Nothing beats the sensation of holding the keys to your first apartment outside of college. Whether it’s a pad shared with friends or a solo studio, the opportunity to carve out your own personal space in a city is empowering.
While it can be incredibly exciting to immediately start a new Pinterest board for decor inspiration and peruse Amazon or Wayfair for the latest furniture pieces, there are a few things that are important to consider before you make a selection on your home and sign a lease commitment. This major life milestone requires several important considerations before you take the plunge. Let’s dive in!
ASSESS YOUR TIMELINE AND REASON FOR MOVING
Now before we get into the actual apartment discussion, assess if moving to a new place right now is the right decision. Maybe you just graduated and can’t wait to spend the summer with your friends in the city. Or maybe you just changed jobs and would like to live closer to your new employer.
While these are both valid reasons, assess if moving right now would make the most sense. If possible, and if you’re lucky to have the option, living at home for a certain period of time is a huge luxury. If you are able to live rent free or at a lower cost, you can use this time to make expedited payments on student loans, build up a robust emergency fund, or establish your investment contributions before you add in additional financial responsibilities, like rent and utilities. You will never regret saving too much and it’s extremely easy to get caught in lifestyle creep once you move.
Personally, I lived at home from May-December and I was able to make large payments on my student debt. However, I did not use this time to set up an emergency fund. Looking back, I wish I had lived at home for a while longer to set up certain financial nets for myself. Future me would’ve truly appreciated it.
PRIORITIZE YOUR ESSENTIAL AND EXCEPTIONAL APARTMENT QUALITIES
Okay, so you’re ready. You’ve assessed the situation, and yes, you want to move to your first apartment shortly. What’s important to you? Are you looking to keep costs down? Is public transportation important or do you typically work remote? Sit down and genuinely make a list of what you would consider as your essential and as your exceptional priorities. Essential are the bare minimum things your apartment must have. As someone who hates doing dishes and works from home frequently, my essentials include a dishwasher and loads of natural light. My exceptional qualities include a marble fireplace, winding staircase, and charming doorman. Realistically speaking, it also included a park nearby, ample storage space, and a good neighborhood. Doing this exercise will allow you to have more direction in your apartment search and lead to apartment visits that are closely catered to what you’re actually looking for.
For me, my first apartment out of college was in a great area with two additional roommates (three if you count my roommate’s adorable pug, Kona!) and a whopping sticker price of $525 for the room. While it lacked a polished look, updated appliances, or in-unit laundry, (honestly, the laundry room was in an unfinished basement that looked like an abandoned horse stable and was completely scary to go in alone,) I prioritized a space that would be in a great location and a great price to comfortably pay off a large chunk of my student loans.
It worked! Having such an affordable initial rent cost, while sacrificing my exceptional priorities, allowed me to make large sum payments monthly to bring my overall student loan debt down.
BUILD A BUDGET AND TRY TO STICK TO IT
Which brings us to our next point. It may seem obvious, but defining an initial budget is critical. Do you have a steady income? If so, establish two price ranges. One is your ideal budget and one as your exceptional budget.
Why define two budgets? Well, as we discussed earlier, you may have several priorities that are important for you. This could be essential factors, such as easy to find parking, central location, public transportation proximity, etc. However, you also could have your exceptional factors, things that make you swoon when you walk into a space. This could be an added outdoor space, natural light, a designated workspace, or a more upgraded kitchen. I have lived in both my ideal budget and exceptional budget apartments and I’m glad that I had flexibility with my range, so that I found what fit my needs at the time.
The goal here is to truly define a number of what you would ideally like to pay to meet your essential priorities and a maximum number of what you would pay if the unit had your exceptional priorities.
SET A PREFERRED MOVE-IN DATE
Are you flexible? Do you have a set date you’d like to or to move in by? Determine whether you’re required to have a set date or you’re flexible on move-in dates for the right unit. In the Chicago market, I typically like to start my searches one to two months before my expected move-in date or range. This allows me to get a good feel of the market, identify any potential spam listings, negotiate rent prices, and look at a number of units calmly without a looming move-in deadline. It also allows me to determine what the average rent prices are and any other factors that are important to consider. I also enjoy having a flexible move-in timeline because it typically leads to better negotiation tactics with apartment lenders.
MAXIMIZE DIFFERENT RESOURCES
Personally, some of my favorite apartments have come from Craigslist or Facebook. I love to scour these sites, because you’ll typically find sublease options at a lower rent rate or more independent landlords that provide competitive rates on units compared to the big apartment companies listed on Zillow or Apartments.com. Make sure to modify settings or set alerts to notify you when new properties come up, and you’ll always be the first to know when a new spot within your parameters hits the market. Desirable units move fast – so the quicker you are to schedule a showing, the better!