Moving, Tips & Tricks

Apartment Hunting 101: Actually Helpful Tips & A Checklist of Everything You Need

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It’s often said that looking for a new apartment is like dating. Whether you’re moving out of state or down the street, finding your dream pad is a process that’s equal parts nerve-wracking and exciting. And just like with dating, you can either fall in love at first sight… or decide to keep your options open.

But with a bit of prep, you’ll find your compatible home in no time at all. Brush up on these helpful apartment hunting tips, print out our apartment hunting checklist, and get ready to fall in love with your new space:  

Know Your Budget Before You Start Apartment Hunting

First thing’s first: Start crunching some numbers to get a feel for your price range. The typical rule of thumb for rent is spending 30% of your income (before taxes). So if you make, say, $30,000 a year, conventional wisdom would be to put down no more than $750 per month on your rent.

This also ties into the 50/30/20 rule, which suggests the following allocation of income:

  • 50% on fixed needs – think rent, utilities, and transportation
  • 30% on daily expenses, such as eating out, shopping, and other miscellaneous habits  
  • 20% on long-term financial goals, e.g., debt and retirement

But if you’re moving within or to a big city, finding housing within a limited price range is anything but easy. You might need to tweak the above formula to find a ratio that works for you. Luckily, urban areas typically offer tons of free or inexpensive events for locals, so your daily expenses might be adjustable. And a budgeting app like Dollarbird or Mint will help you pinpoint unnecessary expenses.

For the first month, you’ll need to factor in a moving budget, too. Use our infographic to estimate your moving costs. By using an affordable moving service like Dolly – which averages $140-$160 per apartment move – you’ll be able to stay under budget without wasting precious free time.  

Either way, definitely settle on budget before you go apartment hunting. Call ahead to check whether utilities exceed your price range, parking is or isn’t included, and any other potential deal breakers. This will prevent you from going to see a place and falling head over lease in love with it – only to have your heart smashed when you realize it’s way past budget.

Find the Best Apartment Hunting Websites in Your Area

Craigslist is a great place to start, but there are plenty of other apartment hunting websites with more user-friendly interfaces. Zumper, HotPads, and PadMapper are all sprawling platforms that pull useful data from various sources. They’re also updated in real time, so you don’t get your hopes up for a place that’s no longer on the market.

No matter which site you choose, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to stay on top of listings. Housing gems go quickly – so to get the most out of these sites when apartment hunting, set alert notifications on your phone, check websites your lunch break, or refresh your email often. Do whatever it takes to make sure you won’t miss the place of your dreams.

Last – but far from least – ask around! Hit up your social network, school alumni sites, or colleagues to see if anyone you know has leads on a room or apartment. You might even find a great roommate this way, too.

Start a Spreadsheet to Keep Track of Your Apartment Hunting Adventure

Embrace your inner Excel whiz with a master spreadsheet of all the places you’ve found online. Include columns for things like “Price,” “Location,” “Amenities,” “Distance to public transport,” “Nearby Stores,” “Additional Notes,” and a spot indicating whether you’ve called to confirm all listed information is correct.

This will make it easier to decide which places you want to visit, and which to skip.

Keep in Mind a Few Questions to Ask When You’re Apartment Hunting

Once you’re ready to visit all the sites that met your apartment hunting criteria – price range, location, accessibility, etc. – print or type up a list of questions to ask the broker or landlord while you’re on your hunt.

You’ll likely need to customize your list based on your needs, but some good starting questions are:

  • What are the lease terms? Is it month-to-month, six months, annual, biannual?
  • What are the income requirements? (Some apartments require up to 4 times the annual rent.) And are guarantors allowed to co-sign if you don’t meet the requirements?
  • Are utilities included? If not, what’s the average monthly cost of utilities? Are they flat-rate, per unit, or split equally through the building?
  • Is there storage space in the building or unit? Does it cost extra?
  • Is there laundry in unit? If not, does the laundry facilities in the building only take quarters?
  • Are pets allowed? If so, is there an additional charge?
  • Do you have a strict guest policy?
  • Do you require renters’ insurance?
  • Are there any moving-day restrictions I should be aware of? Can I reserve the elevator or freight entrance for move-in and move-out?
  • Can I make permanent or temporary changes to the apartment design?

Bonus: Here’s a list of ten questions to ask when you’re renting a city apartment.

Additional Tips for the Day-Of Apartment Hunting

We love this tip from a Reddit apartment hunting thread: “Make it a buyer’s market.” How? By giving yourself adequate time to choose your new place selectively. Grant yourself permission to walk away if you don’t think you’re getting a good enough deal, and don’t be afraid to straight up ask for a discount (Reddit recommends requesting 25%). After all, the worst that the landlord can say is no.

Designate a day or weekend exclusively for apartment hunting, and schedule as many as possible for that timeframe. And come prepared, using our apartment hunting checklist below.

And one final tip: This may sound obvious, but if you love a place, say so! Being vocal to the landlord affirms your interest, and will keep you top of mind as an enthusiastic tenant.

Checklist for Everything You Need When Apartment Hunting

Found your dream apartment? Be ready to sign the lease on the spot. Here’s a list of everything you should bring with you when apartment hunting, so you can land your new home ASAP:  

  • Recent pay stubs, W-2, or a dated bank statement (or bring all three in case the landlord prefers one over the other)
  • Government-issued photo ID (driver’s license, passport)
  • Rental history (if you don’t have a rental history yet, that’s okay. Here’s how to crush your first-ever apartment move.)
  • Letters of recommendation from a previous landlord, or contact information from a professional reference
  • Social security number, which landlords use to run credit checks. Memorize your SSN if you haven’t already.  
  • Your checkbook or cash, in case you need to fill out an application form with a fee (generally $50-$100)

Once you’ve found your dream apartment, the hard part is over. Time to sit back and relax as Dolly helps you settle in. We’ll deliver your must-have armoire straight from the store to your new door, and even donate any musty old couches that didn’t make the cut in your spiffy new home. You’ve found your dream apartment, now schedule your dream movers with Dolly today.

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