Getting the keys to your first place is exciting: but we’d be lying it we said it was easy getting there. Finding an apartment—especially in a city, especially in this economy—is a tall order, and there are plenty of pitfalls to be aware of in the process.
Whether you’re leaving your parents’ house, graduating college, or need to find secure housing in a new city or town, here are a few things to be aware of.
Keys for Cash? Never!
Back in the golden age of Craigslist, you could find scams aplenty offering to send you keys through the mail if you would only, you know, send a fat envelope of cash or a check in return. This might sound too obvious to be an effective scan, but nevertheless it bears repeating: never hand over your cash to someone you haven’t met, and even if you’ve met them, make sure everything is above board. There are plenty of reasons for not wanting to sign a lease, but a lease does serve to protect renters and leaves behind a paper trail that explains that the agreement you made with your landlord is legal and documentable. So always exercise extra caution.
Find Roommates You Can Trust
Let’s face it, it’s kind of impossible for anyone—nevermind someone just starting out in their career—to be able to afford a place bigger than a glorified closet without roommates. Sometimes, the process for choosing roommates is easy: maybe you and a friend are moving to the same city together, or maybe your college roommate wants to stick around while you transition to off-campus housing. Other times, however, finding the right roommates can be a struggle, and we’ve all heard the horror stories. When you’re interviewing people to live with, trust your gut and be sure to ask plenty of questions, even ones that might not seem related. For instance: does your prospective roommate have a stable job or savings? Are they more introverted or extroverted? Do they want a space where they can chill and unwind or more of a fun party atmosphere? Do they have hidden homophobic or transphobic feelings, or even ones that are…not so hidden? Be thorough: you won’t regret it!
Make Sure You Can Actually Afford Rent
The amount you’ll need to secure your first place will vary depending on a few factors. Generally, however, you’ll be asked to pay your first month’s rent plus that same amount as a deposit before you can move in. Some landlords require that you make at least three times the amount of rent in your monthly income, which is 1000% crazy but still somehow the standard. If you don’t have those savings, the best way to bypass this is to ask a parent or another trusted adult to sign as your guarantor. This will ensure that even in the event that you fail to pay rent, your guarantor can technically back you up. Some suggest having at least a few months’ rent (plus a steady job) lined up before you move, but that’s not always possible or realistic, especially if you’re moving to a brand-new town and haven’t even had the chance to interview for jobs yet. Ask a few trusted adults if they’d be comfortable co-signing on your lease, and you should be good to go.
Don’t Visit Apartments Alone
In general, it’s always best to put caution first when you’re visiting prospective living spaces. Even if everything seems legit, you truly just never know what people are about and it never hurts to go apartment-hunting with a friend, future roommate, significant other, or anyone else you know and trust. While you’re viewing each apartment, make sure you ask questions and take pictures: it’s always good to have multiple pairs of eyes on any space you’re looking to move into.
If you’re wondering where to start, here’s a list of essential docs and feature films to watch that will get you broadly up to speed.
After Moving In, Check to Make Sure Everything is Working
Even the ritziest apartments need basic repairs sometimes: usually you’ll be responsible for your utilities, but if you’re noticing that something is off with any of your appliances, from a leaky sink to bad water pressure, it’s good to let your landlord know right away so they can get everything fixed up. Don’t sit on any problems that come up: get them taken care of to avoid bigger problems!
Be Mindful of Taking Up Space
This one is for upwardly-mobile white folks: just because a neighborhood seems more affordable than another doesn’t mean that you should take up space there. As white people, we need to be mindful of how we’re contributing to gentrification. Sure, technically you can live wherever you want, but if you’re noticing a realtor using phrases like “the neighborhood is really coming up” or “in 10 years, you’ll have a Whole Foods” just…you know. Be wary. We all contribute to gentrification in many, many ways, some of which we don’t even realize. But as a rule, just try to stay aware that not all spaces or communities are for you, nor should they be.