How to Choose Your First Apartment

Choosing your first apartment can be a really exciting experience. It’s you’re first time striking out on your own and truly making the decision about where you live.

There’s something sort of freeing about being able to live in a location that doesn’t carry the same rules and regulations of a dorm. (Think actually being able to burn candles and nail things into the wall.) It’s also pretty interesting going through the process of signing a lease, figuring out utilities, and deciding who’s going to have what bedroom.

On the flip side, all these new decisions might feel a bit overwhelming. And more than likely, you’re probably making a lot of the decisions about your first apartment with a roommate (or several), and that can add some additional elements to think about. Here are a few things to consider as you choose your first apartment.

1. Lease length and credit history

The length of your lease is important because it dictates how long you’ll be required to stay in the apartment you choose. Most apartment leases start off requiring a one-year lease, but some only expect six months. If you’re really lucky, you might be able to find a month-to-month renting situation, but that’s a rare occurrence when you’re first starting out. Be sure to review your lease carefully before signing, and note what the penalties are for breaking your lease early.

As far as credit history goes, each leasing situation is different. Depending on where you live, someone in the group of roommates may need to have good credit history to show the landlord, or you may need to have an adult co-sign your lease with you. This is insurance for your landlord that in case you fail to make your payments, someone can come through with money in the end.

2. Laundry and storage

It’s a good idea to consider the laundry and storage situation in your apartment building before signing a lease. Is the laundry room on the opposite end of the building from you? Do you have to climb 10 flights of stairs to get there? Most apartments don’t have laundry machines in the unit, but you may want to consider a building that does.

The amount of storage available to each unit is also an important thing to consider. If you’re living with multiple roommates, there’s a good chance that all of your stuff is not going to fit in your one apartment. Make sure there’s ample storage offered in the basement or parking garage of the apartment building so you can store bigger things that you don’t want stuffed into the closets in your unit.

3. Parking and garage space

Parking varies from complex to complex, but most apartment buildings provide some kind of parking. The question to ask is if you have to pay for a space or not. It’s also a good idea to inquire about garage space—particularly if you live in a cold climate. Garage space is typically more expensive than a regular parking lot space, but you mind find it worth the extra $40 a month in the winter to climb into a warm car instead of a frigid one.

Ask about garage space as soon as you start conversations about signing a lease, as both garage and parking spaces are often only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If the parking is free, make sure there is plenty of parking because there’s nothing worse than driving around in circles in the middle of the night looking for an open space when you just want to be in warm and cozy in your bed.

4. Areas to socialize and amenities 

While many apartment buildings have areas to socialize, many don’t. Consider looking into an apartment building that has a community room or some sort of gathering space where you can host larger get-togethers that won’t fit in your apartment. Many apartment buildings offer amenities like pools and fitness centers, which can be a nice space to spend time with friends or head down to with your roommate after dinner.

Even if you’re not someone who likes to host parties or do a ton of socializing, having some extra space to go—away from your apartment and roommates but still inside the building—is nice to have for yourself.