The Ultimate Guide: Your First Apartment Tips

young woman moving into her first apartment

If you’re a looking for first-time apartment tips, you may be feeling a little lost and somewhat overwhelmed. Take a deep breath and relax! Let us walk you through the apartment-hunting process and you’ll have the key to your new apartment faster than you thought possible. 

Tip #1—Make a checklist

Before you look at any apartments, make a short checklist of what you’re looking for in a rental. Create a list of features in order from most important, such as location or minimum square footage, to least important, like a fireplace or extra washroom.    

Next, determine the maximum amount you can afford to spend on monthly rent with a first apartment budget. This should include all associated fees and utilities. If you need help figuring out your budget, check out our free Household Cash Flow Tracker.

With your wish list and budget in hand, you’re ready to start looking. Check out rental listings on sites like Zillow or, or ask friends if they know of vacancies in the neighborhood. Once you’ve compiled a list of prospects, contact each landlord or property manager and start hunting.

Tip #2 - Know what to look for 

Take this handy guide along on your apartment hunts so you can make an informed decision.  

1.) Price
Find out exactly what’s included in the quoted rental price. Will you be billed separately for utilities? Do you need to pay for a parking spot?

Check for any additional fees attached to this rental. Ask about the following.

  • Application fee
  • Background check fee
  • Association fee
  • Amenity fee
  • Pet fee
  • Security deposit fee
  • Early termination fee

2. ) Maintenance
Who’s responsible for general repairs and maintenance? What’s the procedure for submitting a request? What’s the estimated response time? 

Don’t just absorb the information shared here; pay close attention to the way the landlord answers. If there’s an uncomfortable amount of hesitation, take it as an indication that the handling of the building’s maintenance is somewhat questionable.

3.)   Decoration policy
Is there a strict decoration policy in place? Will you need permission before hanging up a picture or painting the walls? 

4.)   Apartment location
The rental unit might be in your desired neighborhood, but its exact location will strongly affect your quality of life. Is the apartment near a popular café or bar? Is it close to a busy intersection or highway? Is there public transportation nearby? 

You’ll also want to take note of where the apartment is located inside the building. Is it near a highly populated area like the elevator? Is it close to an unpleasant place like the garbage chute? 

5.)   Common areas
As you walk through the building to the apartment, take a good look at your surroundings. Are the common areas in the building kept up well? Is the building clean and in good condition? 

6.)   Noise level
If you’re an incurable night owl who doesn’t get up until after 9 each morning, you don’t want to land in the apartment under the early-rising tuba player. You won’t know much about your neighbors until you move in, but you can listen to the noise that filters in from the surrounding apartments to get an idea. 

7.)   General condition
Flush the toilets, run the sinks and showers, check out the electric sockets and try out the windows. Make sure everything is in perfect working order before you sign the lease. 

8.)   Cellphone reception
Make a phone call while you’re checking out the apartment to see if you’ve got good reception. You don’t want to be forced to hang out in the lobby or outside on the sidewalk every time you need to make a call. 

Tip #3 - Sealing the deal with confidence

Once you’ve found a place that fits your criteria and you’re ready to sign the lease on your first apartment, make sure to follow these final steps. 

First, get the contact info of another renter in the building. Ask your reference to clear up anything you’re unsure about regarding the building or the neighborhood. Next, read through the lease very carefully. Check for hidden fees, lease renewal and termination policies as well as rent collection procedures. Finally, if everything on your list checks out, you’re ready to sign. Best of luck in your new home!