This article is part of our 52 week journey through Bill’s latest book, “The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money.” Each week, a full excerpt from his book will be presented from beginning to end. To get your copy of his book, visit www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.
Finding an apartment can be a big pain. If you are in an area with a tight housing market (more people than places), it gets even worse. If you have already looked for an apartment, and staying with your parents for a while is not an option, I know what you are thinking. I can’t get a job and go to work unless I have a place to stay. I can’t find a place to stay unless I have a job to make money. Well, it gets a little worse. You can’t get a place to stay to get the job to make the money unless you already have money available for the security deposit! I know it’s not fair, but that’s what we get to deal with right away. My security deposit was the second largest transaction on my credit card when I was starting out. I wasn’t happy.
Most apartments require a security deposit of at least $250. Sometimes, the deposit could be as large as two month’s rent. Part of the problem could be your virtually nonexistent credit history. Oh yea, did I forget to mention most apartment complexes check your credit? Even some of the independent landlords check your credit and rental history. They also ask for recommendations from your previous landlord(s). I hope you didn’t treat your last apartment like a rock star’s hotel room.
In most major metropolitan areas you will be able to find apartment guides. They are readily available for free at grocery stores, usually near the exits. These guides are useful for choosing from the large apartment complexes in the area. They are usually arranged by location, which is great if you know where you do and don’t want to stay. You can make a list of the places that interest you and call to see if they have any available apartments.
You can also use the Internet to search for apartments. One popular site is www.rent.com. You can search based on your own criteria (such as pool, pets, etc.). Once you find a few in your price range, you should contact them and arrange for a walkthrough. You can also find other interesting information on this site such as moving tips and articles. There are other sites as well. You can find them using a search engine, or you can visit the city’s website. Most cities have a community information website with links to area businesses, including apartment complexes.
A third option is to look through the local newspaper. If you already live in the area, just pick up a local paper and browse the classifieds. Most apartment listings will be in the Saturday or Sunday editions, but Wednesdays are also popular. You may also be able to browse the classifieds on the web if the newspaper is online.
If you end up renting from an individual, make sure you read the contract carefully before signing anything and handing over any money. Actually, that holds true for any contract. Be especially careful if you are not renting from an apartment complex, or through a real estate agent.
Speaking of real estate agents, you may want to consider using one to help you find an apartment. Many people think real estate agents are only for buying and selling homes. In many cases, landlords will list their property through a real estate agency to save them the hassle of trying to find a tenant and showing them the property. The agent makes some money (less than if they sold the property, but without nearly as much effort) and the landlord gets a new tenant without doing much work. In a real tight housing market it may be difficult to find any agents willing to deal with rentals. In many cases the newer, less experienced agents work with renters. Nonetheless, the best apartment we ever rented was located with the help of a real estate agent.
Next week we will look at some key tenant rights such as how much notice your landlord has to give before entering your apartment.
Bill Pratt is a former credit card executive turned student-advocate. He is the author of Extra Credit: The 7 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Credit Debt & Ca$h and The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Bill speaks at colleges to educate and entertain students about real-life issues in money, leadership, and success. His goal is to help students succeed personally and financially so they can improve the lives of those around them. You can learn more at www.ExtraCreditBook.comor www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.