Securing your first apartment is exciting, but it can also be stressful and expensive without the right strategy. Be smart and learn the things you should know and do before you rent your first apartment.

Work Within a Budget

Although you may dream of penthouse living, most people need to keep their expectations in check for their first rental. Many financial experts recommend that you spend no more than 30 percent of your income on rent, which should also include utilities, cable and Internet. However, in more expensive cities, this can often be difficult to achieve. Ultimately, you may want to consider living in a cheaper neighborhood, finding a roommate or making a compromise on space to stay within your budget.

Determine What You Want and Need

Some people need greenery nearby while others want spacious rooms. Some common amenities that you might want to consider are an air conditioning unit, a dishwasher, on-site laundry, a balcony, and common area. Sites like will give you an updated list of amenities.

The Overall Neighborhood is a Big Factor

Your first apartment is an important step in your life, so you should determine what amenities, features, and neighborhoods will suit you. Important features like grocery stores, gyms, and restaurants should be relatively close by. Safety is also a concern, so examine the crime rate of each neighborhood you’re interested in. Reasonable commute time is also important, so well-connected public transportation is essential.

Search Smart

Many first-time renters rely on a broker to find their apartment, but a broker’s fees can be costly. First, try searching for a few places on your own. Often, apartment listings offer no-fee apartments, which means there’s no broker’s fee attached. If your own search is unproductive, it might be time to turn to a broker.

Do Your Homework

When you find an apartment you like, be sure to check every nook and cranny. Ensure that the hot water works, that the electrical sockets aren’t broken, and that the locks on all the doors function. You should also look at the overall condition of the apartment. Does it need a new paint job? Do the windows look energy inefficient? Are the walls too thin?

If you learn your landlord’s name or the name of the management company, perform a quick Internet search. If you hear any horror stories from previous tenants, you may want to stay away.

Watch Out for Unfair Lease Terms

Before you sign a lease, read it thoroughly. Are you allowed to modify the apartment, like add a new layer of paint to the walls? What are the penalties for paying your rent a day late? Often, other details like the penalty for breaking your lease are written into your contract.

Finally, be sure to photograph your apartment with time-stamped photos before you move in to document any damage that was there previously.