7 Tips to Save on Apartment Living

By Coupon Sherpa on 7 October 2009 (Updated 1 March 2010) 16 comments

Having lived in many different apartment communities in a large metropolitan area, I can confidently attest that apartment living can be the pinnacle of service or a miserable, draining experience. Maybe you're downsizing from a house and want maintenance-free living or need to stash some cash for a down payment. Regardless of your reason, utilize these inside tips to have a pleasurable rental experience and spare huge headaches.

1. The top floor walk up isn't always the cheapest.

While I've always been a fan of living on the top floor — no heavy footsteps or loud street noise and reduced risk of robbery — choosing the daily gluteal workout level doesn't guarantee you the cheapest rate. Although rent may be somewhat cheaper with an increase in altitude, consider other costs that could push your monthly bills beyond a lower, less physically demanding unit. By far the largest bill that you will contend with (beyond rent) is your utility bill.

If you're looking at a community with three floors of units, the best insulated one will be the second floor. You'll also be at a lower risk for robbery than a first floor tenant. Apartments are constructed at the cheapest costs possible and change hands often. I frequently pay more in utility bills than friends who have twice the space I do (and the temperature control doesn't always guarantee comfort). Third floor units often offer vaulted ceilings, which are cool for aesthetic but bad for budgets. More than one maintenance worker has attempted to convince me that the indoor temperature will be no more than 20° cooler than the outdoor air. For a Texas native, that means contending with 83° temperatures indoors.

2. Make a spreadsheet to compare community amenities.

When shopping for a posh pad keep a list of all functional extras the prospective complex offers. Will you use their workout facility or have to buy a gym membership? How about partnerships with local businesses like dry cleaners or restaurants that offer discounted services to residents? What is included in the rent (such as utilities, cable, water, trash, etc.)? What specials are going on to bring the rent down? Some communities even have CARES Teams that provide free breakfast, lunch, or dinner once a week, which can save up to $80 a month in groceries and provide a great venue for meeting your neighbors.

3. Get friendly with the city inspector and fire marshal.

Apartment management cares about the bottom line because their bosses care about the bottom line. Most take a highly reactive rather than proactive approach to maintenance. If you have a repair that has not been fixed and can cause a health or safety hazard, threaten to call the authorities. The same goes for the pool. Apartments with temporarily closed facilities can't lease apartments, so expect the job to get done quickly. If they can get away with not putting money into something, they will.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

4. Know the specials going on.

Leasing agents and managers frequently "shop" other communities to find out how their property measures up to comparable units. They often offer similar specials such as first month free or complimentary storage units to keep up with the competition. This is great for a new move in, but current residents may not be privy to these specials. It doesn't make much difference that you paid on time every month and even brought cookies to the office. Joe Blow wandering in from who-knows-where usually scores a better deal on a lease than you will on a renewal. Owners know that moving is a pain and bargain that you'll stay even with a rent hike. Find out what new move-ins are getting and request the same. It can't hurt to threaten a move.

5. Location, location, location.

It doesn't always pay to live on the outskirts. Invest in researching the area to add commute costs in your total. Living closer may mean higher rent rates, but consider the surroundings. Can you walk to the grocery store? Do you need to pay for a car (and gas and repairs and insurance) or can you use public transportation more easily? Do you spend a lot of time downtown? These are definitely factors to consider with your proximity.

6. Check out authorized service providers.

Some communities work out deals with cable and electric providers to offer a good bulk rate. This may or may not be better than what you're used to paying for. Investigate the cost per kilowatt-hour of the authorized utility companies and factor that in to the total monthly cost.

7. Make a date with your apartment manager.

Always schedule a meeting with your manager to inspect the apartment before you hand in the keys. Review any charges you might incur as well as any outstanding bills. If you wait for management to send a bill a month down the line, forget protesting it. Have the supervisor sign his/her approval and make sure you owe nothing else before moving out. Due to specials and prorated amounts, occasionally you'll find monetary glitches that tack on extra to your last bill without warning. Your management walk-through is the perfect time to address any snafus.

When it comes to apartment living, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. If you stand by and do nothing, get ready for substandard service. Remember: a big chunk of your rent goes toward paying for maintenance to care for your home. That's one of the main perks of apartment living — included (not free) repairs. Enjoy your living space and make your requests assertively known.

This is a guest post by the Coupon Sherpa, a source of reliable online, printable and grocery coupons. You can download the free Coupon Sherpa iphone app with in-store mobile coupons, or check out more great tips from the Ask Coupon Sherpa blog:

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Guest's picture
Toby

A friend of mine referred someone for an appartment in his complex and got a check from the management company. It was just like that ING promo. Nice!

Guest's picture
Ronda

Speaking as a manager at an apartment community, I have to say that some of your tips are right on the money. I do need to dispute the validity of number 3. The majority of reputable management companies genuinely want to know your concerns. You need to give on site management the opportunity to help you. I would never turn away a resident with a concern. I and all my staff bend over backwards to keep our residents happy. We do not want a multi-million dollar asset to lose value because of unaddressed maintenance issues. Very few management companies see the landlord/resident relationship as an adversarial one.

Guest's picture
Craig

Agree it's all about location and depending on your preference could help you out. If you want to be walking distance to everything, you will pay a little more. If you want to pay less, you can live outside, but won't be as easy to get to places. Determine what location fits for you.

Guest's picture

I've found it helpful to plan the layout of your rooms beforehand with the apartment's brochures. I was about to get the 2 bedroom because I thought we might need the extra space, but after laying it out, we found that the 1 bedroom would work for us, as the extra bedroom would've been empty storage. Ended up saving $200 a month!

Guest's picture
Travis

I've lived in apartments since college and have a couple of more tips to share that could save you some dough:

1. Take digital photos of your apartment before you move in, particularly of any damage or wear-and-tear in the apartment. You don't want to be charged for anything that you did not do. Have these photos handy when you move so that you can prove the damage wasn't yours. And ALWAYS fill out the "inventory" sheet that allows you to describe the condition of the apartment when you move in and turn it in within the specified guidelines.

2. In one apartment I was in, I would turn off the circuit breaker to my water heater every Sunday and leave it off through Thursday. Since I worked out every morning and would just shower at the gym, I didn't need hot water to come out of the faucet. When I got home from work on Friday I would turn it back on to take hot showers over the weekend. My utility bill was cut by more than 1/2. You might not be able to do this where you live but look into it.

3. Along those same lines, if you live in a cooler area be sure to insulate your windows during winter. Kits can be purchased at any local hardware or discount store and are fairly easy to install. A recent Consumer Reports article stated that poor insulation is a huge contributer to high utility bills.

4. Get renter's insurance. This is an expense but the coverage you get compared to what you pay for it annually is well worth the investment.

5. Familiarize yourself with local laws and ordinances surrounding apartments/residential units. To save time, find out if there is a local office in your area that provides information to the public regarding such laws. For example, in one municipality where I lived if you moved and - after 30 days - did not receive your security deposit or a notice from your former landlord that explained why you weren't getting your deposit back, you were entitled to a full refund.

6. Beware of "pay by credit card" deals that some apartments advertise...they often come with an exorbitant fee ($10.00+) for every transaction.

Guest's picture
Jim

I agree with Ronda. I'd only use #3 option of calling the authorities as a last resort after the property management has truely neglected repairs. Ask nicely first and give them a reasonable chance to fix it before you go threating to bring in the government.

Guest's picture
Nick

I'll echo the comments for #3. Only as a very last resort. This also doesn't gain you any friends from the people who take care of your apartment building.

re: "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." Squeaky does NOT mean annoying or nagging. And our favorite tenants were the ones who we saw the least, because "no news is good news" and we were more likely to do them a favor because they made our lives easier.

Guest's picture
Matt D

Those are some great tips, though unfortunately apartmetn communities are no longer allowed to host exclusive cable deals.

U.S. court of appeals declared the agreements as noncompetitive.

http://www.physorg.com/news162561046.html

of course, cable monopolies are extremely competitive.

there are lots of good ways to insulate apartments, including getting a vaporizer, keeping plants in your apartment, and in teh winter time, placing plastic film over windows in the winter. (this last one has helped us out so much, during the San Fran winters, apartments are typically colder than the outside)

biggest way to save money? get 1-7 roommates! split cost of everyting. our site, MyNewPlace.com, saw searches for 3 BR apartments gain at 1 BR searches' expense since recession started:
http://www.mynewplace.com/press-releases/bad-economy-turns-renters-into-...

i'd love to contribute more on this topic at wise bread, let me know!

thanks!

Guest's picture
econobiker

Submetering is the semi-scammy way the landlord pushes off utility bills on residents of apartments without individual utility meters - most often water/sewer and trash service. The residents of a building end up splitting the utility bills for that building supposedly by either occupancy numbers or square footage. Most often you suffer from others wasteful habits or unlisted occupancy numbers.

The apartment owners prefer submetering since it allows them to push off costs which used to be included onto the residents and keep the advertised rental rate low. The landlord contracts with a submeter service which usually doesn't break down the bill per gallons or percent per apartment nor any profit for the submeter company but sends an official looking "utility" bill.

Non-payment of a submeter bill can also result in the tenant being evicted as it is usually considered part of the "rent" even though this is buried in leasing contract fine print. Another issue is that landlords start submetering but do not retrofit or provide units with ways to reduce costs such as insulating crawlspace hot water pipes, low flow shower heads, low water use toilets, free recycling of non-garbage items to reduce garbage costs, etc.

Last apartment complex we lived in started submetering for water/sewer and residents ended up paying evil rates - $30+ per month for a single retired guy in a one bedroom since his building had several one bedrooms occupied with couples w/ one/two children and several units unoccupied. This rate contrasted to an entire 3 bedroom house per month water/sewer rate at $50!!! Luckily our lease renewal was signed right before the submetering started and we managed to skate under the requirement to pay before we ended up moving out.

Financial Samurai's picture

The best tip is basically to move in together with your boyfriend or girlfriend! That's a 50% savings / month right there!

Keigu,

Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"

Guest's picture

Good point about top floor living, my flat is on the top floor and our heating bills are definately going to be higher, our ceiling is much higher than the floors below for a start.

Luckily I managed to negotiate a substantial decrease in rent before moving in!

Guest's picture
Robin

In my apt, complex, the bottom floor is the cheapest, the second is $10 more, and the third is $10 more than that. This has never really made sense to me, but oh well. We live on the second floor, but thankfully have been pretty lucky with neighbors... we hear them occasionally, but not too bad.

Guest's picture
vandervecken

@Travis: taking pix before you move in to protect your security is //GOLD//. That is probably one of the best renter's tips out there.

Another thing that works for me: try to find buildings that are owned by actual human beings, not management companies. Human beings can be reasoned and negotiated with as though they were human beings. To a management company, you're just a number.

For example, a human being might drag his feet on fixing something, but if you end up fixing it yourself you can negotiate reimbursement or rent credit -- not only for the cost of meterials, but you might even get him to throw you a bone for your work. Especially if you offer to do this for other tenants -- or for him.

On the flipside, once you establish a good relationship with a human being, he or she will be more likely to cut you some slack if you are late paying the rent instead of kicking you when you're down with fees and threats. In this economy, that's been a big help for me!

What's more, a management company would NEVER respond to a request like "can I paint my living room blue if I promise to paint it back when I leave [unless you like it]," or "I need a ride home from the dentist and my girlfriend is working, can you give me lift?"

Guest's picture
Stacy

These are excellent tips and i will definitely be using them when searching for a new apartment.

Guest's picture
Lawrence

Definitely check for current specials when looking for an apartment. If you have a friend already living in an apartment complex that you're interested in, see if they offer discounts for referrals.

Guest's picture

I feel by knowing the specials you can not only find apartments that are more lenient but you can ultimately find an apartment that has a more.. realistic approach to how apartments should be.