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5 apartment hunting tips that’ll save you a whole lot of headaches

No matter your age, going out on your own to rent your first apartment is a major step. If you’ve never done it before, how do you know what to look for? It may come as a surprise, but there are tons of things to consider other than the usual question of “do I have enough space?”

In order to make this huge lifestep go a little smoother, we’ve put together some tips for first-time apartment searchers.

Check your commute

One of the most important questions for anyone who doesn’t work from home: How long is my commute? To figure it out, start with an app, like Google maps or Waze. To make sure you’ve got a good estimate of door to door travel time, the best advice would be to go on a practice run before you decide on an apartment.

If you’re taking public transportation, check the walking distance from the apartment to the nearest stop. Time how long it will take you to get there and check out the lay of the land. Your app might tell you that the stop is only a 5-minute walk, but what if it’s a 5-minute walk up a huge hill? Most likely, that might change your timing a bit.

Own a car? Be sure to ask about parking details like whether you have your own parking spot and if there’s a fee.

Lastly, take the time one day to check out the traffic patterns during the hours you’ll be driving to and from work. Your app might estimate a 20-minute drive, but if that turns into an hour drive during rush hour, you might not find that apartment so appealing anymore.

Test out the utilities

Have you ever snuggled into your couch in front of your TV only to realize you have to get up again because there’s no outlet to plug in your phone charger? Or even worse, have you ever left your phone charging overnight only to realize the outlet didn’t work at all? Both frustrating situations and both totally avoidable.

Take that charger you carry with you everywhere and test the outlets at every apartment you visit. Also take note of their locations. If your living room or bedroom only has one outlet, is that enough? Another tip: Run the faucets and shower and flush the toilet to make sure there’s sufficient water pressure.

Research your landlord or leasing company

Dealing with your landlord or leasing company may become a huge part of your life. The last thing you want to do is tie yourself to a lease with an unresponsive landlord. After all, they’re responsible for keeping your apartment and building up to living standards. If they don’t cooperate, you may even end up in an ugly legal battle attempting to break your lease.

So before you sign on the dotted line, do a little digging. If you live in New York City, use Rentlogic to see if your building had any violations or complaints filed against it. A simple online search may also give you the clarity you need. I once found my leasing company on Yelp with a one-star rating and nothing but negative reviews. Needless to say, that search should’ve happened before I agreed to rent from them.

Sign a roommate agreement

In an ideal world, you and your roommates would get along like one big happy family. But we all know how unlikely that is. No matter how well it might start out, there’s a good chance you’ll run into disagreements down the road – whether they be over the cable bill, the litter box or whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. So why not get that awkward conversation out of the way before you sign a lease with anyone else?

There are plenty of sites where you can get generic roommate agreements but there are also some where you can customize it to your needs. Sit down with your roomie(s) and talk about everything from guests to cleaning rules. Even though everyone involved might also be signing a lease with your landlord, it’s wise to reiterate those costs on your roommate agreement along with additional costs for things like utilities and cable.

Although a judge won’t be able to force your roommate to clean the bathroom this week, they would get involved to enforce financial agreements you both signed.

Negotiate your rent

It might seem like you have no leverage to negotiate rent on your first apartment, but you do. The more prepared you are, the better. Landlords take note of that and it’s in their best interest to get that vacancy filled as soon as possible. So once you decide on where you want to live, have your paperwork in order and present your case.

Before you begin your negotiations, make sure to look up the average rent in your area to get an idea of what you should be asking for. Highlight your steady employment history, good credit and if you want, offer to sign a two-year lease instead of one. Many landlords are willing to knock off a few bucks so they don’t have to work on filling that vacancy next year. If there’s a broker’s fee, ask if it can be waived.

Also, no matter how much you love the apartment you’re visiting, do not get pressured into signing a lease (especially if it’s your first time there). Not only should you try to visit at least two more places, but you should also come back to your favorite apartment for a second look.

Read more:

Renters can take back control with this new Yelp for landlords in NYC

Would you pay $2,900 for 300 square feet? We tested out NYC’s first micro-apartments.

Home improvements that cost less than $100 from HGTV’s ‘Cousins on Call’