There’s no question that housing costs are climbing far faster than wages. The wise advice to spend no more than 30% of your monthly income on housing is tough to follow in today’s market. And this trend makes it extremely difficult for people who are just starting out to secure a good apartment.
Lack of savings, student loan debt, and tiny starting salaries make it challenging to both save up that rental deposit and make rent every month. As of June 2019, the average rental cost for a one-bedroom apartment in the US was $1,216.
It’s a challenging situation, but there are a few things you can do to tip the scales and secure a cheap apartment on a budget.
The truth is that you will have to make some concessions. No apartment is going to check off every item on your wish list and be affordable, too. But taking some time to search your soul and decide on your deal breakers can make it easier to make compromises when the time comes.
Some things to consider are:
• Commute time/availability of public transportation
• Pet policy
• Necessary amenities, such as dishwasher, laundry, and air conditioning
• Neighborhood atmosphere (quiet vs lively)
• Willingness to have roommates & compatible personalities
• Smoking policy
Be as flexible as possible with location
Affordable apartments in the most upscale parts of any city are basically non-existent. But there are almost always developing neighborhoods that offer fantastic atmosphere and amenities for less money. Do your research to determine where these are. You’ll do best if you get in right before the neighborhood really booms.
Take some time to visit these neighborhoods and check out the local grocery store, laundromat, and city park. Notice if you see other people in your cohort strolling by. Look up the crime rate. Note the location of bus and subway stops. All of this information can help you feel at home even before locating an apartment.
Stay on top of the listings
The rental market moves extremely quickly, so you need to be ready to jump on any new listing that interests you. To that end, download the apps for popular rental websites like Trulia and Zillow. In many cases, creating an account on these services allows you to keep track of your favorite listings, save searches, and receive alerts when a new listing that matches your criteria is posted.
When you do find a listing that you like, pick up the phone immediately. Nothing beats the immediacy of a phone conversation. If you can get someone on the line, you will know right away that your communication was received. And if that apartment is already gone or won’t fit your needs in another way, you don’t waste time wondering.
Put yourself out there
You don’t necessarily have to wait for the perfect listing to appear to you. You can also broadcast your needs to your network and beyond. Make sure to put out the word about your apartment search on all of your social media feeds.
Facebook has lots of groups dedicated to local housing markets, so find and join them, too. It also doesn’t hurt to go old-school and post flyers in local laundromats, rec centers, and restaurants (with permission).
In your postings, include information about your budget, ideal apartment size, willingness to have a roommate, and preferred neighborhoods. It also doesn’t hurt to include a little bit of information about yourself; just be careful not to reveal anything that could be used to track or hack you!
The housing market has a lot of scammers operating within it because housing is a fundamental need and the market to exploit that is huge. Unfortunately, these scammers are always finding new, trickier ways to steal from honest people. But to foil the scammers there are a few universal things that you can never do.
For one, never send money, your social security number, or any personal information to a rental agent that you have not met, in person, at the apartment in question. Requests to send money ahead of a tour in order to hold the apartment are not legitimate.
Don’t sign any rental agreement until you have done some research on the renter as well. It can be helpful to search for that person or organization with the keywords “fraud,” “lawsuit,” and “scam” to be sure that they are legit.
It’s safer to do your apartment tours with a buddy in tow, as well, or at least make sure someone knows exactly where you’re going. And if you will be living with roommates, don’t sign a lease before meeting each of them in person.
Resist the impulse buy
Looking for an apartment to rent on a budget is stressful and often comes with a fair bit of time pressure. That can lead us to jump at something that seems good on paper without really having all the facts. Just as car salesmen will use time pressure to get you to buy right away, so will rental agents let you know that walking out the door means the next person in line will definitely snag your apartment.
But this is where you will live every day, and once you sign on the dotted line, you are usually locked in for at least a year. It’s okay to take an hour to stroll around the neighborhood and think it over. Sit quietly in the space and notice what you hear. Take the time to read the whole lease before signing it. Deal breakers aren’t always obvious right away.
Your apartment search could take some time, so patience is a virtue. Yeah, you probably want to get out of your parents’ house or off your friend’s couch as quickly as possible, but you won’t be well served by taking an apartment you can’t ultimately afford or that makes your life miserable.
It’s rough out there in the housing market, but with some creativity, flexibility, and persistence, you’ll find that apartment and stay on budget, too.