Updated June 3, 2021 . AmFam Team
Are you in the market for an apartment? Finding the right place can be a challenge, but taking the time to pinpoint exactly what you want will get you into a place perfect for you — and most importantly, a place you can call home.
Whatever apartment you’re dreaming of, you can use this article — and free downloadable worksheet — to capture that dream on paper. Moving in with a significant other or roommates? This will come in handy to get everyone on the same page, too!
Let’s get started!
While you may be tempted to jump right into looking at apartment amenities and décor, the first thing you’ll need to do is establish a budget. Why? So you can narrow your search to only looking at apartments that fit within your means and living comfortably. From rent and utilities to parking and security deposit, our worksheet breaks down what costs to consider when setting a budget for your apartment.
Not sure what to set as your budget? A general rule for renting apartments is to only spend about a third of your annual income (after taxes) on rent.
Even with a set budget, you may feel overwhelmed by all the choices to make when apartment hunting. That’s why it’s important to establish your top priorities — determining your must-haves can help guide your search to finding what matters most to you!
One of the biggest factors to consider (and will play a large role in your budget) is the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you want. That second bedroom might be nice for an at-home office, but does it fit within your budget? Do you mind sharing a bathroom with your roommate? Things to think about!
Now it’s time to identify the ideal apartment size. How much space do you need? (Helpful tip: A one-bedroom apartment is typically about 500 to 800 square feet, which is about the size of a three-car garage.)
Consider the minimum square footage you could manage to live in as well as the maximum amount. And remember, price per square foot can be a lot higher in popular neighborhoods or cities. You might lose some space in these areas, but if that area is a priority, prepare yourself for a cozier place!
Your move-in date is another key ingredient when apartment searching — especially if you’re currently on a lease. The apartment of your dreams might be available in three months but what if you need something next month? Think about your preferred move-in date and if you have any flexibility around it.
Not sure when to start looking for an apartment? Starting your search 30 - 60 days before your move-in date is typically enough time to find a new place — that way the inventory of options will be up to date. And if you’re in an area with an apartment shortage, you may want to start looking up to 90 days in advance.
But if you’re too eager to wait and want to start your search, there are other options! Consider reaching out to the leasing management to ask if there is a grace period to start your lease. Some places will let you hold an apartment for a certain amount of days or weeks so you’re not paying double rent on your current place. You could also look into subleasing your current place so you can move into your dream apartment ASAP!
Do you prefer your lease to be yearly or more flexible like a month-to-month option?
Realistically, you’ll likely find more year-long leases when you’re searching, but if that lengthy commitment doesn’t quite work for you, month-to-month options are available. This type of flexibility comes in handy in situations like if you’re looking for a job that could take you to a new city or even if you’re in the market for your first home and don’t want to commit to a year-long lease.
Take the time to evaluate your current situation to determine what’s best for you and less stressful overall.
Here’s where you’ll start getting specific about your preferences — think about things like the age of the building, which floor you want to live on, if they allow pets and so on. Then, you’ll start to think about the features that matter most to you — like whether they have a dishwasher, in-unit laundry, hardwood floors versus carpeting, walk-in closets — you get the picture!
The worksheet checklist homes in on those details and will guide you to fine-tune your preferences so you can get into the apartment of your dreams!
Now it’s time to zero in on where you want to live. Are you looking for a quieter location like a small town or suburb? Or something livelier like in a city center where there’s a lot to do?
Taking the time to search different neighborhoods can make a huge difference — you don’t want to end up looking for another place right away because you don’t like the location!
If you have a car or other vehicle, you’ll likely want parking. Are you willing to pay a little more for assigned covered parking or will open lot or on-street parking suffice? How many parking spots do you need? If you are okay with on-street parking, make sure to ask the landlord about parking permits and where the closest options to park are located.
Mark your parking preferences on the worksheet and add it to your filter when searching for places.
When you’re looking for just the right neighborhood, be sure to think about whether it’s nearby things you want to be close to. How important is proximity to work and entertainment, like local restaurants, cafes and bars? How close is it to the grocery store and public transit? If having easy access to these types of places is important, make sure you mark them down.
And remember, some things can feel a little too close for some. While you might want to be near a lively restaurant, you may not want to live directly above it, depending on your preferences. Make sure to closely analyze an online map before deciding it’s worth the tour!
If you have kids in school, you’ll need to take that into account, too. Are you keen on a specific school district? Maybe you’d like a specific school size for your little scholars. In that case, make sure to check if your apartment is in your preferred district. Things like this will help narrow down your location.
Window orientation is an often-overlooked detail when apartment hunting, but it can make a huge difference! Whether you prefer sunlight to boost your mood, start your day, grow your apartment garden or indoor plants or all of the above, having windows that face the best direction for you is something to pay attention to when looking for a place.
Here’s a helpful guide so you can better understand the sun at different times of the day:
East/West-facing windows are brightest in the morning (east) and evening (west) with a warm golden tone. Like waking up to the sun? You’ll want an east-facing window. Enjoy ending the day watching the sunset? A west-facing window is a must.
South-facing windows tend to get a lot of direct sunlight that’s the brightest during the day. With a south-facing window, you’ll get a nicely heated apartment since the sun will stream through at the hottest point of the day!
North-facing windows typically don’t have very much direct sunlight, so it’ll be a darker, more even-lit room. If you work third shift and need to sleep during the day, or you love cranking the AC down and keeping cool without breaking the bank, a north-facing window can be a great option.
Are there specific community features you’re looking for in your dream apartment?
From a pool and fitness center to onsite security and elevators, here’s where you’ll narrow down the perks of living in an apartment complex.
As you start viewing apartments and meeting with landlords, there are key questions to ask before signing the dotted line. For instance, can you sublease the apartment if you need to? Are you allowed to paint or make other cosmetic changes? Do you need renters insurance? Knowing the answer to questions like these upfront will ensure there are no surprises later — check out the worksheet to find a comprehensive list of questions you can ask (Tip: Print it out and bring it with you when viewing places!)
Ready to find the apartment of your dreams? Download our apartment-buying worksheet and get started!
Hopefully you feel better equipped to start your apartment search and find the place you get to call home.
And once you’ve found a place to call yours, head online to get a free quote and purchase your customized renters insurance from American Family in minutes — all from the comfort of your desktop or mobile device.
Last thing! Don’t forget to check out our Renters and Apartment Resource Hub, where you’ll find great tips and advice about renters insurance, roommates, landlords, DIY ideas and more!