How to Find Your First Apartment

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 13, 2009 · 28 comments

in Money & Career


Editor’s Note: One of the features of the new Art of Manliness Community is the ability to post blog posts. If we find one of these posts particularly interesting or helpful, we’ll be posting it up here on the main site. Kicking off this new tradition, we have a post by Shane Belin.

Over the past couple of months, I found myself charged with the task of finding my first apartment. Being a student, I spent the last three years living in a dorm during the school year and living at home during the summer. So, for my fourth year of college, I decided it was time to move into my own apartment.

It’s a step every man has to take at some point. It’s that moment where you realize that you no longer live at home with mom and dad, which is also likely where you grew up. It can be a daunting or even scary task to have to pick where you are now going to live and call home. But it can also be a rewarding and fun experience that you might just learn from. I wasn’t overwhelmed too much, and there’s no reason to overwhelm yourself either. You just need to formulate a plan, and approach it with your head on straight. Having just gone through this experience, there are some tips and insight I hope I can give that will make finding an apartment for you much easier.

First and Foremost, Money

Money is one of the first things you should consider. Take a look at your financial and life situation and ask the question, “What can I really afford?”Are you a recent college graduate who just landed a good paying job? Are you still an undergrad who would have to pay for rent with college loans (like myself)? This is important to consider so that you don’t find yourself on some first of the month with not enough money in the bank. Set yourself a strict limit for what you feel is within your power, and stick to it. Go above your limit only if you find a place you really enjoy that isn’t too far above your rent limit. This will help you out in a couple of ways. First, you will be able to focus on a smaller range of apartment listings, making it easier to select the best within those listings. Second, setting a limit helps you to not be too unreasonable. If your monthly rent limit is $600, you won’t spend time looking at an amazing three bedroom apartment with an eat-in kitchen that has a $1200 a month rent. It will save you time, effort, and keep you within your means.

Make sure you understand what utilities you will be responsible for paying. If you are responsible for paying the gas, is it just the cooking gas or the heating gas as well? Keep in mind that some places have electric heating, which may fall under your responsibility if you are responsible for paying electricity. This would mean the difference between a $110 winter electricity bill or a $50 winter electricity bill. Knowing exactly what utilities you are responsible for helps you determine how much you really will be paying per month (utilities+rent). If all utilities are included, then great! All you have to worry about is paying the rent. The rental company or landlord may be able to give you utility bill estimates. If not, the majority of utility companies will give you that information if you give them a call. Simply give them the address and apartment number you are interested in, and they can give you the average utility bills for that apartment. Pretty handy, huh?

Of course, don’t forget about things besides just rent and utilities! Toiletries, food, gas, internet, and bus fare are just some of the things you might have to consider as well. Try to formulate exactly how much of a budget you can give to these each month, and try to stick with that. There isn’t a whole lot of advice to give right here, because these misc. costs will vary from person to person and apartment to apartment. The moral of the story is: be mindful of what you can afford! Live within your means, and you should do just fine.

Searching For an Apartment

There are multiple avenues you can pursue when finding the actual apartment. The classic way is to search through the classified ads of your local paper, or through an apartment listing booklet such as Apartment Finder. The only downside to this method is that listings sometimes lack pictures, forcing you to visit them to even gage your initial interest.

To resolve this issue, the internet can be a great place to turn. Online classified listings are a great place to start, as they usually include several pictures of the actual apartment, and can give more information than a print classified ad. There are a multitude of sites that can be used to find apartments. The one that helped me out the most was Craigslist. It’s rather straightforward, and it includes a lot of listings. Try to be wary of listings that seem a little shady. If the pictures they post are time stamped for 1998, they likely do not accurately reflect how the apartment really looks.

Of course the best way to go is to use both methods! A combination of looking online and in print ads will help you not miss the perfect apartment for you.

Viewing the Apartment

When arriving to view an apartment, try to be very prompt and on time. If you’re late for your viewing, what’s to stop the landlord from thinking you’ll be late on payments? Being prompt can help give that first boost of confidence to your potential landlord.

When viewing the apartment, don’t just give each room a quick up and down. It’s important to really take time to take it all in. After all, this is the place you’ll be calling home. Are the walls and carpet well-kept? How new are the appliances? Take note of the windows, as double-pane windows will help you cut down on energy costs. Note even the small things such as electrical outlets. It’s important to see that everything seems reasonably well kept as well as safe. One important thing to note is the size of the rooms themselves. This will help you avoid trying to put too much stuff into too small an apartment!

Most importantly, don’t be scared to ask questions. The person showing you the apartment should be more than willing to provide you with any information you might have. It’s better to be informed going in than finding out about something when you move. As always, leave the person with a handshake and a “Thank you” to show your gratitude.

Take Note of the Area

This should almost be as important as the apartment itself! You must make sure you are moving into an area that you will feel comfortable in, as well as safe. Consult online databases to get crime statistics for the area. Even if you were to move into a dangerous area, you would at least know what you’re getting yourself into.

If you own a car, see if there is ample parking near the apartment or if your landlord can provide off-street parking (usually with a fee). You must make sure you are moving into an area that you like, or else you might be unhappy even if you like your apartment. Other things to consider include proximity to grocery stores, noise levels, and proximity to school or work. It boils down to finding an area that’s comfortable, safe, and relative to your needs.


Potentially one of the hardest parts about the move is the fact that you may be living with someone new. This is the person you are going to be likely signing an apartment lease with, so I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a roommate that you will be able to get along with and enjoy living with. Your best bet is to find someone you’ve known for a long time on a personal basis. Ideally this is someone you’ve spent a lot of time with so you know their personality and habits, and the move would be that much more smooth and enjoyable. However, you may find that you have to find a complete stranger to live with. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to get to know them as much as you possibly can before moving in together. If you are the quiet type, you would be put off when you find out your roommate is a loud party animal. The more you get to know the person, the better likelihood you have of being compatible roommates.

One potential roommate that some men find themselves with is their girlfriend/fiance/wife. This is the position I find myself in (moving in with long-term girlfriend), and I personally couldn’t be more happy with it. It can be a wonderful experience to move in with a long-time girlfriend or someone you may spend the rest of your life with. That considered, it’s a really big step. It shows a commitment that you two have to each other, as you will be sharing the responsibilities of owning a place as well as being with each other likely much more than you have before. However, don’t try to be too hasty in jumping on the chance to move in with your significant other. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to (as I’m personally doing it), but make sure you give it ample thought. Have you been with this person long enough to really know them on a deep personal level? Countless times I’ve heard tales of couples moving in together, only to find out that they aren’t compatible on mundane things that end up hurting the relationship.

Make sure you are willing to compromise and make sacrifices when living with someone new. It eases the strain and makes it a nicer experience for both you and your roommate. Make sure financial responsibility is understood, and that your roommate can handle doing their part to help out. A big plus of living with a roommate is that your personal costs can drop dramatically (in half or even more). Take this into account with setting a budget and finding a potential apartment.

And Finally…

… you choose where you are going to live. There’s no advice I can give you on how you are personally going to make your decision. If you take into account your budget, the area, the apartment, and your roommate then you should be able to arrive at a decision that suits you best and will bring you the most enjoyment. Moving into your first apartment can be a very rewarding experience, as you are finally out by yourself in the world, and more responsible than you have been. Try not to fret about it, and try to learn from the experience. Having gone through the process myself, I can confidently say that it is not as bad as you may think!

Have any more tips on finding your first apartment? Leave them in the comments.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Heather April 13, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Some more tips.

1. Check out the apartment complex at different times of day. What might look safe during the day might seem to be not quite so safe at night. Also check out the traffic situation at different times of day. While there might not be a backup at 3pm, there might be a 10 minute traffic jam at the entrance at 8am.

2. If this is your first apartment, consider how you are going to pay for food. One day’s worth of takeout will pay for a week’s worth of food from the grocery store.

3. Have a budget for “incidentals”. These include bathroom like a toilet brush and sponges, kitchen cleaning supplies, a vacuum cleaner, etc. Even when shopping on the cheap this can run you a couple hundred dollars. Besides, you *were* planning on cleaning this apartment, weren’t you?

2 nedm April 13, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Here’s a few other tips

1) In all honesty do NOT cosign for an apartment. My brother did and the other guy left…guess who had to foot the bill the rest of the year….

2) Set some ground rules for friend/relatives. ex if there’s a party say they stay to help clean…people can crash for the night as long as they can clean it up

3) find out everything that is within say five miles. Sometimes you might be surprised at the smaller businesses around.

4) make sure you are prepaired weatherwise. Does the place have the snow plowed in the winter…does the place have central a/c. If your car breaks down is there enough room for AAA to show up to jump it

5) ask if there’s any rules for furnture. Dorms near me won’t allow old beds due to a bedbug problem…likewise apartments will probably do the same

6) lastly…if there’s enviromental problems as to how they handle it. a friend of mine had mold in his apartment. wasn’t so much a problem for him but he dog nearly died from it. He told the landlord to fix it but it didn’t happen…they were lucky and they were moved and upgraded at no cost to another apartment. Not all places will do this. On the same note if you have kids is there lead paint…are there any sewerage problems/electrical etc.

3 Melissa April 13, 2009 at 6:43 pm

These are such good tips! A high school friend and I just signed the lease on our first apartment. Too bad this article wasn’t written a few months ago when we started looking.

Another thing I’d like to recommend: Green your Apartment! There are a lot of really little things you can do to reduce both your utility bill and your environmental impact. Try compact bulbs or vinegar based cleaning solution. There are a lot of really amazing websites with great information out there.

4 Brett & Kate McKay April 13, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Excellent additions everyone. Keep them coming!

5 James April 13, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Good tips. If you’re going to be living with a lady I recommend checking out a registry of sex offenders like this one:

Put in your address and it shows how many sex offenders are living near you. My girlfriend and I were looking at these apartments that we really liked but were in a slightly shady neighborhood. I checked the map and there were three sex offenders living in the complex. Needless to say, we found a different place.

6 Shane Belin April 13, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Hey everyone, thanks for taking the time to read the post, and for adding your own comments! You guys have definitely gotten into some good points I didn’t mention in the article.

@James – That’s actually a fantastic idea! It’s a very good idea to know if any of those people live in the area, as not much matters more to a man than the safety of his lady.

7 Doug B April 13, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I’d add that it’s a good idea to check out the complex during prime party hours (esp. if you are in/near college). Late Thur-Fri nights can be telling!

8 M. April 13, 2009 at 11:23 pm

As a Property Manager, and specifically a Resident Apartment Manager, I would like to weigh in on a few points. Chiefly those points concern with landing the lease.

First, do be on time for the selected time to view the apartment. This is, indeed, the time in which, not only are you sizing up the place as well as the management, but also when they are beginning to size you up as a potential renter. Lateness is perceived as a lack of respect for the manager’s time, which could be extrapolated to be perceived as a lack of respect for one’s fellow man (specifically the lowly resident manager, in general– these people take time out of their day to show you the place, often without any commission-based compensation to propel them), for authority (for, should you ultimately rent from this manager, they will be in a position of authority over you, the renter), and for society in general. I personally look at tardiness for a scheduled viewing as foreshadowing for later problems.

Secondly, have your act together. If you’ve spoken to the manager over the phone and you’ve been told that you’ll need to bring necessary paperwork, such as a statement of earnings or even a social security card for photocopy in order to submit an application, please remember do so. Forgetting these small requests will not negate their necessity, and will only lengthen the overall application process.

Third, please be honest. Some apartment communities have more lenient policies than others, but no matter what you’ve listed on your application, the process that Property Management companies use to validate your answers isn’t much different than the processes a bank or mortgage company would use to assess your worthiness. Criminal backgrounds will be found out, rental history will be discovered, and your credit history will be laid plain for all to see. If you have a mitigating circumstance that allows for the rules to be bent, it will be easy to check. If you are clearly lying and trying to pull the wool, that will be obvious as well.

Following this criteria is not only what I’m asking you to do in order to make my life as a Leasing Agent easier, but also what you should do to make your application/rental process smoother. Informed questions from the first call will save you in application fees for properties where you won’t fit the criteria for the property in question, and basic forthrightness will prevent any misunderstanding on the part of either yourself, or your intended landlord.

9 Cliff April 14, 2009 at 3:57 am

Some of the questionable advice I got, when looking for an apartment in New York City, was “don’t get an apartment close to work”… I guess the idea was to separate work from ‘play’… well, I ended up commuting 45 minutes each way to work and back for 10 years. The only positive was that I got a little reading done on the subway…

10 Chris April 14, 2009 at 5:07 am

The only thing that I would question would be moving in with someone you’ve known for a long time. Until you’ve lived with a person, you have no clue about them. When I started college, I saw way too many of my friends move in together, thinking it was a smart move. Most of them ended up “separating” by the end of the first semester, as they really didn’t get along that well.

I moved in with one of my old friends, and while things went okay for us, there was so much about him I didn’t know. The first thing I learned was that he was completely obsessive over neatness. He had pencils in his desk, and every pencil had a foam finger thing on it and an eraser, all of which matched in color. The pencils were then neatly aligned in his drawer, along with extra erasers, ordered by color, and pads of paper. This carried over into the room, too, as even his CDs and video games were stored in alphabetical order in specific spots.

The second thing I learned was that he would try to keep tabs on me to make sure I wasn’t doing anything he wouldn’t do. In other words, he was pretty nosy. I came home drunk one night, and since his father was a drunk and he didn’t drink, I got an earful for it. Another night, I didn’t come back to the dorm and stayed out with some friends. When I got back in the morning, he had been up all night, pacing around wondering where I was. While I appreciated his concern for me, it felt a little bit like he was trying to babysit.

I moved out toward the end of the semester and moved in with someone completely the opposite. We still were friends and all, but I don’t think we were meant to be roommates.

I’ve lived with upwards of 20 different people, only one of whom did I know before I moved in with him, and I have to say my odds were FAR better with strangers than with old friends. When you don’t know someone, at least in the beginning, most people try to behave.

11 apthater April 14, 2009 at 5:43 am

For some reason people who own apartments aren’t allowed to tell you if there is a problem with noise.

12 Tim April 14, 2009 at 6:50 am

“Consult online databases”

Nope. You want accurate information? Ask a local firefighter (ask them in person). They know all the places the rescue squads routinely go to for gunshots, domestics disturbances, drug OD’s, you name it. Also, they are not shy about sharing it because they DO NOT want their family or friends living in those areas.
You can’t get better intel on a neighborhood..

13 Joseph April 14, 2009 at 8:51 am

I heartily agree with Chris.

I have had a few friendships ruined because we were bad roommates.

If you have the ability, see if you can sublet, make sure you can hoof the bill yourself for a few months, and advertise a room for rent.

Interview plenty of people, asking questions about personal habits (like cleanliness, partying proclivities, etc.)

When you do offer the room to someone, make sure you set the ground rules about what is allowed, and what is not.

If you can sublet, instead of adding the potential roommate onto the main lease, you have the added benefit of being able to kick the person out real easily if you have been lied to or mislead.

14 Ryan April 14, 2009 at 10:06 am

A few additional tips:

1. Read the lease! It’s amazing how many people blindly sign documents that they do not know what they contain.

2. For students with roommates, check on by-the-bed leases. These mean you sign to cover a set portion of the total apartment rent, even if a signed roommate bails. Otherwise, you are responsible for the entire apartment rent. You should also make sure you are comfortable with the by-the-bed stipulations if a roommate leaves. The lease may note that the landlord has the authority to fill the vacancy with anyone, including someone with whom you are not comfortable.

3. Make sure you can have pets if you are a pet lover. And if you find the remnants of prior tenants’ pets as a bother, ask if prior owners had pets. Some stains/smells don’t come out no matter how strong a cleaning solution was used.

4. In high demand areas, check on income and other tenant requirements. In NYC a few years ago, many landlords had strict rules regarding your income as a multiple of monthly rent, years worked in the city, years worked in current positions, etc. And they wouldn’t budge. Given the current market, these are likely less prevalent but it doesn’t hurt to ask up front. It may save you and the landlord some time.

5. Get your credit in order. Landlords have checked credit for years and most are even more stringent nowadays since consumer credit has deteriorated. If you’re in high school or college, you probably have no credit, which is usually no better than bad credit. Get a credit card with no annual fee and a very low limit and use it responsibly for items for which you would normally pay cash (e.g. gas, cell phone bill, etc). Set the cash aside every time you make a purchase and pay the full bill monthly. DO NOT CARRY A BALANCE!

6. Some of the commenters above have had bad roommate experiences with friends/significant others. That happens a lot and the blame usually lies with both parties. My bad experiences with friends were when I didn’t differentiate someone from being a good friend vs a good roommate. You can be best of friends with someone and yet not be compatible roommates. Ask yourself if the friend will actually be compatible with your lifestyle. Observe his/her behavior in that context for a few months and make an informed decision.

7. If you decide to go the roommate route, determine your respective contributions before signing the lease. Understand who will pay for what share of the rent and other bills and who will supply what furniture.

Like most decisions planning is key. Consider all aspects of the living arrangement ahead of time and determine which problem spots are manageable and which are dealbreakers. This will provide a much more enjoyable lifestyle.

15 Eoin April 14, 2009 at 10:27 am

I completely agree with Heather on checking out the apartment several times during the day and on different days of the week. You should look at landscaping (is the apartment in shade or full sun)and the condition of the grounds. The condition of the grounds is an indicator of maintenance and respect the tenants have for the property. Also drive around the neighborhood and look at what shops are in the neighborhood. Are there necessities (gas, groceries, entertainment of choice) nearby? And consider alternatives to the traditional apartment. Houses for rent are generally bigger and can be had for decent rates especially if you plan on having roommates. Rooms for rent can be had as well, but make sure you are a good fit for the living arrangements.

16 A.T. Nelson April 14, 2009 at 11:38 am

Renting an apartment can always be a hassle, but living in a place with a lousy landlord can make it terrible. Always check Land or Slum ( to see if your potential landlord is listed. If there are listings for your city, but your landlord isn’t listed, it’s generally a good sign. This is especially important for student renters in “college” areas, where landlords tend to stereotype students as partiers who are likely to destroy the place or who don’t care about their living area. If you sign a lease with an bad landlord, you’re stuck with them for a year.

This goes without saying, but bad tenants are the bane of a landlord’s existence. Try to develop a personal relationship with your landlord, if possible. One way to do that is to look for people who only own one or two buildings, and who can then give their tenants more personal attention. Surprisingly, an easy way to do this is to search for apartments that allow pets. These are (not always, but often) places that are run by small-scale who can give the more personal attention that makes renting a better experience.

17 kirk April 14, 2009 at 12:09 pm

I totally agree with Tim, the other option is the Police, they also have records of all of the things you do not want to happen near where you live. The other thing about the Police is that they are always honest and will take your call.

18 Grant April 14, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Fortunately my days of apartment living are over, but I have certainly lived in my fare share of apartments over the years. One thing that I learned too late in the game was that it is a great idea to do a free Better Business Bureau search on the property management company. The free report shows whether the company is in excellent, good, fair, or poor standing with the bureau. The rating is based on the number of conflicts/complaints filed against the company and the number of which have been resolved. If there are dozens of complaints and the company is in anything below good standing with the bureau steer clear!!!

19 John April 15, 2009 at 10:29 am

I, too, manage rental property and echo a lot of what has been said by M.

1. Show up when you agreed to show up. 1pm doesn’t mean ‘around’ 1pm or 130pm. We immediately cross off the list anyone who doesn’t have at least the decency to give us a call if they are going to be late.

2. Have your references in order BEFORE you apply. If your employer or landlord requires your written permission to give out info, do that first. Some employers require people calling for references to go to websites and sign up, even sometimes pay. No go on that, you need to make other arrangements.

3. If the place says no pets, that means no pets. No harm in asking, of course. But the time to ask is BEFORE you apply. No LL is going to change his/her mind because spring a pet on them right before lease signing. The only thing that is going to change is you pissing people off.

4. Make sure to ask questions of the LL that are important to you. But don’t paint yourself as a possible ‘high maintenance’ tenant, that will get you crossed off the list FAST. And don’t insult people. If you say the apartment looks like a sty but the LL or manager actually cleaned it (and it is clean, just not YOUR stratospheric level of clean), you’re done.

5. Read your damn lease before you sign it. It isn’t the LL’s responsibility to make sure you do that. But you can bet we will point to it as reason why or why not we do something, just as you would if it were all in YOUR favor.

6. LL’s and managers are not going to answer questions that paint them or their complex unfavorably that they do not have to. Stuff like how the neighborhood is (if it’s bad) or traffic or stuff like that. That’s YOUR homework to do.

20 Ben April 21, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Good advice about checking what’s going on at different times of day. Also, for a take on the neighborhood, hang around the local convenience store at different times of day to see what’s coming in and out. If you have a car, cruise around the neighborhood…there might be an open-air drug market, gang turf or a whore stand around the corner.

21 Tiffany April 29, 2009 at 10:53 am

Thank you for this article, I really learned a lot. I’ve just started looking for my first apartment and the realization of moving out and being on my own is scary to me. I really liked how you mention that it isn’t as bad as you thought it would be, that gives me hope. Thanks again!


22 Jackie May 14, 2009 at 9:04 am

I’ve definitely lived in my share of apartments. I wish I’d known all of this before I moved into any of them. I would add a personal recommendation. If possible, live on the top floor of a complex. There are no neighbors above you to make noise! It’s much more peaceful. Taking the stairs to the third floor can be tiring, but it’s a fair trade to me. Although, when moving into or out of that top floor apartment, take it from me, you really don’t want to carry a washer and dryer down 3 flights of stairs. My other recommendation would be to use a professional moving company .

23 Ryan May 31, 2009 at 11:01 am

Another thing to watch out for when renting an apartment in an apartment complex is rising payments. The apartment complex I used to live in gave me a pretty good deal on my first lease and even threw in a washer and dryer. I didn’t realize that the free washer and dryer was a limited-time thing. After a while they wanted me to start paying for them. It was a much better deal to buy my own laundry machines on a one-year-same-as-cash plan.

As for rent, every time I signed a new lease the price went up. Apparently, my rent amount on the first lease was a special introductory offer that was below the “market value” of the apartment. Every time I signed a new lease, they raised the rent a little more and a little more with the intention of eventually having me pay the market value for the apartment. The market value ended up being too much to pay for renting, so my wife and I got a house and put that bigger payment toward a mortgage instead. I wish I would’ve signed a 12-month lease and a 6-month lease instead of 3 6-month leases.

So if you’re renting an apartment, make sure you ask whether the cost will remain the same from lease to lease or whether they will raise it to the market value.

24 Joey Marino September 11, 2009 at 12:42 am

Except for the obvious reasons like maintenance, why rent an apartment when you can buy a house for the same cost?

25 nyc apartments January 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Great tips, I have been looking for a apartment.

26 Landm November 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm

One very important thing is you NEED to know your rights and responsibilities under the law. All states or provinces have a Residential Tenancy Act which outlines what you are responsible to do and what the landlord is responsible to do and provide. You MUST know these things. Look on the website of your local residential tenancy office and ask for a guide.

27 John K. Rice March 25, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Well, are are gonna be men! Great tips! What a way to show manliness! :D!

28 Tim Burke February 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Every 20-something ought to read all of these, they will prevent turmoil. Re: Search, View, Noting the Area: when I got my present job, I had to move to new city in a new state and didn’t have any friends or family to give me ideas of where to look for a place. I really didn’t want to be locked into a lease I’d regret because the job was going to be demanding enough without coming home to domicile aggravation. So I put my stuff in a public storage unit and got a weekly rate for a motel near my new job. It did take nearly two weeks, driving around for signs, and using online sites like and (craigslist was ok but a lot of wasted visits to places I didn’t even want to enter).

I scoped out areas and found a few I like, and by then I had suggestions from my new co-workers to go by, as well. I can’t tell you how valuable it was to actually walked through the apartments before committing because some were not up to the level their pictures promised.

So, I ended up spending for the storage plus the two weeks for the motel, but I could move my stuff in a few pieces and boxes at a time, so the move was very much smoother than having everything dumped into a new place and you have to sort it all out.

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