Lessons in Life: How to Find That Right-for-You Pad

Life After High School: The Apartment

Once you have graduated high school, life hits hard. A lot of people don't have the option to stay living with their family for long after turning eighteen, and those that do maybe don't want to and would rather enjoy their freedoms! There are a few lessons I wish I had learned during this stage of life, so hopefully this helps you out some.

When you graduate and are looking for an apartment, consider a few different topics.

  1. How much do you own/do you need space for?
  2. How much is your monthly income AFTER taxes?
  3. Do you have any monthly bills already? (cell phone, insurance, etc)
  4. Where do you work and where are you looking to live?
  5. If you are considering moving with a friend, have you spent a long time with them (maybe staying at their house or them at yours)?

With these questions in mind, here are some things to think about.

Regarding the belongings you need space for: your first apartment is almost guaranteed to be overly small or overly large. Before even looking, take an assessment of your possessions. How big is your bedroom? Besides your bed, what do you need space for? Get a good ballpark of what you are going to be taking with you and where it is currently. Having that information will be handy when you do your first walk-through.

How much is your monthly income after taxes and do you have any monthly bills already? Essentially, have you made a budget to see what you can and cannot afford? I was never taught budgeting, besides a crash course from my father when I was hoping to get a car. Here is a quick little how-to from me to you if you aren't confident with a budget:

  • Start by in a line writing your monthly expenses and the dates they are due each month
  • Beside or below that, write out your next 6 months of paydays
  • An easy budget layout is writing the pay date followed by a + $_____, then below that writing down the name of the bills you have to pay on that date with a - $____ (remaining after). Below is an example from me.

Do this going forward and you'll see how much wiggle room you have in your budget for things such as rent, water/sewer/garbage bills (in case your apartment will charge for these), internet (in our time, this is a necessity for college), and costs like gas/bus/food/groceries/toiletries, etc.

Example Budget

Very basic (only two entries) but a good start for those who need a visual.
Very basic (only two entries) but a good start for those who need a visual. | Source

Where do you work and where are you looking to live? If, all forbidding, something happens to your source of transportation (car breaks down, can't afford bus between paydays, etc.) consider how you will get to work. If you live across town, and you have no backups, you now get to walk that distance to and from work. I've had to do it, it's not fun. Especially when you have to do so upwards of five times a week. Another factor being, where is the closest grocer? These are things to definitely think about.

Regarding roommates, I have found this statement to be all too true: "You don't know someone until you live with them." You may have been best friends since first grade, but you don't know that person's actual life style and habits. Think honestly about what it would be like to live with them before jumping in. You need to consider how things like money, cleanliness, upkeep of the living space, and lifestyle (drinking, smoking, other friends, up late or in bed early) will affect your friendship. I highly suggest sitting down with them, making a house budget, and setting very clear house rules. You don't want a friendship turning sour from being roomies. I have had it happen and I have seen it happen to others.

You've Found a Possibility!

So you know what your budget is, you know where in town you want to live, you have a steady job and you have a plan of attack. Now it's just finding that perfect fit.

What you want to look for isn't something that just looks good. Call around and look at classifieds. Craigslist, local papers, and more have great postings for apartments/small houses/duplexes for rent. Here are some things to keep in mind.

If the rent is the only cost listed, when you call to set up a viewing ask these questions before hand:

  1. (If you have pets) What is the pet deposit policy? Is there pet rent?
  2. What is the security deposit and what is the down payment needed? Often times this is 1 1/2 times the value of the rent. You'll want to make sure you have that saved up. If you don't and have to move immediately, there are some community resources to assist you, and possibly you can work with the landlord to do payments over the first month to cover that.
  3. Know that you (and the people you live with) may need to prove that you make three times the rent value in order to get approved. This is so they know if someone loses a job, they can still get rent.
  4. Ask what utilities are covered and what need to be paid by tenant.
  5. Ask about the lease agreement. Is it required for a year? Half a year? Or is there no lease?
  6. Is there a fee for applications, and is that fee refundable or applicable to the down payment?

Once you have those answers and are satisfied with them, set up a viewing appointment.

When you get in to see the new abode, have with you the application fee, or maybe a check to write out if you like it. You want to look around at the neighborhood, see if you are really comfortable with it. Ask questions like: what is the biggest maintenance issue this unit has had? Is there anything that needs to be looked at that maybe hasn't been looked at for a while (plumbing is a big one with this!)? Was there any previous damage done that you should know about? (Possible holes in the walls, etc., where it may be a bit weaker).

Look at how the heating is done as well. If you are paying for utilities and it has oil heat, ASK IF THEY COVER THE FIRST FILL AND MORE OR NOT! Oil heat is extremely expensive, and you do not want to run out mid-winter. We didn't know about the costs of oil heat and got into an older house before. It cost nearly $1200 for one fill that didn't even last the winter. It was horrible. Please for your health and safety, look into the heating.

If the home doesn't look in bad repair, and you have had all of your questions answered without hesitation, go on and sign those papers!

I am sure that a few different odds and ends have escaped me, but I will be sure to update if I think of more as far as these steps. And please look forward to my next article of life advice! Comments are appreciated. Thank you!


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