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Moving Checklist for Your First Apartment

Updated on August 27, 2015
Moving into your new apartment shouldn't be more stressful than it already is.
Moving into your new apartment shouldn't be more stressful than it already is.

My name is Kelsey, and I lived at home until I was twenty-two.

Cue echoes of “Hi Kelsey”.

I see you in the corner, smugly shifting in your seat, and judging me for living at home for so long. To you I say, hello and I am not ashamed. Nor am I embarrassed at the prospect of having lived at home for such a long time. In fact, even while being teased mercilessly by my cousins for it, living at home during my undergrad meant that I had a hefty savings account by the time I graduated and did move out in 2011. Sure, living with my parents meant that I spent a lot more time abiding to curfews (albeit lenient ones), and I had to continue sharing a single shower with a family of four, but all in all, it worked out great.

Perhaps you’re now rolling your eyes, convinced that I couldn’t have learned much about the real world. While you’re assuredly right, in a sense (and more on that in a bit), I owed and paid bills, including rent, just like any other undergrad—sometimes more so. Additionally, I was expected to maintain my job, full course load, and pay for my new car, while respecting my parent’s wishes at not allowing my then-boyfriend to spend the night. In a lot of aspects, living at home was a much stricter and intense lifestyle than that of many of my peers. Admittedly, there were many benefits to this otherwise cushy lifestyle, including: I was able to have a home cooked meal at more than just the holidays, I could afford to take one of my five shifts off from the restaurant I worked at, and I didn’t need to worry about a roommate stealing my clothes.

‘Twas the life, or something like it, and I thought I had it all figured out. That was until I turned twenty-two, graduated at the top of my class, and followed my first-boyfriend-then-fiancé to his PhD program an hour north of where I grew up. Moving in together, and out for the first time, was not only exciting but filled with fluttering anticipation, and Target Back To College: Dorm Room Essential goodies. Everything was grand, except for just one small fact: we had no idea what we were in for.

To say that we had absolutely no idea what all was included when we moved into our own place would be a stretch. But to save you from making some of the mistakes that we did upon first moving in (like not realizing we needed a $600.00 safety deposit), I’ve put together a list of five tips for moving into your first apartment.

Be Honest

Did You Read Your Lease Thoroughly Before Signing On the Dotted Line?

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Look For Hidden Fees

As mentioned above, we naively believed that there would not be hidden fees in our apartment’s contract. When we were informed a week before move in that we had yet to pay our safety deposit (see above), we swallowed our cringes and coughed up the money. Not because we wanted to, but because we had to. Similarly, we were shocked upon arrival to find that we owed an additional $300.00 for a pet deposit fee and $50.00 for a garbage and recycling fee. Be mindful when exploring your contract and don’t be afraid to question any fees you might find unnecessary, or eye opening.

Understanding your lease will help you avoid any fee penalties should you need to break it.
Understanding your lease will help you avoid any fee penalties should you need to break it.

Know Your Lease

Be aware of what is listed as included utilities in your lease. Finding out that you have to pay for water when you thought you didn’t, can be a deal breaker in a lot of cases (particularly when renting in southern California). How long does your lease last? If you’re looking for ways to save money, see if signing on for a longer lease can lower your monthly payments and help you save a handful of money each month.

Decorating is part of the thrill of moving into your new place, just be sure you understand the rules.
Decorating is part of the thrill of moving into your new place, just be sure you understand the rules.

Understand Your Way Out

Believe it or not, life happens, and when it does, we’re often times are left wondering how to get out of our lease agreements. Talk with your property manager before move in day and explain that you’d like to know what would happen in the off chance that you need to break your lease. Be clear that you do not anticipate this happening, but also make clear that you’d like to know your rights as a tenant. Remember, a lease is a legal and binding document, and therefore not knowing your rights can result in more damage than good.

Things to Check Before Moving Into an Apartment


As mentioned above, moving into your first place can be extremely exciting, so much so that upon move in day you may forget the rules about decorating before moving in. Prior to painting your walls, or mounting a television in each room, check with your landlord about what they allow. Most apartments or rentals don’t allow paint or excessive amounts of holes in the walls, and not following your lease can lead to you not getting your safety deposit back when you move out (which let’s be real, $600 is a fair amount of money).

Smile For the Camera

Photograph any stains, holes, or other damage that you might come across upon move in day. Ensure that all of your photos have date stamps on them to serve as proof of prior damage when the time comes for you to move out. Doing this will offer proof to your landlord of any damage that was done prior to your arrival, and will help keep you from accruing any further charges or penalties.

Moving into your first apartment or rental should be cause for celebration and excitement. It should involve several days of stressful moving, made less stressful by pizza and beer with your friends at the end of the night. No matter your age, eighteen or twenty-two, it should be a celebratory time in your life, one filled with all of the Dorm Room Essentials and Ikea you can handle.


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    • Kelsey Farrell profile image

      Kelsey Elise Farrell 2 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Link, I feel you on the money--that's exactly why I lived at home all throughout college. I was happy to save and spend my time working so that when the time came I would have something to fall back on. I'm a true purporter of doing what is best for YOU not just what everyone else is doing. Good luck on everything!

    • Link10103 profile image

      Link10103 2 years ago

      Welp, I'll be 21 next month and I'm still living in an apartment with my mom and now my brother.

      He just turned 29 and has had to move back in with us...3-4 times now? I doubt Im the one that has anything to be embarrassed about at this point...

      Main reason I can't move out is because I don't have the money, otherwise I would have been out already. I can barely find a part time job let alone a full time one that doesn't involve sitting at a desk and blowing the place up. That, and I want to have a roommate, but I don't know anyone who I could move in with. Want to avoid the common mistake of trying to suddenly pay 100 bills by myself rather than being able to split it between 2 or 3 people.