A recent college grad shares lessons learned about apartment shopping, financial and otherwise.
There’s a term I often use to describe my current financial situation: “rent broke.” As in, the vast majority of my paycheck goes towards rent, leaving me with little in the way of discretionary income. But I have nobody else to blame for this predicament but myself. That, and my weakness for cute guys and puppies.
Flash back to April, when my college roommate and I learned we’d both be staying and working in Nashville after graduation. Giddy with excitement—both of us had jobs! In the same city, no less! —we embarked on an earnest mission to scope out our post-graduate apartment. Lured by the promise of a “genuine urban living experience” and ample opportunities for recreation (read: drinking), we focused our apartment-hunting efforts on one Nashville district in particular, an area overwhelmingly populated with young professionals.
The final stop on our tour-de-Nashville-apartments turned out to be our clear favorite. As the affable leasing office lady guided us through the building, my excitement only grew. Starry-eyed and idealistic, I ogled at all of the attractive amenities: A lounge-style community room with billiards and a coffee machine! A saltwater pool! A 24/7 fitness center, complete with the requisite muscle-shirted, weight-lifting bros! At the end of the tour, we passed a tall, Ryan Reynolds look-alike walking a Labrador puppy. That pretty much sealed the deal for me: I had to live there. I left the tour with leasing paperwork in tow, certain in my conviction of signing a lease there.
Later, when I raved about the apartment complex to my parents, they were quick to voice their concerns about the expensive rent costs.
“Hon, that’s a lot of money,” my mom said. “Do you think you’ll be able to afford that every month?”
I assured her “yes,” then threw in some drivel about the apartment’s superb safety features, such as secure structured parking and on-site surveillance cameras (always a guaranteed selling point for mothers).
After a thoughtful pause, my parents said: “Well, it’s your money. You can do whatever you want with it.”
Five months later, I can tell you candidly that there are pros and cons to my so-called “genuine urban living experience.” On the upside, my building is like a glorified fraternity house—every Saturday during the warmer months, the pool area transforms into an impromptu party, with country music blasting from boom-box speakers and beer bottles galore. And I’ve certainly reaped the benefits of having free gym access and a K-Cup coffee machine at my disposal. But on the downside, I often feel like I’m living paycheck to paycheck. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like a party pooper telling my friends, “I gotta eat in tonight, sorry guys,” simply because rent eats up so much of my budget.
Unless you want to wind up “rent broke” like me, there are a number of factors you should consider when selecting a living space after college:
Rent. This is an obvious one, but it bears mentioning. Do a little math and figure out how much you can realistically afford to pay in rent given your salary, expenses and student loans, if any. If you fail to make rent payments, you may wind up getting evicted and squandering your credit score. No bueno.
Cost of living. Cost of living varies from area to area, and this is definitely something to keep in mind when moving to a new locale. If you settle down in a city with a notoriously high cost of living, such as New York City or San Francisco, you’ll likely find yourself paying inordinate fees to live in a shoddy, rodent-infested apartment. Use a cost of living calculator to estimate how far your salary will take you in a specific area.
Roommates. To cut down on costs, I would strongly advise living with a roommate. Yes, we’ve all suffered through a bad roommate at one point or another, but as long as you find somebody compatible to your needs, it’s really not all bad. Aside from the obvious social benefits—aka having a live-in companion with whom to swap clothes and watch Modern Family—living with a roommate is a great way to cut down on some common expenses, such as electric, trash pick-up, internet and water bills. Also, you can go “halfsies” on necessities like paper towels and dish soap.
Safety. I don’t mean to go all “Mother Knows Best” on you, but you should evaluate the apartment’s safety features. Are all entrances to the building secure and well-lit at night? If you have a parking spot, is it safe and close to the building? Is the neighborhood relatively safe, or is it teeming with would-be predators and ex-convicts? Lastly, especially if you’re a woman, it’s never a good idea live on the first floor.
Parking. Does your apartment include parking? If so, how many spots? If parking isn’t included, recognize that you’ll probably ending up paying extra to make alternate parking arrangements…or, if you street park, you’ll end up with a mountain of expensive parking tickets.
Proximity to work. Figure out if you’re willing to commute and what the costs associated with the commute will be. Train tickets and subway passes can be deceptively pricey, and it goes without saying that gas alone is ridiculously expensive.
Washer/Dryer. Does the unit come with a washer and dryer? If not, is there an in-house laundry room facility? And if so, how much will laundry access cost you per load? Going to laundromats can be a huge inconvenience and a hefty added expense, so it’s important to evaluate your laundry options before committing to a lease.
Bottom line? I love my apartment building, but I think I should have heeded my parents’ advice and done my homework before rashly signing a lease. Oh well, it’s all a part of the learning curve, right? The next time I’m choosing an apartment, I’ll try and be a bit more practical in my expectations (and resist the charms of puppy-wielding men).
Read more of Anna’s adventures in I’m Cut Off: The Series.