Like many recent high school and college graduates, the idea of moving away from home or the dorm rooms can seem like a life altering challenge. Having depended on others for a significant portion of my life to provide the proverbial “roof over my head” I recently accomplished just that. With no significant credit history or time of employment, buying a home and the idea of a mortgage was just not in the equation, so finding affordable housing was the priority. After a few weeks of searching and researching, I found a fantastic place with some awesome roommates. The following 6 tips made my search go smoothly and really helped me understand the task at hand.
Tip #1: Know Your Budget.
Before you even start looking for a place to live you have to be aware of how much you can afford to pay. Let’s say you find this great place, and it’s just a meager two hundred dollars more then you can afford, don’t rationalize renting there. Keep in mind that moving into this sweet apartment will most likely mean that you won’t be able to afford other really important necessities, like food or gasoline. A couple of years ago a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, moved into a place that she couldn’t afford. It didn’t take long until it caught up with her; she ended up writing a bad check, causing one of her roommate’s to pay major overdraft fees when the check to the landlord bounced. If you want to see where to cut costs to help balance your budget, a cool new savings tool from Bills.com can do just that. If you have never rented before, reach out to family and friends and find out what are the average utility costs (gas, electric, and water) for your situation and factor this figure into your budget for rent, if you get really lucky the utilities will already be included in the rent. Another cost to consider is your car payment and insurance since you will need to get from home to work. Add up all these monthly expenses subtract them from your monthly income, and what’s left over is your budget for housing. The moral of this tip is only show interest in a place you know you can afford.
Tip #2: Location-Location-Location
You have to know where you want to live before you can find it and begin the grueling process of searching out vacancies. There is a big difference in the prices people pay for housing between the East Bay and the Peninsula, or even the Sunset and SOMA. Location is a big factor that will affect your budget in terms of housing prices, commute times to work & school, and proximity to shopping and entertainment. There is also a great free rental tool to help find a suitable place from mynewplace.com that allows you to type in a zipcode and displays apartments in your area. Since the location of your new place will also affect the frequency of visits by your family and friends keep this in mind when scouting out areas.
Tip #3: Ask Family and Friends
The first place that I recommend beginning your search from is within your social circles. It is never a bad idea to find a place with a decent referral from someone that you trust. This has always been my preferred way of finding housing. With the growing popularity of social networking i.e. Facebook, Google +, and Linked in, these outlets are a realistic place to start, so update your status frequently reminding those in your circles to help in the search.
Tip #4: Online Searches
If asking your friends for suggestions was a bust, there is always Craigslist. Craigslist is a wonderful place where one can find many intriguing things; including, but not limited to, housing. You can narrow your search down to city, neighborhood, and price. This way you aren’t wading through postings that don’t apply to what you’re in the market for. Respond to ads that you are interested in quickly, and professionally. This would also be a good time to mention websites like www.rent.com which can help you locate apartments in a given area and allow you to adjust your search criteria. These type of websites are valuable time savers and well worth it if you are busy with school or a full time job.
Tip #5: Dress to Impress
When meeting with a potential landlord or roommate, remember to dress to impress. I’m not saying dress for the academy awards, but definitely don’t wear sweats. You want your prospective landlord or housemates to think of you as someone dependable; someone who is going to turn in the rent on time. Conversely you will also want to figure out if your lifestyle will match with that of a potential housemate. No one wants to live with someone that they clash with. Will you be fighting over the shower at seven o’clock in the morning? Will their late night television keep you awake? Are they OK with having guests stay the night? Are you? There are many factors that contribute to a smooth co-habilitation, figure out which factors are most important to you, and make sure that you and your new roommate click on those subjects.
Tip # 6: The Contract
As I have heard Judge Judy say all the time, a promise is not a contract. Make sure that when you finally select a place to live and you think it fits your budget and the specifics of the living arrangements are all settled, you get it in writing. Memories lapse and verbal agreements can be argued about, but if an agreement is written down, then all parties can be satisfied that certain rules are not only understood, but agreed to. Just like with any other contract, examine the lease before you sign it. Make sure if there are any changes or conditions that you want, ask for them to be included in the lease or rental agreement before you sign it.
Finding a place to live can be a fun experience and for most young Americans a right-of-passage. I hope that these tips help you as much as they helped me. Please feel free to comment below with any questions. Happy hunting.