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Your Step-By-Step Guide for Finding a Place to Rent

Whether you’re in between homes or not yet ready to invest in a home, renting a place is a great option. There are many pros involved, including lower upfront costs, not having the responsibility of house maintenance and repairs, and the option to make a shorter-term commitment with a lease. Whatever your situation may be, below we’ve mapped out a high-level, step-by-step plan for finding the perfect place to rent.

Decide on your wants and needs

In an ideal world, you would find a place to rent that ticks every single thing off your wish list. But, the reality is that not every home or apartment for rent will accommodate all those desires. To make the hunting process easier, create two lists. One list will include your needs, aka your non-negotiables. So if a place doesn’t meet these non-negotiables, it’s pretty much a deal-breaker. This includes the neighborhood if you have a preference, commuting distance to work, pet policies, walkability, proximity to places you frequent, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc. Also, add to this list what type of place you’d like to rent—a house, a unit in a high-rise? Get specific. The second list will include your wants, which are the features and amenities you would love to have but are not absolutely necessary. These can include things like a pool, gym, hardwood floors, and in-unit washers.

Create your budget

Next, take a good look at your finances and get clear on how much you can afford to spend on rent. Take into consideration all income and monthly expenses such as car payments, health insurance, cell phone bills, food, and savings. The general rule of thumb is to spend no more than 25 to 30 percent of your gross monthly income on rent. Once you have your window of affordability, it’ll be easier to rule out places to rent that are outside your budget.

Save up for moving costs

There are various costs associated with moving, so it’s always a good idea to have a cushion of cash saved up for this purpose. You may need to pay for application fees and credit checks as well as a security deposit and first and last month’s rent upfront. Then there are the costs of moving that may include paying movers, renting a truck, and purchasing packing materials. Some places also require that you get rental insurance.

Map out your timeline

When to start hunting for a place to rent is a bit of art. The timing has to be just right. It would be nice to look around months before you plan to move, but people tend to snap up rental places fast, and availability can change quickly. So, the ideal time frame is to start looking seriously for a place to rent about four weeks out from when you’d like to move. And once you do start looking, be ready to submit your application asap because if you snooze, you might lose out on your dream place.

Search online

Once you’re ready to start looking, tap into your network first. Ask friends and family if they know of any places available for rent. Often, they’ll be familiar with the area or even building they recommend, so they’ll be able to give you an insider’s perspective of what it’s like to live there. The internet is also your best friend when it comes to finding a place to rent. There are various search engines that make this super easy such as HotPads, Trulia, or Apartments.com. Pro tip: Use the filter feature. This makes it easier to search according to your non-negotiables and your budget.

Go see the space IRL

Pictures are great, but nothing beats actually seeing your potential future home in person. Once you’ve found some spots that have potential, call or email them to schedule a time to visit. Be sure to look at every nook and cranny—open all the doors, check inside drawers and cabinets, test out the water pressure. Make sure there’s nothing shady that they’re trying to hide. If there are things that are not to your liking, you can ask if they can be fixed before you move in. It’s also a great idea to swing by the area at different hours of the day and see what the vibe is like.

Ask lots of questions

When you visit a place you potentially would like to rent, ensure you ask any questions you may have. Some of the most important questions to ask are about the lease terms, pet policies, utility expenses, how and when to pay the rent, how to submit maintenance requests, penalties for ending a lease early, if renter’s insurance is required, and if you can make changes to the space. Don’t hold back on your questions. It’s better to know everything from the get go than have surprises down the road if you do move in.

Submit a rental application

You’ve looked at your potential new rental home or apartment. You’ve got all of your pressing questions answered. If the place feels like a yes, then it’s time to submit an application. Again, you have to act fast with it as someone can come and easily scoop it up before you do. Some landlords allow you to place a hold on a space for a small fee while you mull it over. Be sure to have any paperwork needed to fill out the application, such as proof of employment, bank statements, social security numbers, and photo IDs. The landlord will then run your credit and let you know if you’ve got the place.

Do a happy dance

Once your application checks out, you’ll likely get a call or email from the landlord letting you know. The last step is to sign the lease papers, get your keys, and schedule your moving day. And of course, don’t forget to do a little happy dance to celebrate your new rental.