Renting Your First Place

Milestones in life are usually limited to big things like graduation, marriage, and the birth of a child.  However, there are other milestones that can be just as important to the individual. One of these is renting your first home.  Whether you're a college student looking for an off-campus apartment, a young couple getting their first place together, or someone looking to move out of their parent's house now that they have a steady job.

Planning is Important

moving inThe first rule of real estate may be location, but for your first place, planning actually comes first. Before you even start looking through listings, you need to have a plan.  Here's a few things to consider.

  1. How much rent can you pay? -- a good rule of thumb is to allocate no more than 1/3 of your take home pay towards rent. If a high-cost area you may need more, but budget carefully or consider getting a roommate.
  2. What other budget do you need? -- utilities, renter's insurance, and alarm, HOA, or condo fees may be involved in certain rental units.  Make sure you know how much you can afford to spend on these.
  3. What do you need and want? -- Make a list of the features you absolutely need in a home and those things that you really like but can live without.  Some things to consider, parking, air conditioning, pet policies, type of cable/internet service available, laundry facilities, and security.  Square footage, location, number of bathrooms and the existence of a yard or balcony may also be deal breakers.
  4. Do you have move in costs? -- you will not be able to move in until you have money for deposits. These may include deposits to utility companies, security or cleaning deposits to the landlord, and pet deposits. You may also need to factor in the purchase of furnishings and housewares that you do not own -- even furnished apartments don't have everything -- or the rental of a moving van.

Let the Search Begin

There are any number of ways to search for available apartments and rental houses.  Start with sites like craigslist and, but also check the classified ads of your local newspaper (online or in the print version). You can also get the word out to friends and family that you are looking as they may know of available homes.  Another option is to drive through neighborhoods to spot "for rent" signs that look like they meet your rental criteria.

It is a bad idea to rent a property without first taking a tour.  If it's an apartment complex, you will want to inspect all the facilities.  Make an appointment with the rental agent and be sure to have a list of questions to ask.  It is also a good idea to ask a friend or relative to go with you as they may think of questions you forget or notice issues with the property that you don't.

If you find a place that you like, you will probably have to pay an application fee and possibly pay a fee for a credit or background check.  Just remember that while the landlord is assessing your worthiness as a tenant, you have the right to do your own research into the rental agent and to inspect the house or apartment one more time making note of any items that need to be cleaned or fixed before you move in.

If both sides are satisfied, then you will find yourself signing a lease and paying any required deposits.  Then it's a matter of setting a move in date, arranging for utilities and insurance, and paying your first month's rent.

There are resources here for teachers who want to teach the basic math and life skills that students will need when they are ready to go out in the world.

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