3 Steps to Finding the Best Apartment - Plus an extra secret! - Smart Money Seed


3 Steps to Finding the Best Apartment - Plus an extra secret!

Moving to a new home or apartment is one of the leading causes of stress and anxiety in America. What if I can't afford it? What if I don't get along with the neighbors? Will I have a good landlord? How long will my commute to work take? Will I be happy there? With the weight of such a big decision looming in the distance, it does not take long for uncertainty to set in.

Having completed a move just a few months ago, I can attest to the stress and anxiety that comes with it. I not only found myself asking the questions above, but I also suffered from the paradox of choice (one of my favorite parts of this TED Talk is just after the 12 minute mark when Barry talks about buying new jeans - check it out!). There are hundreds, if not thousands, of apartments for rent in Columbus, and for a while I didn't even know where to begin. A few months before I had to move, I would aimlessly browse the listings on Zillow but admittedly had no clue what I was looking for.

In my experience there were three main keys that helped make my move a little less stressful than it could have been.

1. Know Your Price

One of the worst things that could happen as a result of a move is ending up in a place that you can't afford, so that brings the obvious question: what can you afford you? The long-time golden rule is that your rent payment should not exceed 30% of your gross (before tax) income, but the truth is that this can vary dramatically from person to person.

If you're single and make $10k a month, you most likely can afford to spend a little more than 30% and still have plenty of cash to cover your other expenses. On the flip side, if you make $1,500 a month, it might be difficult to have that big of a chunk of your income going to rent. The 30% rule is a good starting point, but the important step here is to evaluate your own situation to find a price that works for you. A financial goal or personal budget will tremendously help determine what you can afford. If you're not sure what you can afford, ask us. We'd love to help!

For me, I knew I was likely only going to live in this apartment for about 18 months, so I wanted something very affordable. Despite not having a ton of monthly expenses, my goal was to find something around 15% of my gross monthly income.

2. Know Your Location

Knowing your price will help narrow down your Zillow search results, but if you live in a big city, you're still going to have a lot of options at hand. Your next step to landing that sweet crib is finding the right location.

If you're not sure where to start, here are some good questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want to be close to the city and night life, or more quiet and remote?
  • Do you want to be walking distance to any attractions?
  • Do you want to be close to work or school?
  • What locations are safe? Are there any areas to avoid?
  • How close do you want to be to family and friends?
  • How long will your commute be in the morning and afternoon?
    • If you're not sure, give it a test run

Once you have these answered, your search results will be much more manageable. The two biggest factors for me was staying close to Rosie (I have to keep her close by so I stay out of trouble) and being close to work. I ended up finding a place that is about a 10 minute drive from Rosie and an 8 minute walk to my office. I'm also only a 20 minute walk from the Short North which is a nice bonus, especially since the weather is finally cooperating.

3. Know What You Like

You know what you can afford, and you know where you want to be. The only thing left to do is figure out what you like. Unless you're rolling in tons of dough, you're most likely going to have to sacrifice a few amenities when you first start out. The easiest way to get started here is to determine what amenities are a must-have.

Here are some of the common amenities to consider:

  • Does it come with appliances (dishwasher, refrigerator, laundry, etc)?
  • Hardwood floors or carpet?
  • Is it furnished? Or do you need furniture?
    • Can you bum some furniture off mom and dad? Can you afford to buy new?
  • Do you need an exercise room? A pool?
  • Is it air-conditioned?
  • How big is it?

I didn't pick a place with all of the bells and whistles, but I did a few small things to help spruce the place up.

If this is your first apartment, remember, just because it is a nice-to-have doesn't mean it is a must-have. I don't have in-unit laundry, a dishwasher, or air conditioning, but you can bet those will be in my house someday.

Okay, I know... Things like price, location, and amenities may seem like common sense, but when you're in the middle of major life decisions, common sense can sometimes fly right out the window. There is one thing, however, that may not be so common sense, and it's probably the most important step in your apartment search.

Lean on Your Crew

Don't forget about the most important people in your life. Chances are, someone in your family, friend, or work circle has moved before, and they probably have some pretty awesome advice that you should tap into. Seek these people out and get recommendations for neighborhoods, apartment complexes, or landlords. Bring someone with you to check out a new place and get their thoughts and opinions; sometimes a second set of eyes can help you decide what you like and don't like.

Once you've picked a place, don't forget to ask for help with moving. This is a financial blog after all, and friends and family are some pretty cheap labor. I think I could get Alex to help me out with just about anything if I provided some pizza and beer

If you've thoroughly gone through each of these steps, then you're well on your way to finding an apartment you'll love. Don't worry if it's not your dream crib. Trust me, you're going to make more memories and get more enjoyment from the company you bring into your apartment than you will from a downtown view or dishwasher.

"My home is not a place, it is people." - Lois McMaster Bujold

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