Do you have like a checklist or something of things that need to be done before you can move out? I have over a year to get ready, but I'm not certain what "ready" means exactly. What needs to happen before a person can live on their own (in the USA)? Thanks for answering, love your blog!
I’m realizing now that I have lots of posts that detail different parts of this moving into a new apartment process, but none that discuss everything. So this post is essentially a conglomerate of four different posts: Adulting 108, Moving (On Your Own), Living On Your Own, and Apartment Hunting 101.
But here they are, in step by step order! Enjoy!
Finding an Apartment (Apartment Hunting 101)
Overview: There’s no getting around it, apartment hunting is a stressful process. The waiting and wondering gets the best of everyone, so give yourself a break and remember not to be too hard on yourself. The more prepared and decisive you are, the better off you’ll be!
1. Step One: The most important step in this entire process is coming up with your list of “Need and Won’t”. This list can always be adjusted in the spur of the moment, but will act as a baseline to help you easily disregard impractical apartments. Before you even start your search, sit down with any roommates (SO or otherwise) and come up with a list. Here is my list:
- Need: Dishwasher, pet friendly, heat included.
- Won’t: First floor apartment, all or mostly carpeted apartment, no closet space.
2. Step Two: Decide your price range. The paycheck to paycheck life is not a great one to live, so try to find an apartment that still allows you to put anywhere from $100-$500 into savings every month. Figure out how much you make monthly, with taxes taken out. If you’re paid every other week, this is two paychecks. If you’re paid every week, this is four paychecks. Start with your total monthly income, and subtract the following expenses. Let’s say you make $1,000 with taxes taken out:
- Rent - Let’s say you’re living with a roommate, and your rent is only $500 per month.
- Electric - My electric expense is $60 a month for a one bedroom. Once again, you’re living with a roommate so let’s say that you pay half of that. $30.
- Internet - $30 a month internet only. Please don’t waste your money on cable. Just use your mom’s Netflix account.
- Travel expenses - I spend about $85 a month on gas. Let’s say you use public transportation and spend around $100.
- Food - Figure you’ll be spending $100 per person each month. So that’s another $100.
- Misc expense: Let’s just add an additional $50 worth of expenses on. Because you never know what’ll happen.
That leaves you $130 a month extra to put in savings or to use in the event of an emergency! That’s awesome. Substitute your own numbers in, and figure out how much you can afford for rent. Immediately disregard any apartments that do not fit in this budget.
3. Step Three: The best way to find dependable apartments is to consult with your fellow apartment renters. Consult with coworkers, friends, family- anyone who is currently renting in the area that you would like to rent in. Get the inside scoop on potential apartments, both their advantages and their pitfalls. If you don’t know anyone who is renting where you’d like to rent, here are some other apartment hunting options:
- Craigslist: Obviously
- Drive-bys: Literally drive around until you find a cool looking apartment complex. Find their rental office and go right in, this is how I found my first apartment.
- Your college: The Dean’s Office will have a list of apartment offerings to give kids who don’t qualify for on-campus housing.
- This Site: A list of the top ranked apartment hunting sites.
4. Set up an appointment: After finding a potential apartment, consult with the landlord or apartment representative to set up a date and time to see the apartment. Respond promptly to any email or phone call they leave for you. On the flip side, if they aren’t prompt in their response to you RUN.
The first apartment I ever looked at, my boyfriend and I showed up on time and the landlord wasn’t there. We called her and she said that she was running late, and told us that the apartment was open and we could show ourselves inside. Serious red flag, but we gave it the benefit of the doubt and went in. Long story short, she never showed up. She gave us a tour of the apartment over the phone and kept saying that she was five minutes away, but never came. We later found out that her rental office was two minutes from the apartment we looked at. Talk about flakey! We told her we weren’t interested, if she can’t even show up to show us the apartment, how the hell can we depend on her to fix any problems we might have? Because you’re young and inexperienced, some landlords will try to give you the run around. Your age is no concern of their’s, and has no bearing on how you will act as a tenant. Here are some red flags for flaky landlords:
- Not contacting you within one day of leaving them a message. Disregarding the weekends.
- Not showing up when they say they will.
- Repeatedly telling you that you’re “young” or “inexperienced”.
- Telling you that the apartment “is good for college kids” or “a good first apartment” (that just means it’s a shit hole).
- If they tell you that the apartment has a large turnover (people are leaving for a reason).
- If you speak with one person on the phone, and meet a different person who shows you the apartment.
- If they can’t or refuse to give you the exact rent amount.
- If they tell you that have to “run some numbers” based on your history. An apartment’s rent should be the same for everybody.
- If they can’t answer basic questions about service providers for the apartment.
- If you get a weird vibe from them. Listen to your intuition! This is the person who is going to be responsible for fixing all your apartment related problems, you will be dealing with them every month at least. If they seem unreliable, don’t sign the lease!
5. Step Five: Find your appointment buddy! Never, ever, EVER go to look at a potential apartment by yourself. I don’t care how friendly Wendy seems online, she may be a serial killer. There’s no way to tell. Here’s a list of people who can accompany you:
- Your older brother
- Your boyfriend/girlfriend
- Your Aunt Meredith
- Your second cousin
- Your friend who can scream really loudly
- Your Mother
- Your Step Mother
- Your old nosey neighbor who smells like cats
- Literally anyone you can trust
Bribe them with chocolate, I don’t care. Take someone with you! If you absolutely cannot find anyone to go with you, then you need to take additional precautions. Here are some options:
- “Share My Location” on your Iphone
- Pepper Spray
- Posting to Facebook the address you are going to and when you are expected to arrive and leave.
- Rescheduling your appointment to a date and time when you can be accompanied
A mental checklist is good in theory, but will you remember it when you’re actually at the prospective apartment with your Aunt Meredith? I think not! Make a physical list of some of the following points, and feel free to add your own. my list is super extensive, but that’s just who I am. I am detail oriented.
Tuck this list in your back pocket and consult it when the person showing you the apartment is not looking.
- How much is the rent?
- Is the rent just the rent, or are there any amenities included? Some apartments include heat, hot water, or electric expenses.
- Is hot water included (if the apartment has a washer/dryer in it, then the water is probably a separate expense)?
- What Internet service providers are available?
- What electric service providers are available?
- Do I have to pay for garbage removal?
- What is the average electric expense that other renters deal with?
- Ask when rent is due. Find out what the rent check procedure is.
- What type of heating/cooling is provided?
- What appliances are in the kitchen? *If there is no oven or fridge and you are required to buy your own then run*
- What is the apartment complex turnover rate?
- Do you have a choice of carpet vs. hard wood floors?
- Will window blinds be provided? *If the apartment complex won’t pay for something as simple as window blinds then the landlord is a cheapskate and can’t be trusted*
- Is there a “curfew”? Most apartments have a time of night when all the tenants are supposed to be quiet. This is generally not enforced.
- What will your address be?
- Is any furniture included?
- Is there a Laundromat in the complex? If not where is the closest one?
- Similarly, is the Laundromat in the complex card operated or quarter operated? Do you have to pay a fee for the card? Is there a quarter dispensing machine?
- Will you be given a free parking permit? *If parking is not free then run*
- Ask about local shopping and gas stations.
- Ask where your mailbox will be.
- Ask what their pet policy is. (some apartment complexes charge an fee)
- Ask what their policy on repainting/decorating is.
- Ask what their maintenance request policy is.
- Ask where the nearest dumpster is.
- How often does the complex loose power?
- Is there a nearby police station or fire department?
- Check all cabinets (for bug infestations or mouse droppings or that they open properly).
- Open all the windows and check to see that there are screens installed. Especially important for us cat owners! If there are no screens- are they going to install screens before you move in?
- Check that all the light switches work.
- Check that the water turns on.
- Flush the toilet.
- Check all the closet space (for size, mold, and water damage).
- Check how all the doors are set (some apartments will put doors in incorrectly and they’ll never close properly).
- Check the outlets (bring a phone chord and plug it in).
- Check any balcony access.
- Take a look at the paint- is it chipped? Is it stained? Will they be repainting?
- Knock on the walls to see how hollow they are (hollow walls require studs if you want to hang anything up).
- Open up the oven and make sure it’s clean. If it’s not clean make it clear that it should be cleaned if you want to move into the apartment. It’s not your job to clean up after the previous tenant.
- Check that none of the floorboards are sticking up/creaking.
- Check for nails and screws in between hardwood floor, tile and carpet (I’m not even kidding).
- Check your phone to see how much cell service you have.
- Can you hear any neighbors? Could you hear them in the hallway?
If the apartment you visited fits all your criteria, feel free to tell the landlord that you’re interested in pursuing this apartment. This way they can advise you of the next steps. Before you sign ANYTHING, visit the apartment complex twice more to make sure that everything is kosher. Do NOT tell the landlord that you will be coming by.
- During the day: Do a drive-by of your prospective apartment to see what it looks like during the day. Is it safe? Are there lots of people standing around outside? Is it loud?
- During the night: Come back another night to check the safety of your apartment. Ask yourself- would I feel comfortable taking the trash out late at night? Having friends over? If the answer is “no” then run…
Applying to Rent the Apartment
Overview: After choosing an apartment that you like, there are lots of steps that need to be taken before you can actually move in.
1. Rental application. You will need to fill out some sort of rental application when applying for an apartment. You’ll be asked for previous addresses (if you’ve lived in previous apartment complexes landlords will actually call and ask about how good of a tenant you were), if you’ve been convicted of a crime, pay stubs, references and/or credit information. If you don’t have a credit score, some complexes will require you to co-sign the lease with someone who does, like a parent. If a landlord does NOT ask you to fill out any kind of application, I’d advise you to run for the hills and not rent from them.
2. Approval. Apartment complexes will mail you a packet of information after you’ve been approved. This will list your new address, what power company services are available, apartment amenities, school districts, local attractions, as well as your next steps. My current apartment complex also mailed me what Internet providers are available, which was a nice extra bonus.
3. Initial expenses. Your next step will be to put down a “security deposit”. This will either be exactly the same or very close to the amount you pay for rent monthly. This deposit ensures that you don’t destroy the apartment, if you do they won’t refund you. You will also be asked to pay your first month’s rent in advance. Most rental companies will only accept money orders for these initial expenses, you have to go to your bank to get these. They’re essentially checks that take the money out of your account right away.
4. Apartment check. After you’re approved for an apartment, ask to see the actual unit that you’ll be moving into. Make sure that you see said apartment before signing any lease. Notice how loud your neighbors are, how good of a cell signal you have, the condition of the apartment, etc. This is a pretty extensive list.
Before You Move
1. List it up. Make a list of everything that you will need to accomplish before you are ready to move. This includes items that need to be packed, people that need to be contacted, pet accommodations, etc. I love lists, but you may not, so use any organizational technique that works for you.
2. Divide and conquer. After you’ve made your list, organize items based off of how much time they’ll take you. Packing will be fairly time-consuming, so this is something you’ll want to invite friends over for and break up over several days. I like to have “moving” parties whenever I’m getting ready to move, essentially I buy some chips and dip, play some Trap, and invite my friends over to act as my minions. Something like canceling your subscription to Cosmo will take you very little time and energy to do, so it’s something you can do when you’re ready for a stress-free activity.
3. Contact companies. Speaking of canceling your Cosmo subscription, you will need to update your address with all of the companies you use. If you’re no longer going to be using that company, you’ll need to call them and tell them when to end your service. If you’re going to continue to using that company, you’ll have to call them and tell that you’ll need an address change. Give them the exact date you’ll be moving so that they can backdate your information. Some examples of companies:
- DMV in the county you’re moving to (if you’re going to drive)
- Your doctor’s office
- Your college (even if you graduated, they send out alumni letters all the time)
- Your credit/debit card company
- Your bank
- Your phone company
- Any government programs you’re a part of
- Any companies that you have loans with
- Your health insurance company
- Your auto insurance company
4. Pre-move in List. Make a shopping list of all the non-perishable items you will need before moving in. I’m talking trash cans, first aid kits, toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc. I like to work on this list over the span of several days, and do a large shop before moving in. Your moving day will be stressful enough as it is, don’t add the stress of missing something you need. Here’s a pretty good list.
5. Electric set-up. Use the information packed your landlord sent you to find out who your electricity provider is. Call them, you’ll probably get a pre-recorded message. Choose the option that says something along the lines of “set up electricity”. You will be connected to an actual human being, who will ask you to read your new address. Tell them to turn on power to your apartment a couple days before you move in. They will set up a billing plan with you (ask to be put on a budget, it’ll save you lots of money) and give you your account information.
6. Internet set-up. Setting up your internet is similar to setting up your electric, but a bit more hand’s on. Most cable/internet companies always have some sort of deal going on, a year or two years of discounted service. Be aware of when this discount will end, and contact the company to see if they can offer you a new deal. If Verizon is offered in your area, I strongly advise you to use them for Internet service. i was on a two year plan with them that saved us $40 a month on internet service, and after it ended they put us on a new plan that is now saving us $42 a month. Fuck yeah! Also make sure to set your internet installation date for the day after you move in, so that you’re not stuck sitting in your internet-less apartment, unable to read my blog. Know that most internet companies charge installation and routers fees, and if you complain enough they’ll drop one or both of these. Just be like “I’m a poor college student” or threaten to go to another internet company.
7. Send ahead. If possible, send/drop off some of your items ahead of time. If you have a family member or a friend that lives nearby where you’ll be staying, ask if they can hold a few boxes for you. You can also mail yourself packages and ask your local post office to hold them for you, but you’ll need to arrange that ahead of time.
8. Forwarding address. You will inevitably forget something, so make sure to leave your forwarding address and contact information with your ex-landlord, college, ex-roommate, etc.
9. Signing the Lease. The last thing you will do before moving into your new apartment is signing a lease. You will be given a copy of the lease to keep, as well as the key to your apartment and/or laundry key. Keep your copy of the lease in a safe place, and make sure to get duplicates of your apartment keys.
1. Take your time. Don’t try to unpack everything in one day! Take some time to explore your new space, and decide where to put everything in a leisurely way. There is no set schedule for moving.
2. Assistance. If you have friends/family helping you make the move, assign them specific tasks so that nobody spends their time pestering you and asking “what do you need help with?”. You can even decide these tasks ahead of time, during your plane or car ride over.
3. Be neighborly. You’ll likely meet some neighbors during this process, and make sure to stop and greet them, even if you’re in the middle of something. First impressions do matter, even when they shouldn’t, and spending thirty seconds to greet someone in a parking lot may save you a lot of hardship in the long run. Ask your neighbors to recommend local attractions, places to eat, what laundromats to use, etc.
4. Check everything. During your first few days moved into you new apartment, look around and make note of anything wrong. Outlets that don’t work, scratches on the wall, peeling paint, etc. Report these ASAP to your landlord to be fixed. This will give you a good idea of how put together their maintenance unit is. Make sure to offer maintenance workers water and be polite to them when they’re fixing anything in your apartment.
After You’re Settled (Specifically for Living Alone)
1. PKW. Phone, keys, wallet. Every time you go anywhere. Check twice. The worst part of living on your own is having to rely on yourself to never forget to lock yourself out or leave your wallet at a sandwich shop in a mall. Make absolutely sure you have duplicates of your keys (I would get a couple made) and give one to a friend who lives nearby who you can count on. I also like to keep an extra set inside the apartment itself in a secure place, just in case. Your landlord can let you in during office hours, but giving a key to a trustworthy friend helps you 24/7.
2. Cleaning routine. You don’t have to sit down at a writing desk and draft this out, but spend a few minutes coming up with a basic cleaning regime for you to follow. It’s definitely easier to do a little each day, but if that doesn’t work for your schedule set aside at least an hour and a half during your time off to get your apartment spotless. I don’t know about you, but whenever I deep clean my apartment I feel like I’m living in a hotel for a day, and I absolutely love it.
3. Make a “moving” shopping list. This is everything you will need (minus food) for your first week at your new place. Do a big shop, and get all the essentials out of the way: first aid kit, cleaning supplies, tape, cat food, etc. Your first week moving into your new place will be stressful enough, you don’t want to be halfway through setting up your living room and realize that you forgot to buy trash bags.
4. Secure yourself. I’m not the most agile or fast person in the world, and I do live in a mid-sized city that has a good deal of crime. The apartment complex I live in is very safe, but I still like to double lock my front door at night. It might be smart to keep some pepper spray or a baseball bat somewhere in your apartment, just in case.
5. Stay social. Even the most anti-social person gets lonely. Make sure to hang out with your friends, not just your co-workers, your actual friends. Get out off your apartment every few days and go see a movie, get a cup of coffee, go people watching at the park, etc. It’s easy to get depressed if you’re living alone and doing the same things the same way every day- allow yourself to mix it up.
6. Meal prep. It can be stressful and seem useless to cook complicated or “fancy” meals when you’re living on your own. Plan your meals for the week and make a list before going shopping. Get yourself enough food to make a variety of dinners that will only take you fifteen minutes. If you do want to go crazy and make steak and mashed potatoes for yourself, make enough for two meals. Also, nobody is going to think poorly of you for stocking your fridge with a couple frozen dinners.
7. Customer service. Living alone means that you are going to be doing a lot of talking to customer service representatives. Get comfortable talking to people over the phone. Tell the rep what you need as quickly as you can, and try to be polite because customer service at a phone center is a garbage job that doesn’t pay well. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to ask for a manager if you’re upset or unhappy with your service. Take their survey at the end of your phone call, tell them how unhappy you are. It’s someone’s shitty job to look at all those surveys, no complaint goes unheard. Companies with great phone service: Verizon, Apple, Amazon. Companies with awful phone service: USPS (literally the worst), electric companies, health insurance companies.
8. Guest space. This is not required, but it’s a good idea to have some sort of space for a friend to stay the night. A friend of mine had a bad breakup, showed up at my apartment with ten minute’s notice, and then fell asleep on my couch after an hour of crying. It as 7:30! Whatever, she needed it. Keep an extra blanket and pillow in your closet, I like to keep travel sized shampoos and conditioners in my bathroom cabinet on the off chance a guest wants to use my shower. I got these at a hotel for free, but they’re available at CVS and other pharmacies.
9. Toilet paper. Don’t let yourself run out of toilet paper! I like to buy more when I notice I only have one roll left. The same deal goes for paper towels.
10. Enjoy. Living on your own is simoltaneously exciting and exhausting, but an all around must-have experience. Enjoy the freedom to forget to make the bed, to decorate your bathroom however you want, to have ice cream for dinner, to watch reruns of Friends and cry when Rachel decides to move to France. Make sure to give yourself lots of space to move at your own pace, but please remember to eat three meals a day and to go to the doctor’s for a checkup at least once a year!