Rental Sweet Rental: Five Tips for Finding Your Perfect Pad

Locales     |    June 16th, 2016

The time has come to find a new place to live; Maybe your lease is up, you’re moving for work, tired of your roommate or perhaps just ready for an upgrade. Regardless of the reason, nearly everyone can agree that apartment or house hunting is a stressful and time consuming process.

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As a frequent relocator, I have lived in my fair share of rental apartments, houses and duplexes. I’ve had roommates and lived alone; rented in the city and the suburbs; moved up the street and across the country. With each subsequent move I have found ways to make the entire process easier and quicker for myself. Whether you’re a renting veteran or this is your first time, these five tips will help you find the perfect place to call home.

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Step #1: The “B” Word

The first step is to establish your budget. While most people consider this to be a fairly black and white decision, that is not always the case. Apartment Therapy suggests starting out by setting a rental budget of 25 to 35 percent of your monthly income. This budget model may not be realistic in a competitive and costly market such as New York City, but in most places it is a good financial starting point and leaves room for expenses, savings and even some fun. 

If you live in a city with a plethora of rental options, give yourself a range of pricing. For example, my previous apartment had very low rent allowing me to live well below my means. While this was great at first, I honestly would rather have spent an extra $200 a month to live in an apartment with a few more amenities and a few less neighborhood creeps. Pulling funds from your monthly shopping or entertainment budget can help finance the higher end of your price point scale. By creating a budget range of several hundred dollars you allow yourself a wider pool of options and won’t feel pressured to jump into a substandard apartment.

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Step #2: To Roommate or Not to Roommate

Now to decide whether to go solo or find a roomie. If you know you’re happy living alone, skip to number three. If you’re thinking of finding someone to split the rent, take a few things into consideration. Don’t move in with a significant other simply for the finances. That rarely ends well.  If you’re considering living with someone you already know keep in mind a good friend does not automatically mean a good housemate. Take into account lifestyle (partier, homebody, significant other always over, etc.), cleanliness, plus work and sleep schedules. By finding a roommate whose ‘home’ personality meshes well with yours, you will hopefully avoid disagreements or problems that could have been avoided. 

If you do decide to move in with a friend get ready to have fun, but don’t treat them like your live-in playmate. You each have your own lives, jobs and social circles outside of the household and shouldn’t expect to be included in every aspect of one another’s lives. By making that clear from the very beginning (i.e. before you start looking for a place), you can be certain that time spent together is by choice and not viewed as an obligation.

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Step #3: Wants vs. Needs

Take out a paper and pen and/or open up that Notes app because it’s list making time. Deciding on the ‘wants and needs’ in your next home is a very important step. Consider the basics such as appliances, HVAC and parking as well as windows/light, flooring and on-site amenities. This list can vary from person to person. One person’s ‘want’ may be another’s ‘need.’

For example, I have never considered central heating and air an absolute ‘need.’ Living in California I always had window A/C units for cooling and a radiator/space heater combo for heating. My first year living in Dallas, I found my window units perfectly adequate during the hot summer months. But that winter we had snow, ice and weeks of below freezing temperatures. Even in a small apartment, my three space heaters could not keep the house warm enough for my comfort. I ultimately spent the coldest weeks barricaded in my bedroom with all three space heaters running around the clock. My bedroom became the living, dining and dressing room and having friends over was somewhat awkward. At the time I would have called central heating a ‘want’ but now it is at the top of my ‘needs’ list. Only you know what you need to live comfortably in your home. Take time and care in crafting this list and hopefully you can avoid finding yourself in a miserable scenario like mine.

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Step #4: Location, location, location

It’s time to hit the pavement! Now that you know what you’re looking for, you can start deciding where to look for it. Start with the basics; where your friends live, proximity to work, areas you frequent for the parks, bars, restaurants, shopping, etc. Having a few different areas in mind will give you more to work with and ultimately more rental options. Once you’ve selected a few neighborhoods go explore. Try to get by at different times on different days of the week. Neighbors are more likely to be out and about during the weekends while nightlife will be at its peak on Friday and Saturday evenings. But weekday afternoon visits can also be telling; do most people have 9-5 jobs or is there a variety of people home at different times? By taking a few ‘scouting trips’ you will better understand the area’s activity levels at different times and get a sense for who lives there.

And don’t be quick to judge a neighborhood by its yards, so to speak. Occasionally you’ll love the location of an apartment or house, but find the surrounding buildings older and less pristine than others. By taking a few trips to visit the spot at different times you can get a better feel for whether the neighborhood has promise or is one to avoid. Follow your instincts, take time to research and scout locations and you may be surprised with what you discover. 

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Step #5: Timing is Everything

Finally, you have to consider the timing. This can be easier said than done; You need to start looking early enough that you don’t feel rushed into a poor decision but not so early that you fall in love with four months left on your current lease. Zillow recommends beginning your search 60 days prior to your ideal move-in date. Starting early (but not too early) will give you time to work your way through this list, find a place and give notice at your current home. If you can plan ahead for it, try to give yourself a few weeks of overlap between the new and old place. As much as doubling up on rent can be a strain, having time to move out at your own pace makes the entire process much less miserable and (bonus!) you won’t be forced to move and clean in the same weekend. Even spending more on month-to-month rent once your lease ends (if that exists as an option) can be preferable to jumping into another less-than-ideal living situation. Planning ahead financially, and mentally too, will allow you the time, and more importantly, the freedom to find a home that fits your budget, has all your needs and many of your wants and is in a fantastic location.

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House hunting and moving are some of the more stressful aspects of adult life. It’s expensive, time consuming and physically exhausting. But settling for a subpar living condition due to a horrible landlord, disrespectful housemates or excessively long commute can take a much larger toll on your health. Whether you’re looking for a better situation or just ready for a lifestyle upgrade, following these five steps will make your apartment or house search straightforward and a success. And won’t that make the moving process so much sweeter?

I recently moved in with my boyfriend (not for financial reasons!) and have to say it has been a pretty fantastic past few months! Are you planning any big moves this summer? Tell me about them in the comments!

Are you ready to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle? Check out this past post here



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