When I first moved to Atlanta to start anchoring at CNN, I made a classic financial mistake: I took on more home than I could afford. On my own and making what I thought was a considerable salary, I opted for a spacious two-bedroom apartment in a posh neighborhood…despite the fact that it was just me living there and it added a good 20 minutes to my commute. One year later, I was struggling to keep up with my rent payments each month, and constantly cutting it close to meetings due to traffic. OOPS.
I get it, there are few things more essential than shelter, but a tight housing market has made finding a place to call “home” more difficult than ever. In fact, Millennials especially have avoided buying a home, and opted for renting instead: homeownership for people aged 18-34 is down to an all-time low of just 13.2%. Renting can be a great option, but don’t make the same mistakes I did; be smart about it. Here’s how:
1. Prep like a pro. Many buildings require proof of employment, 1-2 bank statements, and a photocopy of your driver’s license as part of the lease signing process. Make several copies of these documents ahead of time and bring them with you while you look at rentals. Then if you see an apartment that you like, you’ll be one step ahead of anyone else vying for it.
2. It’s all in the details. Look for apartments on lower floors, the back of the building, or across from the elevator. Sure, these units may be a tad noisier and you may not have that view of the park, but these minor inconveniences can reduce your monthly rent check dramatically.
3. “Location, location, location.” I don’t mean proximity to the fun stuff (although that’s nice, too) but to the practical stuff. Is the apartment far from the grocery store or subway? Is there laundry in the building? You don’t want to lose the savings you’ve made on transportation or takeout, so make sure your pad is close to these necessities.
4. Fix up, look sharp. Take a close look at all of the apartment’s fixtures, tiling, AC/heat units, etc. to make sure they’re in tip-top shape before you sign. The building’s management will be more likely to fix any problems—and fast—if they think it might be a dealbreaker on signing the lease. Better to have it fixed on their dime than to wait and pay for it yourself later!
5. Go in for the long haul. If you’re looking to stay in one place (at least for the short-term), ask your potential landlord if they will lower the monthly rent if you sign for longer than 12 months. An 18-month or two-year lease means less work for them trying to find a new tenant, touch up the apartment, and market the property at year’s end, which could translate into major savings for you.
6. Look for the grand opening. Management companies often want to fill the building as quickly as possible after opening to boost its profile and exclusivity. It’s simple: empty apartments don’t turn a profit. Pay attention to when new apartment buildings hit the market, and you may be able to sneak in under the listed price.
7. Newer can be cheaper. While instinct might tell you to look into older walk-up buildings first, newer buildings can actually be sneak-attack money savers in the long-run. They’re up to code and often come with energy-saving utilities, not to mention newer windows and insulation to cut down on heating and cooling costs.