9 Common Apartment Hunting Mistakes to Avoid

Looking for a new apartment to rent? Spring and summer are moving season for many renters. It's also a time filled with excitement and hope — the hope that the next place will be better than the last. I've been there.

Fortunately, a lot of the problems that plague renters can be avoided just by choosing that apartment a little more carefully. Here are nine apartment hunting mistakes to avoid while you're looking.

1. Assuming That Moving Will Solve Your Problem

As a renter, it's easy to get used to moving; new year, new apartment. Unfortunately, that new lease often means a new set of problems. Moving is stressful and carries a long list of expenses. Before you decide to move to where the grass is greener, consider whether you're really that unhappy where you are. Every living space has its pros and cons. Decide whether you can live with your apartment's drawbacks before moving on to a new set of problems.

2. Falling in Love Too Soon

These days, apartment hunting usually begins online, where you can browse through photos of apartments for rent in your area. There's nothing wrong with doing a little previewing before you go out to view these places in person; just keep in mind that in many cases, photos tell very little. Not only will landlords do their best to make their rental units look attractive, but photos also lack a lot of detail. A rental unit that looks super cute and cozy in a photo, might turn out to be much shabbier in real life. The problem is, if the photos put stars in your eyes, you might already be in love.

3. Failing to See the Big Picture

Before you set out to look for a new apartment, think about what's really important to you. Are you looking for a short commute to work? Proximity to certain amenities such as shopping, parks, or public transportation? It's important to understand the big picture in terms of what you want out of your apartment, to size up each apartment as a whole. Otherwise, you're likely to zero-in on smaller, less important details, like the size of the unit, the decor, or fantastically cheap rent.

4. Allowing Yourself to Be Wooed by Fancy Fixtures

Fancy fixtures like hardwood floors and granite countertops are great, but when you have a budget to stick to, it's best not to be too fixated on what are essentially details. For one thing, these amenities are purely aesthetic, and will quickly lose their luster if the apartment fails to meet your needs in other key ways. Plus, in many cases, apartments in less desirable locations get the best cosmetic upgrades to entice renters. If you wouldn't live in this apartment if it didn't have fancy fixtures, you probably shouldn't move in just because it does.

5. Going Out of Your League

Before you start looking for an apartment, you have to decide how much rent you are capable of paying. Most financial experts recommend that you spend no more than 30% of your take-home (after-tax) income on housing. Depending on your other financial obligations — and your personal financial goals — you may want to spend even less. But no matter what price point you decide on, once you have a number in mind, stick to it. And do not, under any circumstances, look at apartments that exceed your budget. Chances are they will be nicer. As a result, they will make the places you can afford look much shabbier in comparison. They might also tempt you to blow your budget.

6. Failing to Read the Rental Agreement

I once signed a rental agreement that stated that I was responsible for repainting the apartment before moving out. I was a student and had never painted anything in my life. Of course, I lost most of my damage deposit on that one. Rental agreements lay out, in legal terms, what you as a renter are responsible for. Read every word carefully and make sure you're up for it. If you aren't, move on.

7. Overlooking Existing Damage

Most rental agreements include a damage deposit. This is money that the landlord holds in order to pay for any damage the tenant may cause during the term of the lease. This can get tricky if you don't document any damages that were already there when you moved in. On the day you get possession of your apartment, walk through it with your landlord and document existing damage to ensure you are not charged for them when your lease is up.

8. Not Considering Roommates Carefully

I've been lucky to have really good roommates, but living with other people is still hard. When you share your personal space with someone, you get to know each other on a pretty intimate level. Things can get ugly. So try to choose your roommates carefully. There are different philosophies on this. Some people think it's best to choose a roommate who isn't a friend. Others say it's best to room with a bestie. Either way, make sure you get some references to ensure that your roommate has a solid history of paying their rent.

9. Not Vetting Your Landlord

Some landlords care about their properties and their tenants. They'll take your calls and fix leaking toilets and send an exterminator in to deal with your ant problem. Other landlords treat their tenants like cash machines; money is withdrawn, never to be seen again. If you have problems with your apartment, a bad landlord can make your life hell. I once tip-toed across a bridge of soggy cardboard boxes for weeks until my landlord got around the fixing a leaking hot water tank that flooded my apartment. So, be sure to run a check on your landlord before you sign a rental agreement. Do a Google search, ask if you can contact previous tenants, and check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the landlord or property management company. If you discover serious issues, find another place to rent. Dealing with an uncooperative landlord just isn't worth it.

What apartment-hunting mistakes have you made? How did you learn your lesson?

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