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The Broke Person's Guide to Finding an Apartment
Look, you have to live somewhere. But living somewhere gets expensive! Assuming you’re renting an apartment, you’ll likely be paying a lot, if not most, of your paycheck to rent each month.
On the upside, that means finding a more affordable apartment could leave you with lots more money to spend on other necessities--and placing you in a much better financial situation overall.
But even the process of finding an apartment can be costly; how can you save money on the process as well as the apartment itself? If only there was some sort of ... Broke Person’s Guide to Finding an Apartment.
Well, there is, and you’re reading it, buddy!
Put together an honest budget.
The first step of searching for an apartment is making a true, accurate, and honest assessment of your budget. You may be tempted to overestimate; after all, the more you can spend on an apartment, the greater your range of options will be and the less frustrating a search you will have. (And as anyone who has ever looked for an apartment knows, the search can very quickly become frustrating.)
Despite all that, you’ll be much better off in the long run if you have a budget you know you can stick to. Then you just have to actually, you know, stick to it.
“Be honest about your budget,” recommended Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, brand editor at House Method. “I once negotiated my own rent down a hundred dollars a month because I let the landlord know exactly what my housing budget was. They were understanding and helpful and met me there.
"Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn't expect any landlord to come down significantly—it would be disrespectful to ask for a significant cut. They need to make this a profitable venture, after all.”
Traditionally, the 30% rule has been one way to budget for an apartment. That is, take 30% of what you make in a month and set that as your rent limit. However, while this could be a decent starting point, everyone’s situation is different, and you should really take stock of how difficult it’ll be month-to-month before committing to a certain budget.
Never made a budget before? Then check out our 8 Ways To Save Money Today, Tomorrow and Every Day After.
Roommates have been around for a long time. Ever since more than caveperson chose to live in the same cave so they’d have more rocks to spend each month, people have chosen to live together so they can make their budgets work.
“Get roommates,” suggested Michael Chadwick, licensed real estate salesperson with Citihabitats. “If your income is on the low side, use a roommate matching service like Koala Roomie or join Facebook groups like Gypsy Housing.
"While it may be impossible to get a studio in the location you want to live in, sometimes having just 1 roommate can make all the difference.”
In fact, getting a roommate is such an effective way to save on rent, Chadwick wasn’t the only one who suggested it.
“Get roommates,” realtor Eric Sztanyo told us. “This may be the top money saving tip. Getting roommates and an apartment with more rooms is almost always going to be more affordable than buying a single bedroom by yourself.
"You can save hundreds of dollars every single month by sharing the space. Now, roommates always making a living situation a bit trickier, but this is a great money saving tip.”
Decide if you want to work with a realtor.
This is another one of those questions that will depend on your situation. Some realtors take their fee from the landlord, so you won’t have to pay to use their services.
Even if the realtor will charge you a fee, they may still have arrangements with the landlord or rental company that will allow you to get a lower monthly rent and save overall.
You’ll just have to see what makes sense for your specific situation and location.
While amenities may drive up the cost of an apartment, it can also save money in the long run.
“Find an apartment with amenities that cut out or reduce other monthly expenses,” advised Aaron Hockel, vice president of Property Manager Insider, which recently released an apartment guide for the new year.
“The biggest cost-cutter is usually a solid fitness center, which replaces a gym membership. In-unit laundry is another amenity that helps save a surprising amount of money on a monthly basis.
"If the combined savings of these two amenities is $100 a month, that money can be budgeted toward the higher rent of a nicer apartment.”
All in the timing.
You can’t always choose when you’ll need to find an apartment. But you’ll be able to save a significant amount on rent if you can choose when you’re planning to sign a lease, whether that means adjusting a moving date or subletting in between moves.
“Look for a new place in the offseason,” recommended McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza. “For most property owners, new business slows between October and February.
"If you look for a new apartment in the slow season when landlords are eager to fill empty spaces, you may be able to take advantage of discounts or negotiate your rent down more easily.”
Don’t just keep to the standard Craigslist or rental site searches. The wider your search, the more options you’ll have.
“Check graduate school pages,” McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza told us. “Student services and relocation pages for graduate schools will often list preferred and affordable apartments and rental companies that are willing to help those on a tight budget.”
And then there’s the good old-fashioned friend of a friend. Or as Chadwick put it:
“Another way to find a deal is to reach out to your own network. Maybe someone you know has a rent stabilized, under market gem and their landlord will let you just take over the lease.”
Finding an apartment will always be stressful. But hopefully, these tips will help make it more affordable.
Aaron Hockel is the vice president of the blog Property Manager Insider. They have a social audience of 5,000+ property management industry professionals and cover many topics relevant to the multi-family housing industry.
Eric Sztanyo (@Manyo3) is a REALTOR® at Keller Williams, Lead Agent at Team Sztanyo and Founder of We Buy NKY Houses—a Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky cash home buying company. Eric is a husband, father of four and is, unfortunately, an avid fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals. He holds out futile hope that he will see a playoff victory from one of these teams in his lifetime.