From the obvious to the unexpected, ask yourself these questions while shopping around for your first rental.

By Maggie Seaver
Updated: May 13, 2019
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Unless you took a college class on how to rent an apartment (if only, right?), it’s likely you’re going into the apartment hunting process blind. But don’t be stressed—this is a very exciting process that can actually be a lot of fun, as long as you know what to look for and what to expect. Before signing on the dotted line, ask yourself these essential questions about each apartment you're considering.

1. Is It in My Budget?

Budget is the big one to consider above all else. You need to determine how much you an afford to rent while meeting other financial obligations and goals (like saving for retirement and going out with friends). Follow this guideline: Don’t say “yes” to renting an apartment that costs more than 30 percent of your gross (pre-tax) salary. Apart from rent, don’t forget about utilities, transportation, groceries, and other life expenses—it really does add up. And don’t tell yourself you’ll develop cheaper lifestyle. Think of it like shopping for clothes: Shop for the body you have right now.

RELATED: The Ultimate First Apartment Checklist

2. Is It Close to Where I Work?

The apartment of your dreams is an extra hour from the office—what to do? Decide what you are and aren’t willing to deal with. Maybe it’s worth it for you, and that’s great. But if you’re not a morning person, and riding public transportation for more than 15 minutes makes you cranky, renting an apartment a little closer to work will improve your quality of life tenfold. And don’t just consider the actual commute time: The apartment may technically be only half an hour from work, but if it takes 20 out of 30 minutes just to walk to the bus station, then any kind of inclement weather is going to make the journey, um, interesting.

3. Is the Neighborhood Safe?

Will you feel safe walking home from the bus or train after work, or will your parents get you a ten-pack of pepper spray as a housewarming gift? Safety is one of those non-negotiable factors not to sacrifice.

4. Are There Necessary Shops and Restaurants Nearby?

Never underestimate the value of convenience and quality of life. If you have to wear suits to work every day, but never get home in time to catch the dry-cleaners before they close, that’s going to be a problem. If you’re not one to cook for yourself, the restaurants in your area better be open until at least 10 p.m. In some cases, it could be worth sacrificing size to afford a neighborhood you can actually function in.

5. Does the Place Include the Amenities I Want and Need?

First, decide what these are—and remember that things you need and things you think you need because you saw it on Pinterest are two very different things. If you’re living with roommates and can’t stand the idea of sharing a bathroom anymore (and your budget allows), look for apartments with two or more bathrooms. Then again, you might not care at all about sharing the shower as long as there’s a washer-dryer in unit, high(ish) ceilings, or a video security system. Ultimately, it’s about assigning value to what you could potentially be paying for.

6. Does It Fit My Particular Lifestyle?

You can’t predict the future to a T, but think about what’s likely to happen inside your apartment. Does your sister come to visit and crash every weekend? It might be worth renting a place with room for an air mattress or fold-out couch, even if it is a five-story walk-up. Love to cook and entertain? The “kitchen” that’s really just a two-burner stove along the wall—and that’s it—likely won’t cut it.

7. What Can’t I Change (That’ll Drive Me Insane)?

Be warned, if you’re a big decorator, apartment rentals aren’t really yours to renovate. You might be able to paint, and can hopefully nail things into the walls, but definitely ask the landlord (or whoever’s giving the tour). Other than that, mainstays like floors, closet space, natural light (or lack thereof), and outlet placements, are kinda set in stone. By the way, if you don’t like it now, it’s not likely you’ll learn to like it later. That carpet stain or oddly shaped bathroom will not grow on you—so it’s probably best to move on.

8. Are There Any Deal-Breaking Noises Nearby?

It could be nighttime road construction that’s scheduled for the next three years; an elementary school playground that gets rowdy with kids four times a day; a bar across the street that hosts live music five nights a week; or a church with hourly bell-ringing that might truly be the end of you. While it’s near impossible to find total peace and quiet in a city, look out for potential sounds you know will disrupt your sleep, mood, or concentration.

9. Would My Friends Be on Board?

Actually, don’t just leave this as a hypothetical: Ask those who love and know you best what they think. Your friends (or siblings or parents) know you best—they’ll be able to tell you straight-up that, yes, while the balcony overlooking the river is stunning, the lack of laundry within a five-minute radius won’t work with your habit of spilling something every time you eat.

RELATED: 5 Surprising Things You Need for Your First Apartment

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