May 16, 2023

10 Tips for First-Time Renters

Renting your first apartment? Here are tips to help first-time renters feel more prepared as they search for a new living space.

10 Tips for First-Time Renters

Updated 5/16/2023

When you're moving into your own place for the first time, finding the right apartment can be overwhelming. First-time renters must manage applications and administrative processes, budget for rising rental costs, and watch out for scams.

Renting your first apartment can be a big step, but it doesn't have to be stressful. We've put together the following tips to help you find a living arrangement that works for you. 

Best practices for first-time renters

1. Plan your budget carefully

Before signing a lease, calculate your rental expenses accurately to make sure you can afford the apartment. While your monthly rent will be the largest cost, there are additional one-time and recurring fees for renters to be aware of. 

Here’s a closer look at some common costs that first-time renters should include in their budget planning.

Upfront renter costs:

  • Application fees
  • Security deposit
  • First and last months’ rent (if required)
  • Moving costs
  • Furnishings 

Recurring renter costs:

  • Rent
  • Gas and electricity
  • Garbage
  • Internet and cable
  • Parking (if not included with the monthly rent)
  • Laundry (if not included in the unit or building)
  • Renters insurance (optional but recommended)

2. Gather your rental application documents

While property managers and landlords may have different rental application requirements, they typically will include some or all of the following documents:

  • Identification document (e.g., driver's license or state-issued ID)
  • Proof of income, including recent pay stubs and/or a W2 
  • Rental history and landlord references
  • Proof of renters insurance
  • Co-signer option if you have no credit history

To ensure a smooth application process, get these materials in order before searching for apartments. This will demonstrate to potential landlords that you're responsible and organized. Note that many landlords also ask tenants to undergo a background check and credit check, which may require additional information. 

3. Make a list of your priorities

Before starting your apartment search, consider your needs as a first-time renter. What qualities or features of an apartment can you not live without? While few apartments will meet all your preferences, narrowing down what's most important to you will make the search process much easier. Some considerations for first-time apartment renters to think through are:

  • Clean and fully functioning kitchen
  • Outdoor living space
  • Desirable neighborhood
  • Closet and storage space
  • Proximity to work (for in-office workers)
  • Building amenities (common spaces, laundry, gym)
  • Parking 
  • Pet policies
  • Accessibility features (if needed)
  • Safety and security (well-lit common areas, secure entry systems)
  • Apartment layout and design preferences (open concept, separate rooms, natural light)
  • Lease terms and flexibility (month-to-month, annual, or multi-year leases)
  • Noise levels and surrounding environment (quiet vs. lively neighborhood)

4. Give yourself enough time

Sometimes finding the right apartment can take a few months, so start the process early. You don't want to be still looking for a place to live just a few weeks before your move-in date. Keep in mind that if you're looking for an apartment with special accommodations, such as one that's pet-friendly or has a covered garage, it may take even longer. 

If your timeline for moving is flexible, there are times of the year when apartments are less competitive, and rent is cheaper. By being strategic about your search, you can score a better deal as a first-time renter. Summer is a popular time of the year to move because the warmer weather makes it easier to move — but it's also a highly competitive season for renters. As the school year approaches, the rental market is usually cluttered with high school graduates and college students looking for a place to live. During the winter, you may be able to find an apartment at a reduced cost since demand is typically lower, but there may not be as many apartments available. 

5. Choose a compatible roommate

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends spending at most 30% of your gross income on rent. When this isn't possible, teaming up with a roommate is an excellent way to offset your living expenses. However, before choosing a roommate, consider what compromises you're prepared to make and what your non-negotiables are. Here are some important questions to ask potential roommates:

  • What are your cleanliness standards?
  • Smoking or non-smoking?
  • Are pets ok?
  • Is it ok to have guests? And how long can they stay?
  • Who is responsible for purchasing furniture and other items for the apartment?
  • How will bills and shared expenses be divided?
  • What is your daily routine and schedule like? (e.g., night owl vs. early bird)
  • What are your expectations for quiet hours and noise levels?
  • How long do you plan to stay in the apartment?

If you decide that having a roommate is a good choice, consider drafting a roommate agreement to clarify expectations and ensure you are on the same page. 

6. Watch out for rental scams

You may not expect to run into scams, but listings that seem too good to be true often are. The FBI's Internet Crime Report revealed that over 11,500 people reported losing more than $350 million due to rental and real estate scams in 2021 — a 64% increase from the previous year. 

Scams may not be obvious, but here are a few red flags to look for: 

  • Too good to be true (listed at an extremely low monthly rent price)
  • Fake listings (no address or photos, or lists a suspicious-looking email address)
  • Duplicate listings (the same apartment, address, photos, and description but listed with different contact information or at a different price)
  • Higher-than-normal security deposit requirements (more than 1-2 months’ rent)
  • Listings that don’t require tenant screening

7. Thoroughly review the lease agreement

You must review your lease agreement to clarify your obligations and expectations. Be aware of your rights as a renter, and look out for these things:

  • Security deposit requirements
  • Rules about subletting
  • Utility responsibilities
  • Maintenance policies
  • Liens or claims to your property
  • Consequences of late/missed rent payment
  • Pet policies, if applicable, and any additional fees for having an animal

If you have specific questions or concerns regarding your lease, consider having a tenant attorney look at it. An attorney can spot any illegal provisions, point out unfavorable provisions, and suggest changes for a more favorable lease. 

8. Don’t skip renters insurance

Some landlords require renter's insurance. Even if they don't, it's still wise to have it — whether you're a first-time renter or a long-term tenant. Renters' insurance policies are relatively cost-effective  (about $15 per month on average), protect yourself and your personal belongings in case of damage or theft, and provide other liability coverage in case you or a guest gets hurt on the premises of your rental home. A typical renters insurance policy covers the following: 

  • Personal property protection: If your personal belongings get stolen, damaged, or destroyed, you’ll be entitled to a payout (minus the deductible).
  • Personal liability: Depending on the terms of your policy, renters insurance will pay for medical bills and lost wages if someone in your home gets injured or hurt. It may also provide coverage if you end up in a lawsuit. 
  • Loss of use: If your apartment becomes uninhabitable for any reason, loss of use coverage helps pay your expenses while you live outside your home, such as in a hotel. 

Before signing up for renters insurance, have a record of the value of your personal inventory and belongings. This way, you can ensure you choose renters insurance coverage limits that are high enough to offer complete protection. 

9. Pay rent securely online

While you can’t always choose your payment method, ask your landlord if they are willing to use a rent collection platform that allows you to pay rent online. Making your rent payment online is more secure, and first-time renters will benefit from the transparency of having a record of past on-time payments. Some platforms like Azibo allow renters to schedule automatic payments, pay rent with a credit card, or boost your credit score with rent reporting. 

10. Conduct a thorough move-in inspection with your landlord

Before moving into your new apartment complex, conduct a thorough inspection to document the existing condition of the unit. This step will help you avoid potential disputes over damages already present before you moved in. Make sure to examine the following:

  • Walls, ceilings, and floors for any cracks, stains, or damages
  • Doors and windows for proper functioning, sealing, and locks
  • Appliances, including refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, and any other provided appliances
  • Plumbing fixtures, such as sinks, toilets, and showers, to ensure they are in working order and have no leaks
  • Heating and cooling systems to confirm they function properly
  • Electrical outlets, switches, and light fixtures for proper operation
  • Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers for functionality and compliance with local regulations

Take photos or videos of any existing damages and share them with your landlord so they have a record of the condition when you move in. It's also a good idea to create a written report detailing the findings of your inspection and have both parties sign and date it. This documentation will be invaluable if you need to recover your security deposit when it's time to move out.

Common first-time renter mistakes to avoid

Even when taking necessary precautions, the excitement of finding the perfect apartment can sometimes lead to overlooking potential issues. It's common for first-time renters to make mistakes along the way. To help you navigate this process more smoothly, let's examine some of the typical missteps made by novice tenants.

Underestimating the importance of location

First-time renters often focus on the apartment's features and amenities while overlooking the importance of its location. Living in a convenient and safe neighborhood close to work, public transportation, and essential services can significantly impact your overall quality of life. Research the area and visit the neighborhood at different times of the day to get a comprehensive understanding of its safety, noise levels, and accessibility.

Overlooking utility costs

Another common mistake is not accounting for utility costs when determining the affordability of an apartment. While rent is the most significant expense, utilities such as electricity, gas, water, and internet can also add up. To avoid financial strain, consider these costs when calculating your monthly expenses.

Not having a backup plan

First-time renters should have a contingency plan in place to address potential issues that may arise during their tenancy. This might include having an emergency fund for unexpected expenses or a backup housing option if the rental situation does not work out. Having a contingency plan can provide peace of mind and help you navigate any challenges that may come your way.

Neglecting to communicate with your landlord

Maintaining open and respectful communication with your landlord is crucial to a successful renting experience. Be proactive in addressing any concerns or maintenance requests, and ensure that you adhere to the terms of your lease. By fostering a positive relationship with your landlord, you can minimize the likelihood of disputes and create a more enjoyable living environment.

How Azibo can help first-time renters stay organized

Searching and finding the perfect apartment requires patience, diligence, and preparation. By following our tips, first-time renters can make the apartment hunt as seamless as possible and avoid common pitfalls.

Renting an apartment can be overwhelming between renters insurance, rent payment, and application documents, but Azibo can simplify the process. With our free, easy-to-use platform, you can pay rent online from any device with flexible payment methods. You'll also get access to other benefits, such as renters insurance, and the ability to improve your credit report and score by reporting on-time rent payments through Azibo Credit Boost

First-time renters FAQs

How to save money for my first apartment?

Securing funds for your own apartment may require a combination of strategies to cover upfront costs and ensure financial stability. Begin by creating a detailed budget to understand the amount you need for initial expenses and monthly living costs. Next, consider various ways to save money or generate additional income.

You could cut back on discretionary spending, establish a dedicated savings account, and set up automatic transfers to consistently save towards your goal. Working part-time, freelancing, or exploring gig economy opportunities can also help boost your income. If eligible, research and apply for housing assistance programs or grants that provide financial support to renters.

Additionally, you may consider asking family or friends for a loan or monetary gift to cover initial costs, with a clear plan for repayment if needed. By exploring multiple avenues for funding, you can better position yourself to secure the necessary funds for your first apartment.

How much money should you save before you start renting an apartment?

Determining how much money you should save before renting an apartment depends on several factors, including the cost of living in your desired location, upfront costs, and your monthly expenses. As a general guideline, having enough savings to cover at least three to six months of living expenses, including rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, and other essentials, is wise.

Additionally, you should be prepared to cover upfront costs such as the application fee, security deposit, and first and last months' rent (if required). These costs can vary greatly depending on the local rental market and your chosen apartment. By having a healthy savings cushion, you'll be better prepared to handle any unexpected expenses and financial challenges that may arise during your first months of renting an apartment.

What to do when first moving into an apartment?

When first moving into an apartment, there are a few key steps to ensure a smooth transition and set yourself up for success in your new living space. Begin by thoroughly inspecting the apartment with your landlord, noting any pre-existing damages or maintenance issues that need to be addressed.

Familiarize yourself with the utility providers and set up your accounts for electricity, gas, water, and internet services. Unpack and organize your belongings, focusing on creating a comfortable and functional living environment.

Introduce yourself to your neighbors and building staff to foster a sense of community and establish positive relationships. Review and understand the terms of your lease, including any rules or regulations specific to your building or rental community. Finally, update your address with important institutions such as your bank, workplace, and subscription services to ensure a seamless transition.