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Your Perfect Guide to Finding an Apartment

Updated on August 11, 2017
sarahspradlin profile image

I am a 27 year old living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I just recently started writing again. I am hoping to stick with it this time.

The Struggle Is Real

Finding an apartment can be a daunting task. Especially, if it is your first time doing so. There is so much that goes into finding a place to live. In this article, I will answer questions such as:

-How much do I need to budget, to get moved into a new apartment?

-What is the typical application process?

-Whose opinions can I trust when picking an apartment?

-What can I expect when signing a lease?

-What questions should I ask the leasing professional BEFORE applying?

And many more...


I will also add helpful links, to help you with your apartment finding journey. I hope you find this article helpful and that it answers all your questions! Feel free to comment with any other questions you may have!


What do you find to be the hardest part about finding a new apartment?

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Who Are You And Why Are You Giving Me Advice?

Great question!

I am a property manager in Little Rock, Arkansas! I have been in this business for almost 4 years. My experience is with both first-time apartment renters and people who have rented their whole adult life! I get the same questions every day from potential renters. Being in this business has helped me to be able to identify what an "ideal renter" looks like and have seen what gets people denied time and time again. I am writing this article to better prepare you for the first time you step into an apartment leasing office. Many apartment communities will take your money KNOWING that you will not get approved. Also, many leasing agents will tell you whatever it is you want to hear, to get you to lease with them. So, I am trying to help you be more prepared to make better decisions when both picking out an apartment community and to help you during your application process. So, pay attention. Listen up. Take notes. Let’s save you money and make sure you LOVE your new home.

Help! Can I Afford To Get An Apartment By Myself?!

Whoa! Calm down. You got this! Roughly 37% percent of Americans rent a place to live. Chances are you have SEVERAL friends and family members that live in an apartment and I bet not ALL of them are loaded! The great thing about apartment renting, is that people with all different backgrounds and income can qualify! It just takes a little planning, research and some saving, but after that it is smooth sailing. The rent on a 2-bedroom apartment can range from $600 up to $2,000 or more depending on the city you are in! Here in Little Rock, the average cost of an apartment is roughly $822 a month but there are many complexes with prices A LOT lower than that! The price will all depend on size, location, amenities offered and utilities that are paid. So, you may be paying more than you originally planned, but maybe you can cancel your gym membership because the complex offers one. Perhaps they pay the internet and cable. How close is the apartment to your job? You may end up SAVING on gas each day because you live closer! These are ALL things to consider when looking at the cost of rent.

How Much Money Do I Have To Make To Qualify For An Apartment?

This varies from apartment to apartment but TYPICALLY you are required to make 2 to 3 times the amount of rent BEFORE taxes are taken out. Some complexes require that if you have roommates that they ALSO qualify income wise, but there are plenty of complexes that just need your combined income to meet the requirement. Even if the complex does not require that you make 3 times the amount of rent, I recommend that you make AT LEAST that much. This will allow you to live more comfortably because you will still have other bills to pay! So, this would mean if you wanted an apartment that rented for $745 a month, your income would need to be at least $2,235 a month. If you have a roommate, your combined income would need to equal that much.
Typically, to prove your income, you will need to bring 3 current pay stubs, an offer letter from a new job or your tax statements from the previous year. This means that if you work for tips, you will want to start claiming ALL your tips until you are able to get approved for an apartment. Your $2.50 an hour waitressing job will NOT qualify you unless those tips are included so make sure that you do that. All income must be verifiable. Disability, Social Security and child support will often work as well.


I Think My Credit May Suck. Will That Get My Application Denied?

It certainly can but there are other options to help you if your credit isn't great! For starters, a lot of apartments will allow you to put up a higher deposit. I've seen it only be an extra $200 more but it can go as high as one months rent worth! This is the complexes way of ensuring that they get their money if you default on payments but it is all refundable assuming you leave in good standing.

Another option for bad credit is getting a guarantor or cosigner. This could be a family member or friend that has good credit that is willing to cosign your lease. They will have to pay an application fee just like you do. Their income usually has to be at least 5 times the amount of rent. They do this to ensure that they can pay their own rent/mortgage and yours, if needed. Keep in mind, that if you have a cosigner, they will be a lease holder and have the same rights to the apartment as you do. So, you will want to make sure it is someone that you trust.

To check your credit, you can go to www.freecreditreport.com and see what all is on your credit history. You will have to check with the complex that you are applying for but some apartments will ignore medical bills and/or student loans.


Apartment Costs You Should Budget For

(click column header to sort results)
Costs  
Description  
Estimated Amount  
Application Fee
A fee that is used to process your application. There is usually a fee per adult living in the apartment. It is non-refundable.
$30-$60
Deposit
A security deposit is a fixed amount of money you pay your landlord, or management company, to cover any damage you might cause to the property. The landlord can't spend that money while you live in the apartment. It ususally is at least partially refundable, assuming that you fulfill your lease and do not leave damages to the property.
$300 up to a fee equal to one or more months rent.
Admin Fee
An admin fee is not as common as some of the other fees but still is charged in many places. Landlords or their agents can charge you for their services in administrating the move: postal costs, checking your credit, getting references, etc.
$50-$200
Pet Fee
A pet fee is a NON-REFUNDABLE fee that you pay just to have a pet. This is usually per pet and will depend on the size of the animal. Typically speaking, a "small breed" would be any animal under 25 lbs, where as a "large breed" would be anything over that.
$200-$600
Pet Deposit
Some complexes will have a pet deposit instead of fee. This means that some or all of the amount that you paid is refundable, assuming the pet leaves no damages.
$200-$600
Pet Rent
Aside from paying the pet fee or deposit, complexes usually will charge a monthy pet rent per animal.
$25-$50 per month.
Renters Insurance
Many complexes are starting to require renters insurance and even if they do NOT require it, I HIGHLY recommend it. Renters insurance protects you and your belongings in the case of fire, flood, theft, etc... Just because your apartment has a leak that is NOT your fault but wrecks that brand new T.V. you have, the complex is not required and WILL NOT pay for it to be replaced but renters insurance will! Renters insurance ranges in price and is a monthy cost but if you get it through your car insurance, a lot of times you can get a discount! It's almost too cheap NOT to have.
$12-$20 per month depending on your coverage.
Utilities
This is a hard number to guess. Your cost of utilities will all depend on the size of the apartment, how many people live in your apartment, what your city charges for utilities and much more. I would suggest calling your local water and electricty company to see what an average price would be. Do not forget that you will have to put up a deposit with them as well.
$70-$200+ a month depending on what all utilities you are being required to pay.
Buyout Fee
This isn't something you need before moving in necessarily but it is something you should ask about before moving in. Life happens and sometimes you HAVE to break your lease. What will they charge you to do so?
Typically, the lowest amount would be a fee equal to one month’s rent but sometimes you are required to pay the rest of your lease. Definitely a good question to ask beforehand!
Short Term Lease Fees
A standard lease is typically 12 months. Anything less than that will usually cost you an extra monthly fee.
$20-$100
Prorated Rent
Rent proration is used to calculate the rent amount due for any month that a tenant does not stay for the entire month. So, are you planning on moving in in the middle of the month and not on the first? Great! Typically, you will just pay about half of the rent for the month. Making your first month’s rent cheaper.
In order to calculate the prorated rent amount you must take the total rent due, divide it by the number of days in the month to determine a daily rent amount. You then multiply the daily rent amount by the number of days that you will be occupying the property to generate the prorated amount for the partial month.
I know that this list seems overwhelming but just remember that a lot of these costs may not even apply to you! Don't have a pet? Cross that off the list. Does the complex that you are applying for pay most of the utilities? Lower the cost of that as

Wait...so how much do I need to move in?

Ok, I'm sorry. I KNOW I threw a lot of numbers at you. It makes the moving process seem more expensive and is overwhelming but I just want you to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. So, what if you end up saving more than you end up using? Then that will be more money in YOUR pocket for furniture, groceries, rent, etc... You can never be TOO prepared.


So, for the sake of simplifying, I am going to add up what I would personally budget to move. This is for the cost in Little Rock for a two-bedroom apartment and again can vary from city to city.

-Application $50

-Deposit $350

-Renters insurance $15

- First Month’s Rent $775

Utilities (assuming the property pays none).

-Electricity Deposit $200

-Water Deposit $50

-Gas Deposit $75

-Cost to Set Up Internet $99 Installation Fee (quote from ATT).

This would bring you to a grand total of $1,614 IN ALL to get you completely moved in and good for one month. This is doable and can be done for less depending on your complex. Plan on having a roommate? Great, just divide that in half and now you are just responsible for $807 each. Also, to get an apartment held for you, you just need the application fee and deposit. That will give you time to save for the rest before your move-in day!

This Is My First Time Living In An Apartment. What Questions Should I Ask Before Moving in?

Questions You Should Ask
Why You Should Ask
"How safe is it to live here?"
Fair Housing Laws make it illegal for any staff member at an apartment complex to answer this question. However, your local police can give you records of how many times they have been called out to the property.
"What are your late fees?"
So maybe you normally are great about paying your bills on time. That does not mean you will never slip up! It’s always good to ask in case they have ridiculous fees. At my complex, we charge $50 the first day it is late and then it goes up each day until it is paid.
"Can I pay rent online?"
In this day in age it is usually assumed that there is an online payment option for almost all businesses however that is not necessarily the case. It is good to check. Especially if you are a person who is out of town a lot or works odd hours.
"What happens if I need to break my lease?"
You want to know what the fee is because it can be EXPENSIVE. It is worth looking into. Especially if you are stuck between two places and one complex has a significantly higher penalty. Unexpected things can occur like a loss of job, breakup or illness in the family. You never know what could happen. It's good to be prepared.
"What kind of cable provider can I use?"
A lot of complex do not allow satellite dishes. If they do, you usually are required to pay an extra fee. Also, some complexes may exclusively use ATT and some may only allow Comcast.
"Do you have a courtesy officer?"
A courtesy officer is usually a person who works for the police that in exchange for discounted rent, will agree to answer noise complaints, drive the property, respond to calls etc...
"Does any of your staff live on property?"
This is just a question that I personally like to ask. It's nice knowing that the staff likes and feels comforable enough to live at the property I am interested in.
"What appliances come with the apartment?"
For some reason this question is often forgotten. Most people totally forget to ask about whether there is a microwave. It often is not included. Make sure you check because that is an extra expense you need to save for!
"Can I get my deposit back if I change my mind?"
Some places will give you 72 hours to change your mind, while others may not return it at all. Make sure you check!

Whose Opinions Should I Trust When Picking Out An Apartment?

Source Of Opinion
Legitimate Or Not
Apartmentratings.com
This is one of the most used sources to get apartment reviews. It CAN be helpful but as a property manager, I can tell you that there are a lot of flaws. For instance, who do you think is more likely to post reviews? People with positive or negative experiences? Definitely negative. I can tell you from personal experience that I have been lied about MULTIPLE times on that website. Mainly because I had to evict someone due to nonpayment and/or other violations of the lease. Those are the first people to jump online and say, "the manager never fixed anything". While in some cases that of course can be true, I know in my experience it most certainly was not. When looking at that site, see if there is a common theme. If multiple tenants say that they never fix anything, chances are it is true. Also check out the date, complexes change owners and managers CONSTANTLY so having several bad reviews from 5 years ago most likely will not reflect what the situation is like now.
Facebook.com
Facebook is another great website to use for reviews. You can see if you have any common friends that "like" their page and see if they posted a review. When on Facebook I would look to see how many people follow their page or "like" it. A lot of times the popular complexes will have a lot of followers because those are people who have heard it is a great complex and they want to be kept up to date on any move-in specials, resident events etc...
Referrals
This is by far the best one! Call your friends and family and ask them where they live or places you should stay away from. There's nothing better than getting an opinion from someone that you trust . So, text people, make a Facebook status, Instagram post etc... I GURANTEE you that people will give you plenty of opinions.

Last Minute Tips That You Shouldn't Forget

There are a couple of little things that come to my mind that you should do when planning to move. They didn't really fit into a category so here are some random tips!

1. Drive around the properties that you are interested in at night. Do not assume that it is a quiet property until you have seen what it looks like when the staff goes home for the day. Check and see if the parking lot lights are working properly, are there a lot of people loitering outside, ask yourself if you would feel safe living there if you were to move in right now.

2. Move in specials can be great BUT usually there is a reason that the complexes are running them. My property stays full so we never run any specials. Why would I need to? The properties that do usually run them are the ones that are having trouble getting people to move in or maybe just lost a lot of residents for whatever reason. That's not to say that ALL properties who run specials are bad. That is certainly not the case but it is something to think about. If the special is something like no application fee or half of your deposit, I wouldn't worry too much. However, if they are drastically lowering your rent, your red flag should go up. Not only does that mean they are probably struggling pretty hard to do that, what it means for you is that once your lease is up, more than likely your rent will raise significantly. They just do what they can to get you in the door.

3. What have you heard about the management company? That is a great thing to research. There are certain companies in Little Rock that EVERYONE knows to avoid if possible. Just because you've heard negative things about a property, doesn't necessarily mean it won't get better but if you hear things about the management company in general, avoid the properties that they own. The manager only has limited things that they can control. The management company (or owner) is the one who decides how much money they can spend, how much money you get back from your deposit, rent prices increasing etc... DO YOUR RESEARCH ON THE MANAGEMENT COMPANY BEFORE YOU MOVE IN!

4. Follow up with the leasing staff. We get super busy in our office. Not only are we trying to lease apartments, we are also collecting rent, renewing leases, dealing with leaks, broken ac's, staff issues etc... We may tell you that we will call you if a 3-bedroom apartment comes available but it is also possible we will forget, lose your number or just get too busy to do it. I have been guilty of this. So please, you are not bothering me if you call me once a week to ask about availability. In fact, I encourage that you do.

5. Does the staff seem happy? This may be just me but I am way more likely to want to live somewhere where the staff seems happy. These are the people you are going to have to deal with monthly or more. Whether it's to pay rent, call in work orders, discuss issues with neighbors and the people who sometimes must enter your apartment! You want to make sure that they are people who seem like kind and trustworthy people. You want to feel comfortable in your home, right?

To Sum It All Up

Leasing an apartment can be a crazy process but if you are prepared to ask the right questions and willing to save, you should be able to find a place that you love! I hope to write many more articles and ask that you take a poll as to what I should write about next. If you are not looking to lease an apartment just yet, but are planning on it in the future, please pin on Pinterest so that you remember. I hope that I have been able to answer many of your questions. Good luck on your apartment search!

Best Regards,
Sarah

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© 2017 Sarah Spradlin

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    Sarah Spradlin 6 weeks ago from Little Rock, Arkansas

    Thank you Imran Khan!

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    Imran Khan 6 weeks ago from Mumbai, India

    Very extensively covered article. Excellent job Sarah :)