeling. Over the course of the next several months there will likely be some bumps along the road as you discover what living on your own is like. Getting a jump on things ahead of time can make all the difference in successfully transitioning into your new home and your new life.