Renting Your First Place

When you’re looking for a place to rent for the first time, it can seem overwhelming. The best way to take the plunge is to follow some simple steps. The timeline you follow will mostly depend on how long it will take you to save upfront cash for a down payment and/or make a decision on the apartment you want to rent. In this module, we will walk you through the steps you should take in making this important decision.

Step #1:  Determine Your Price Range

Whether you are venturing out on your own, or sharing a place with your friends, it is important to make sure you run through this simple exercise to determine what you can afford to spend on an apartment. 

  • Determine your take-home income for each month (what you receive after taxes, retirement savings, and other items have been taken out by your employer).

  • Calculate your ongoing expenses, such as cable, Internet, cell phone, electricity, credit cards, etc.

  • Estimate how much you will spend on unknown or emergency expenditures, such as unexpected car repairs or prescriptions, or meals for special occasions. It is wise to estimate about 25% of your total bills for these types of expenditures.

  • Subtract the expenditures from your income and that will be the amount you will have readily available for rent.

It is important that you put in a “buffer” within your price range; don’t stretch yourself too thin.  You want to be able to live in your home, not stress out every month as to how you will pay the rent.

Step #2:  Start Saving

Prior to getting into any apartment, you will need to give the owner or landlord a security deposit (which is usually equal to one month’s rent in most instances), as well as the first month’s rent.  Additionally, you may need to provide application fees and other types of moving fees with your move. It is important that you start saving as soon as you decide you want to rent an apartment so you will be prepared for all of the necessary fees when you are ready to move in.

Step #3:  Check Your Credit

Prior to starting any process, be sure to check your credit to see where you stand. If there is something that is derogatory on your credit report, be prepared to explain the issue to your potential landlord. Furthermore, if there is something on your credit report that should not be there, take the time to call your financial institution or the credit bureau to fix the issue immediately. You can obtain a free credit report by going to, which is sponsored by the federal government. In some instances, you may need a co-signer to obtain the apartment you desire; just be prepared.


Step #4:  Select a Neighborhood

Whether you’re moving across town or across the country, the best way to decide on a neighborhood is to visit. You should also ask friends or family members who live in the neighborhood what they think. Additionally, you should make sure you can afford to live in the neighborhood you desire; you need to be realistic. You can determine the cost of homes in certain neighborhoods by looking online to see what an average one- or two-bedroom apartment costs in that area. 

Step #5:  Determine a List of “Must-Haves”

Do you need one or two bedrooms? Do you want to have amenities or do you want to live close to where you work? Are you looking to be near the nightlife, or do you want a place that is off the “beaten path?” Learning what you like and dislike about your living quarters is something you’ll figure out as you live in a variety of places; however, you can make a small list of “deal breakers” that you should take with you on your apartment search. For example, do you need a dishwasher?  Is it important to have laundry facilities in the apartment or in the complex? What is the parking like? 

You will need to balance the list you have created with your budget to see what you may have to give up and what you just cannot live without. The more items you can check off your list, the better things will be for you in the long-run. 


Step #6:  Start Your Search

There are many ways to find a place to rent. The following are a list of things to consider when conducting your search for the “perfect” apartment:

  • “Go old school” and drive around neighborhoods you desire to live and seek out “for rent” signs. In some instances, this is the only way these apartments are advertised.

  • Ask your family and friends if they are aware of anything available in the neighborhood you desire.

  • Search online on respected sites, such as:,,,, among others. Additionally check Craig’s List for apartments available in your area within your desired rent limit.

  • Check the bulletin boards at local colleges or businesses. 

  • Search online for real estate offices that rent properties; you may be able to find something that is not listed anywhere else.

  • Consider forgoing the apartment search and simply search for the right roommate. If you go this route, be sure to hang out with that person prior to moving in with him or her; there is nothing more awkward than moving in with someone you really don’t care for that much.

One piece of advice during your search: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.  When dealing with a potential landlord, the conversation should be respectful and straightforward. You should also Google the address of the building as a final precaution to make sure you know what you are getting into.

Step #7:  Put in Your Application

Once you find a great place, put in your application as soon as possible. If your credit score is good – or you have a co-signer lined up – you’re likely to get it. If you don’t, then start again from the top of your search and keep looking.


Step #8:  Sign the Lease

Your lease is a contract, so make sure you understand everything that is written on it. Often, if you have issues with certain points on the lease, you can alter or discuss them with the management company or landlord prior to signing. If you are not comfortable reading the lease on your own, ask a parent, family member or trusted friend to help you. You will be bound to terms in the agreement, so make sure you understand it prior to signing. Here are some important things to look for in the lease:

  • Is there a penalty for breaking the lease early?

  • What is the policy for fixing issues with the apartment?

  • How much notice must you give if you want to renew or get out of the lease?

  • What are the rules for getting your security deposit back?

  • Are there any conditions required for living in the apartment (e.g., landscaping, parking, etc.)?

Step #9:  Prepare to Move In

You should call the utility companies at least one week in advance of your move-in date. You may also want to consider renter’s insurance as it protects all of the things that you own in the apartment. You should also change your address with the post office, change your driver’s license address and consider getting a local library card. 

Finally, you should conduct a walk-through prior to moving in with your landlord. Be sure to document any pre-existing problem you find with the apartment so you will not be held liable when you move out. This means, you will need to test everything from the burners on the stove to the quality of the carpet to how the refrigerator works. If anything is not right, document it. If the landlord needs to fix something, get that in writing. This is really the best way to protect you, your future home and your security deposit.

Step #10:  Move In

If you’re moving long distance, you should consider scheduling a moving company to help you with your move; however, be careful to use a reputable company and review the contract in detail prior to signing anything. If you’re moving across town, you should be able to conduct that move on your own. In fact, if you’re moving out of your parent’s home (finally) they will probably help you pack! Get your friends involved in your move so it will go faster and you will probably have a little more enjoyment as you move.

In any case, start packing early, as it takes much longer than you think. Label all your boxes by the room where they need to go. For example, all your clothes should be labeled “bedroom” so those that are helping you move know where to place the box. Also, make sure you have the things you need (e.g., toilet paper, light bulbs, cleaning supplies, etc.) ready to go, as you will need them right away. 


By following these simple steps, you will find that moving to a new apartment will be much more manageable. And, nothing feels better than walking into your own apartment…that you love!