What to know as a first time renter
Lauren Nostro
7 min read

You’re taking the first step to move out on your own—where do you even start?

Renting for the first time can be overwhelming and things can move pretty fast once you’ve found an apartment you want. There’s a lot to consider when you’re a first-time renter, so we’ve compiled a list of tips to make sure you’re fully prepared to find your first home:

  • Budget: First things first—figure out what you can afford. Around 41% of renters spend more than 35% of their income on rent. Write a list of all your estimated monthly expenses (round them up if you’re not 100% sure) so you can see how much money you’ll have left for rent. And as always, there’s probably an app for that. Are utilities included? If not, you might want to ask for estimates of how much they’re likely to run you each month. Some apartments may have higher rental costs but may include all utilities. Others may seem cheaper at first glance, but once you total up how much utilities cost each month, the price might end up being comparable. Remember that you’ll need to pay a security deposit too, and this is usually the same amount as a month’s rent. Most apartments require the first and last month’s rent upfront—plus a security deposit.
  • Location: It’s important to take note of how close things will be to your new apartment. If you don’t drive, you’ll want to be close to public transportation and make sure your area is walkable—especially for daily errands. If you have a car, you’ll need to consider places to park—whether you’re paying for a reserved spot or want ample street parking. Being in a city center means your rent will be higher—but if you’re planning to live outside of a city and commute in, consider the costs of cabs, public transportation, and nights out. If you have children, are you close enough to their daycare or school to make your mornings manageable? What about your job—how long is your commute? Consider your daily schedule when planning where you plan to hunt for apartments.
  • Amenities: What do you want your apartment to actually offer? It may be worth spending an extra few bucks on rent each month if the building has its own gym and you work out every day. On the flip side, if they have amenities that you’re not likely to use, consider looking elsewhere for a building that you can fully take advantage of. Don’t forget to take into consideration the amenities inside the apartment, too. An outdated kitchen might not bother someone who plans on eating out every evening, but if you love cooking, you’ll likely want newer appliances. Do you want a balcony or extra closet space? Make a list of your requirements, and then break them up into ideals and non-negotiables.
  • Roommates: Once you decide on potential locations and a tentative rental budget, you’ll need to decide whether or not you need—or want—a roommate. Living with a roommate can decrease your share of rent but on the flip side, many residents value their privacy over saving some money. Having said that, if you’re moving out from student accommodation or living with your parents, you might be used to sharing your space. For many residents, living with a roommate is the perfect middle ground—you won’t get too lonely and you’ll still have your independence. Make sure that if you do decide to get roommates, you create a roommate agreement to stave off any potential issues.
  • Prepare your application: Make sure you know what documents you’ll need to provide in order to fill out an application for the apartment you decide on. Some information your potential home provider may need will include your credit score, rental history, and proof of income. You’ll likely be asked to provide your social security number, as well as references—so be prepared ahead of time. As a first-time renter, you won’t have previous home providers to ask for references, so you’ll want to ask people in your network for help like your boss, colleagues, previous roommates from college, etc. According to data from Zillow, the typical renter submitted two applications when applying for new apartments. For renters that submitted at least one application, the typical application fee was $50.
  • Beware of scam listings: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Before you sign on the dotted line of your rental application, read between the lines of an apartment listing. If the language is vague, if there are no photos on the listing, and if they require you to wire-transfer fees, be careful—these are red flags in apartment hunting. Above all, one of the clearest indicators that trouble is looming is if the apartment costs significantly less rent than other comparable units. With a 64% increase in real estate scams nationwide it is more important than ever to use your common sense. There are so many legitimate and honest home providers out there so do your homework, trust your intuition, and avoid rental red flags.
  • Read the reviews: Do your research and check the reviews of the building or home provider on WYL. Our platform is designed to give residents ownership of their living situations by allowing them to review their homes and it’s a great way to hear from others living there without having to go door-to-door asking neighbors. From the friendliness and efficiency of the front desk to whether or not the amenities are always out of use, user reviews can give you an excellent idea of what the property will be like to live in.

Apartment hunting can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time living on your own. Get prepared ahead of time and start saving. According to Zillow, more than one-third (38%) of renters surveyed say they couldn’t cover an unexpected expense of $1,000—so prepare for unexpected expenses ahead of time.

Over 44.1 million American households are renters, so the market can seem intimidating at first. Preparation is key.