There’s nothing quite like home sweet home — even if your space is confined to fewer than 1,000 square feet.
Though often less pricey than full-fledged homeownership, renting an apartment can come with its own host of expenses, from the lump sum you have to deliver upon the start of your lease (first month, last month, security deposit and, in some cities, the dreaded broker’s fee) to maintenance, decorating and upkeep.
We’ve sourced some tips for savvy spenders on how to rent an apartment without breaking the bank.
Keep your apartment search within budget
Apartment living for less starts with finding the right humble abode. When you’re on the hunt, be sure to keep these tips in mind:
- Consider a less trendy hood: Be open to looking outside the trendy neighborhood box within your city of choice. Dream neighborhoods will always be expensive, because they’re in demand. Instead of searching for that holy grail of apartments in the perfect, central location, try searching surrounding neighborhoods, they’ll likely be cheaper, but will still allow your dream neighborhood to be within reach.
- Keep an open mind and navigate the world of brokers intelligently: Nothing is more controversial for urban renters than broker’s fees. But renters often get access to cheaper, better apartments by using a broker and stomaching the 10-15% fee.
- The reason for this is that many small landlords rely on brokers to find their next tenant, which saves on the hassle and cost of locating renters. It’s those small landlords that often have the best deals on rent. Keep in mind that these fees are often negotiable — see if your broker is amendable to lowering the fee (you’ll probably have more luck with this in the winter, when competition for apartments is lower and fewer people are moving). If you haven’t baked a broker’s fee into your budget, consider dropping your budgeted rent to account for a 12-15% fee to see what’s within your reach within that realm. You’ll expand your apartment choices significantly, and spend the same as you would on a no-fee apartment. Just multiply your max rent by 87%.
- Get social: Consider taking your search to social media. “Post, snap, tweet and Insta your hunt. If a friend knows about a neighbor leaving, they can let their landlord know and vouch for you,” recommends Charat. There may just be somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who can help you with your search — or be a potential roommate.
- Take advantage of online resources: Sites like Naked Apartments, StreetEasy, Rent.com, UrbanEdge, Trulia and Zillow are all reliable resources for seeing what’s out there and doing some price comparisons — in addition, there are plenty of social networks exclusively intended to aid in your apartment or roommate search.
When you find your home sweet home, make it your own — on the cheap
If you’ve managed to snag that apartment, congrats! We understand how painful that security deposit can be (and we promise that six-floor walk-up will only get easier with time). Now is not the time to give up on savings strategies; from your move-in to monthly bills, here are some tips to save while you’re getting settled.
- Keep those monthly bills low: Read your lease carefully and know exactly what maintenance and utility bills you’ll be directly responsible for (versus whatever should be covered by your landlord). Check if your landlord will cover: Air conditioning filter replacement, utilities such as electricity and water, maintenance on plumbing issues, etc. Be sure you know under what circumstances you’ll have to foot the bill for a repairs and when your landlord or management company will handle these expenses. If you’ll be paying for your own utilities, thinking green can help you save some, too. Check out Apartment Therapy’s suggestions for saving on utilities, or this handy list of window treatments that can actually help lower your monthly energy bills.
- Invest in renter’s insurance: While it may be tough to add another expense to your already dented bank account post-move-in, renter’s insurance is a must. Fires, break-ins, flooding, etc. do happen — and it’s better to pay a couple hundred dollars upfront than to have to replace all of your belongings in the event of unforeseen circumstances. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a handy primer for renters considering purchasing insurance, complete with a few of the questions you’ll want to consider when selecting a plan.
- Furnish and decorate on the cheap: Adopt a DIY ethic to gussy up your space. If you’re allowed to paint, slap on the jeans you haven’t worn since who-knows-when (apparently flare jeans are making a comeback, but we’re in denial). If you’re taking on a large space, considering enlisting the help of your friends. Whoever said beer isn’t a valid payment option? Lastly, remember that a little storage can go a long way, so investing in storage beds and/or inventive shelving can help you make the most of your space.
- Cultivate a relationship with your landlord: A good relationship with your landlord can be beneficial in a number of ways beyond the obvious. For one, when your lease is up, you might have more negotiation power when it comes to potential rent hikes with a landlord who favors you. “Landlords would much rather keep an existing tenant they can trust rather than risk leasing the apartment to a unknown entity, paying for fresh paint and dealing with the hassle of new applications,” says Charat. A few ways you can get on your landlord’s good side include: paying rent on time, being conscientious about when/how often you call for assistance and taking care to keep your apartment in tip-top shape in the event of a surprise drop-by.
- Seek out roommates: If you live in a city with a high cost of living such as NYC or San Francisco, there’s no shame in having roommates well into your later 20s and even 30s. Consider services such as Roomster or Roommates.com for finding roomies in your city, and make sure to keep an eye out for any red flags that may make your living situation more difficult than necessary.
Moving in and out
Moving rarely makes the list of anybody’s favorite things to do — but it’s a necessary evil, particularly for renters. Below are a few ways to spend smart on moving day.
- Self-moves versus hiring movers: When it comes to hiring movers versus moving yourself, there are a number of considerations to take into account. Firstly, figure out exactly how much stuff you actually have (it’s often more than you think). If you have large pieces of furniture or dozens of boxes, hiring movers may be worth the additional cost. Keep in mind that renting a U-haul isn’t always cheaper than hiring professionals, particularly for long-distance moves.
- Next, consider how far away you’ll be moving. Will the cost of gas (for driving) or shipping costs add up to more than a flat fee for movers? Is the hassle of a self-move worth the money you’ll save? Will you have to take PTO in order to move? All these factors can affect what option you’ll want to ultimately choose. Try Compare My Move for the best deal on a moving company, or Moveline for quotes on hassle-free moving services.
- Lastly, be sure to read reviews about moving companies on sites like Angie’s List or Yelp— or better yet, ask friends or family for recommendations for reliable and affordable moving companies. Some movers are notorious for holding your belongings hostage until you agree to pay more than the originally agreed-upon price, so you’ll want to do your due diligence when selecting a company.
- Get creative with Craigslist listings: If you’ll be selling furniture or other items on Craigslist before your big move, be sure that you’re making the most of the platform. Taking professional-looking photos with good lighting and of a tidy living area (a fully made bed, minimal clutter, etc.) can work wonders to attract attention. Always include “OBO” (or best offer) when listing your items, as you may find that certain things (dressers, rugs, anything that can be easily carried) may attract interest from multiple buyers.