Everything You Need to Know About Renting Your First Apartment

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It’s a thrilling thought to be out on your own for the first time—an apartment lifestyle could fill all of your housing needs and relieve various military lifestyle burdens. Stereotypically a first-time housing choice for young people, apartments are attractive to military members of all life stages. Sometimes, homeowners need a break from responsibility and want to try apartment living for various reasons including military assignments, family needs, and financial constraints. 

 

Apartment hunting has improved over the last decade thanks to online management companies. Amenities are top-notch (if you’d like to pay for them), searchability is easier than ever, and layout options are more creative. But, before daydreaming about your balcony view, due diligence has its place during the apartment search. 

3 Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

1) Am I financially ready? 

There’s a good chance you’ve chosen to rent an apartment because it makes financial sense for your future goals. There are, however, immediate financial obligations you’ll be responsible for even before you sign the lease. 

 

Prepare for credit and background checks.

 

Beginning to search for apartment properties is an exciting part of the process. High-end finishes, rooftop bars, and concierge services are super exciting, but you’ll have to make sure your background and credit checks are in perfect order.

 

Weeks in advance of filling out an apartment application, request free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com, and comb through the details to correct accuracy. Management companies are less likely to take risks with potential renters who show many delinquencies and disputes. 

 

This is an important step if this is your first rental or there isn’t enough documented credit history. If you’re a new renter without established credit, prepare to show management a couple of months of your LES to demonstrate you do have a regular income. 

 

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Calculate your living expenses.

 

Take a look at your LES and check the BAH rate. Is it accurate for your location, number of dependents, and rank? If so, use this number as a starting point to determine the amount of rent you can afford while maintaining a comfortable lifestyle and financial security. You might be surprised at how much or how little your BAH buys each month. 

 

For help creating and calculating a budget that includes apartment rent, check out Rent Cafe’s Rent Affordability Calculator. Traditional guidance suggests that 30% of your income should be dedicated to housing, but this number doesn’t necessarily hold true at some of the locations the military decides to send you every two to three years. 

 

Get more info: Tips for Living within Your BAH.

 

Save for move-in fees and deposits.

 

Although your apartment will help to boost your savings account in the future, you can expect to spend a big chunk of deposit money upfront. Each property has its own policies, but renters should be aware that it’s typical for 2-3 months rent due upon signing. 

 

The rent deposit is in addition to a combination of any of the following: pet fees (refundable and non-refundable), pet rent, security deposit, utilities, credit reports, and storage and parking fees. It’s likely they’ll all be due at once and could cost several thousand dollars upfront. For potential savings, check with management about any discounts or waived fees for servicemembers.

 

2) Do I need a roommate?

 

After examining your finances, the logical answer may be obvious, but this doesn’t take into account preferences for company, solitude, and compromise. 

 

If you choose to find a roommate, there are many questions to answer before looking for someone to share your space. Here are a few to consider before creating a roommate agreement. 

 

  • What are the rules for household chores, guests, and pets?
  • Whose name is on the utility bills and lease agreement?
  • What happens to the furniture if one roommate leaves?

 

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3) Is the location convenient for my lifestyle?

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for housing that accommodates a military lifestyle. But there are points of reference to consider before choosing an apartment. This way of life isn’t for everyone. 

Commuting is stressful for military members who work with a varied schedule. An apartment could solve transportation issues or make them worse; it’s up to you to decide according to what your apartment offers. Will you need and pay for a parking space? Can you walk to work or public transportation? 

 

Your apartment’s location also impacts accessibility to everyday needs such as shopping and dining. Military members often have sporadic and unplanned downtime. Will your apartment complex accept grocery and food deliveries? 

 

Children play a big part in choosing the best apartment. Each management system has stipulations on how many occupants can legally and safely live in designated square footage. Zoning for schools and accessibility to bus routes are also considerations for a family living in a smaller home. 

 

Be sure to check eligibility for pets. Apartments are more accepting of animals than they used to be, but they tend to cater to smaller animals and may have limited access to green space. Or, they could have grooming and daycare services on site! It’s up to you to prioritize how many accommodations to make for your pet. 

 

In exclusive apartment systems, you might need to prove your pet’s worthiness. Learn more in our post, Should Renters Have a Pet Resume?

 

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Apartment Life Considerations for Military Members

 

Military renters of all types enjoy the amenities and conveniences of apartment life, but they’ll also be looking for elements that a civilian renter might not consider. When you’re searching for an apartment, don’t forget about the following situations that may or may not accommodate a military lifestyle. The lack or abundance of these could help you determine whether or not to sign the lease. 

 

Adequate storage: A military career is synonymous with military gear. Apartments are notoriously short on storage space. What are your options? Is there extra space on the property or will you have to rent storage space for other personal items to make room for professional gear? 

 

Security: Typically a bonus to apartment life, security features are worth the extra money if you anticipate long TDY assignments or deployments. Knowing your personal items are protected while the living space is empty and that alarm systems for fire and water damage are installed throughout the building brings an extra level of comfort. 

 

To feel fully protected, don’t forget about renters insurance. Your apartment management company is likely to require a policy to sign the lease. Renters insurance is affordable, likely under $20 per month depending on the amount needed and if you need specialty coverage for jewelry or firearms. 

 

Business Insider reports: “The average cost of renters insurance in the US is about $14.90 per month, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute. The average renter can expect to pay about $179 per year in total for coverage.” 

 

Shop for the best deals. Apartment complexes often offer a discount on their in-house policies, but all major insurance companies offer renters insurance.

Learn more: How to Make Apartment Life Work for Your Military Family

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Planned Temporary Housing

Military life is anything but predictable. Last minute PCS changes, an unexpected deployment, medical emergencies, or a way to allow your senior to graduate from their current high school are just some of the reasons a military member or family would choose to live in an apartment temporarily. 

Servicemembers often choose apartments for financial reasons, not only because they’re generally affordable, but the lease allows time to build financial security. The circumstances are as varied as the people living there, but common circumstances include:

 

  • Saving money for a down payment on a house.
  • Waiting for an affordable real estate market.
  • Paying medical bills.
  • Rebuilding credit history.

Renting a House vs. Apartment

As you can guess, renting a home and renting an apartment are two different journeys and a decision guided by your personal lifestyle factors. Carefully inventory the crucial details needed to rent a home successfully. What are your priorities?

 

Learn more: Apartment Amenities: What's Worth the Extra Rent?

 

Reasons to rent an apartment:

 

  • Affordability
  • Less maintenance
  • Convenience and amenities: pool, social events, and lobby/doorman service 
  • Easy commuting and public transportation 

Reasons to rent a house: 

  • More space:square footage, bedrooms, and bathrooms
  • Potentially pet-friendly  
  • Yard access
  • Conducive to children’s lifestyle

Tips for Decorating Your Apartment

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One of the realities of choosing an apartment is the excitement of visualizing your furniture and decorating items in your new space. More times than not, however, the realization occurs that a) your things are too big or too plentiful for your new home or b) you need new stuff, either because your current belongings are worn out, or you simply need a fresh start. 

Either way, you’re going to need a decorating plan that is rental property friendly. 

Communicate clearly with your assigned moving company. Offer even the smallest details needed to unload your furniture into the building, including which floor and available elevators. You won’t want your moving truck turned away because it’s either too large or attempting delivery on the wrong day. Apartment complexes often have precise delivery details to not annoy current residents with constant moving in and out activity. 

 

Need more decorating inspiration? Read 4 Easy Tips for Decorating Your First Apartment.

 

Keep a measuring tape and painter’s tape on hand. It’s challenging to accurately visualize furniture placement if you do not know its exact size and shape. Start a log that lists the dimensions of your furniture. Before delivery, outline their positions on the floor with removable painter’s tape. These tools help to accurately plan the flow and direction of the furniture without multiple adjustments.  

 

Research furniture built for small spaces. This is easier than you think. Major brands like Ikea sell affordable furniture designed to fit well in an apartment setting. Always search for pieces that offer additional storage, either hidden or with open shelving. 

 

More ideas: 

Stock up on rental-friendly decorating tools: removable adhesive back hooks, spring-loaded/adjustable curtain rods, removable wallpaper, peel and stick tiles, ceiling hooks, various sizes of rugs, decorative window film for more natural light plus privacy, and sheer neutral curtains that complement multiple rooms.

 

Don’t let the excitement of moving into your new apartment distract you from the leg work needed to move in and thrive. The need for financial readiness and accommodations for a military lifestyle should take precedence during your search. After those practical matters are sorted, jump into feathering your new nest and socializing with your fellow apartment dwellers!

 

By Dawn M. Smith

 

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