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The newbie’s 12-step guide to apartment hunting by Jillian CariolaPublished: March 17, 2015Updated: September 17, 2015

Looking for your very first apartment isn’t a walk in the park, but there are ways to make the experience as hassle-free as possible.

Congratulations, new graduate! So you’ve finally decided you’re ready to leave Mom and Dad's nest and rent an apartment so you can practice being independent. But before you go out and buy that massive home entertainment system and popcorn machine you promised yourself years earlier your own place should have, make sure you have your priorities straight first.

Living on your own is going to be a big adjustment. Stuff like house payments and feeding you used to be your parents’ responsibility. Now that these are on your shoulders, it can't hurt to have a bit of help. To all the graduates who are getting their feet wet in the real world for the first time, here are a few tips to help you with your first step towards independent living: finding and choosing an apartment.

1. Create a budget. Based on what your job is paying you now, you should be able to figure out how much you’ll be able to comfortably pay towards rent every month. Having a budget will also ensure you won’t be tempted to consider units you can’t afford. Start by putting together a certain amount that’ll cover the norm of two months deposit and one month advance. Don’t forget to figure in your monthly utilities, transportation, and food. If you have any debt and subscription you need to pay regularly, figure those into your budget as well.

2. Make sure you have all the documents you need that a landlord might want to see. These usually include proof of income, government IDs, and even an NBI clearance.

3. Decide whether you really want to get an apartment, or you’ll be better of renting a room in someone’s house or living in a dorm. If you’re set on getting an apartment, now’s also the best time to figure out if you can rent one alone, or if you’d like to get a roommate. Renting alone means utmost privacy, but it also costs more than sharing a place with someone. Weigh the pros and cons so you know what kind of living arrangement you’ll be most comfortable with, financially and otherwise.

4. The fastest way to search for available apartments is to visit online classifieds, which can tell you exactly what you need to know about a specific rental, from the size of the property to its precise location. You can also take to social media like Facebook and Twitter and ask your friends and family if they know a place you can rent.

5. When choosing an apartment, don’t just look at how pretty it is. Make sure it’s close enough to your school or work, it’s near a lot of conveniences like 24-hour stores and banks, and its surroundings are well-lighted at night.

6. If you don’t have the money to buy furniture, look into furnished or semi-furnished rentals. You may need to pay a bit more, but it’ll save you the trouble of furnishing the unit yourself. Or you can always raid your parents’ house and grab your own bed plus a few chairs and tables they can part with and use those.

7. A great apartment can be ruined by a terrible landlord. If it feels like it’s not going to be a great relationship (they’re too involved in your business or they seem indifferent, or you just get an overall creepy vibe), you may want to look somewhere else.

8. If you’ve narrowed down to a few potential rentals, try visiting the properties at night and during weekends to really get a feel of the unit and its surroundings. Is the neighbor too loud? Are the streets bright enough to travel through at night?

9. Consider all the rules and regulations that a landlord has for tenants. Are you allowed to have a pet in the rental? Can you smoke in the unit? How strict is the policy about overnight guests? Who takes care of repairs and maintenance issues?

10. If the ad says utilities are covered, find out exactly which ones (usually water and electricity) are included in the rent, and which ones you’ll have to pay for separately. From there, you can also figure out which luxury utilities (cable, landline, Internet, etc.) you actually need and which ones you can skip to save money.

11. Check if the faucets and flushes are working and aren’t just spewing out brown goo. Make sure there are also enough sockets for all your appliances and electronics, and that all of them are functioning properly. Measure the rooms to see if you can actually fit your furniture in there. And to keep your head straight when looking at multiple rentals, a good practice is to take pictures of every property you visit. Snap some photos of any damage you see too.

12. It may be too early in the game, but you might also want to ask about their policy regarding breaking the lease. If your job provides you with the opportunity to be transferred, or it’s unstable to the point that you could get laid off anytime, you want to be able to leave the apartment with no hassle.

Be sure to understand all the points in the lease agreement before signing it. This is your hard-earned money going into the rent every month. The last thing you want is to unknowingly agree to something you overlooked because you were too excited to read the fine print. If you’re renting with friends, make sure they’re aware of the policies included in the contract as well.

If you realize you can’t afford to move out for now, there’s no shame in staying at home for a while longer until you’ve got your finances in order. You wouldn’t want to set off with no money plan, only to move back in a couple of months later because you can’t afford to eat anymore. Good luck!

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