So it’s finally time for you to leave the nest and find your very first apartment.
Congrats! It’s a big decision to make, but the hard work is not over yet. In fact, as you’re probably well aware, it’s only just beginning. And with all the conflicting information out there, it can be tricky to know where to start and what to look for.
Well you’re in luck! We’ve put together this quick and easy guide for apartment hunting newbies.
Here are the 10 things you need to consider:
1. The Neighbourhood
Aside from determining what kind of neighbours you might have, your neighbourhood also determines:
- How long it takes for you to commute to work or school
- How far you have to travel to run errands
- How safe it is to come home late at night
- How much you will get charged to move in new furniture/your belongings (oftentimes the further out of a city core you move, the more expensive it becomes!)
Factoring your neighbourhood into your decision will allow you to ask if you can tolerate walking everywhere, or if you will need to budget in monthly transit passes, or even car payments. It’ll also allow you to factor in time costs; how much longer (or shorter!) will it take you to accomplish everyday errands.
Also keep in mind how long you’ll be living at this current location. Are you only living here until the end of school, or are you planning to switch careers soon? If you don’t plan on living there forever, it’s okay to not have a perfect location right away!
2. The Landlord
The landlord is ultimately your first point of contact for all questions – from the first moment you contact them about a posting until the day you move out. Keeping a strong and professional relationship with your landlord can be the difference between a dream apartment and a nightmare.
When you first meet the landlord, ask yourself how you feel about them. In addition, keep in mind that good landlords should always do the following:
- Ask you about your living habits. (Renting a space is like an interview for both parties: you need to be a good tenant and the unit and landlord need to be good enough for you!)
- Ask for proof of income, both before and at the time of signing. (If they’re not asking you, chances are they haven’t been asking other tenants. That can determine other factors; frequent evictions, the type of neighbours you have, etc.)
- Be open to answering your questions promptly and on-time
Remember that the ultimate goal is to establish a good relationship. Be respectful and you can expect the same in return!
3. In-house utilities
The worst-case scenario would be to move into a dream unit… only to discover your shower doesn’t work. (This has happened to me personally.)
When visiting the unit, and before you decide to move-in, be sure to do the following:
- Test all the outlets in the house. We recommend bringing a phone charger and seeing if they all work!
- Test all the faucets in the house, both to make sure water runs, and that you can control the temperature properly
- Turn on the lights. Will you need to buy new lightbulbs before moving in?
- Open all the windows and closets. Does everything open and close smoothly?
- If your unit comes equipped with cabinets, open the cabinets and drawers. While rare, some places do not actually put bottoms into their cabinet drawers; do not fall for this!
Last, but not least, ask about the average cost of utilities per month. Don’t be afraid to ask the previous tenants or the neighbours to get a second estimate.
4. Floor and location of the unit
If you are moving into an apartment, the lower your floor is, the more likely it is for you to encounter bugs and other critters, as well as get disturbances from upstairs. If you are renting out a unit in a house, or the entire house, keep in mind that basements can also have problems with rodents or pests. Ask the landlord about what kind of pest-proofing has been done prior to the move-in.
Another little-known fact is that if another unit in a building is experiencing pipe problems, even if they are above you, the backup often leads to the bottom units. Therefore, someone on the 10th floor having a backed up toilet could lead to you experiencing issues in your unit.
However, the flipside of living on a lower floor is convenience! When moving in furniture, you won’t have to worry about fitting into elevators or stairwells, and everything from carrying groceries home to emergency evacuations becomes much faster and easier.
5. Your belongings
One nightmare you’ll definitely want to avoid is having to throw out any good furniture pieces during move-in, just because they don’t fit. Before moving into any unit, measure the dimensions of the elevator or stairwell (if you’re living on a higher floor), the dimensions of the doorways in your unit, and the dimensions of your furniture and boxes.
For many pieces of furniture, particularly those from IKEA, it is possible to deconstruct your furniture into smaller parts and move them in like that. For older, more vintage pieces, however, you may have to consider donating, selling, or placing them into storage if they won’t fit into your new space.
Furniture isn’t the only thing to worry about, though! If you’re a pet owner, it’s important to check not only if the place you’re moving into allows pets, but if there are associated fees with having them. Some locations will require an upfront fee to have pets at all, while others charge variably depending on how many pets you move in. Others will ban certain types of animals outright, or only certain breeds. Check first!
6. The Weather
Remember how we said to try spending a night in the unit? Try spending a night in the unit when it’s raining, or if it’s particularly windy. You’ll be able to find out if there’s any kind of leaking or drafts by doing this.
The individual night isn’t the only thing to consider though. A popular season to move is the beginning of summer, right as school is ending. This allows landlords to charge more for their units during this time. Conversely, however, if you move in the winter, it’s often much cheaper. See if there’s a way you can negotiate a lower deal with your landlord by moving closer to Christmas.
7. Get a second opinion
If you are moving in with a roommate, you have the benefit of always having a second pair of eyes to review everything. But if you’re moving in on your own, bringing a friend or family member along to viewings can help you point out anything you might miss!
Before moving in, it’s also a good idea to read up reviews online of the place you are moving into. Reviewers can often warn you about red flags ahead of time, like poor building maintenance or pest issues.
8. Be realistic about what you want
A gym, pool, lounge facilities, and a movie theatre might be nice…but how much of them will you realistically use? Each extra amenity drives the price of a unit up.
Before moving in, don’t get distracted by bells and whistles; ask yourself what you absolutely need and what you can compromise on. Does your school or office offer a free or reduced cost gym membership that you could use instead? Is there a laundromat close by that you could walk to, instead of in-building facilities? Can you put your office space into the living room instead of having a unit with an extra room? Do you absolutely need a dishwasher?
Cut excess wherever you can, and you’ll see it reflected in your monthly rent.
9. Read the lease
As dry as it may seem, a lease is a long contract, and you don’t want to sign anything you are not 100% confident in. Make sure to take the time to read it, and ask questions about what you don’t understand. Some units even offer leasing agent services during periods of high move-in traffic; ask them to help you interpret the fine print.
Pay close attention to what the policy is for payments, including late payments. Your pay schedule may not always align exactly with rent payments, so be cognizant of when your bills are due. Also keep in mind that utilities are not always included with rent, so you may need to pay several sets of bills each month.
Also keep in mind what the policy is for modifications: many people like to hang art, install shelves, or repaint their units. Is this something you’re allowed to do?
Last, but not least, figure out what the policy is for moving out. Many places require that you give a month to two months-notice for moving out; you don’t want to keep paying utilities or rent for a place you won’t be living in for an extra month.
10. Go with your gut
At the end of the day, the most important thing is how happy you feel with the place. While it’s important to get advice and second opinions, always go with your gut instinct and whatever makes you feel most comfortable.