Sandra Hagen
college students posing for graduation picture

College graduation can be both an exciting and anxious time.

Recent graduates are propelled into “the real world” with a new career and maybe a new city. Many grads will be first-time renters, making the apartment-hunting process daunting and potentially expensive.

Here are some tips to ensure you get the most bang for your buck on your first apartment after graduation.

Find the lowest rent price

Did you know an apartment you looked at a few months ago could be cheaper or more expensive today? Finding the best market rate is all about knowing when to look. Ideally, students should start looking one year ahead of when they will graduate or move. In markets highly sought after by grads, the best rate is typically found four to five months before your tentative move-in date.

One-year leases likely offer the best prices; however, if you’re not ready to commit to an area, it may be cheaper to pay a higher monthly rent on a shorter lease term than paying extra fees to break your lease. Go with the lease term that best suits your needs.

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Ask about amenities

Many apartment communities offer a range of amenities that may be included in your monthly rent or for a small additional fee. Compare these fees with outside services to see where you can save.

Suppose you’re paying $20 a month for a gym membership and an apartment you’re checking out offers access to a fitness center, swimming pool, recreation area and planned activities for a one-time amenity fee of $200. It might make more sense for you to spend a little bit more upfront to save money down the road.

Understand your financial responsibilities

Your financial responsibilities are dependent upon your living situation and what the apartment offers, so ask what, if any, utilities are included in your monthly payment. If you plan to live alone then you are solely responsible for the rent and utilities.

Living with a roommate can be beneficial in keeping monthly costs down, but lack of knowledge regarding what you’re responsible for on a multi-person lease can be detrimental. For instance, if you pay your half of the rent, but your roommate doesn’t. In most cases, it’s both residents’ responsibility to pay the monthly balance in full. This means that you will be equally responsible for the remaining lease payment even if it’s your roommate’s unpaid portion.

Don’t forget to calculate additional expenses such as utilities and renters insurance into your monthly budget. You can keep utilities low by doing the following:

  1. Keep thermostats set to a moderate temperature even when you are not home. Turning the system on and off can actually spike the bill because the system has to work harder to start back up.
  2. Don’t block the return vents or registers as it will take longer for air to circulate.
  3. Use heavier curtains to help insulate and block out the sun in summer months and cold wind in winter months.
  4. Turn off all unused appliances such as the lights and TVs when not in use.
  5. Wait to do laundry until you have a full load.

Decorate on a budget

Furnishing your first apartment after graduation is typically the most fun – and most expensive – part of moving in. You can save money on furniture by shopping at thrift stores, visiting community Facebook pages and using websites like FreeCycle.org to get free household items.

You should also try to buy items that have a dual purpose, such as coffee tables that offer storage options and cubed bookshelves that can be stacked to serve as both a partition and decorative feature.

Secure your security deposit

Security deposits may feel like an unexpected cost when you move in, but can be a surprising gift once you move out. Keeping your apartment clean and fixing broken items (even if there’s a repair fee) are two of the easiest ways to ensure you’ll get your deposit back.

Read the fine print

Last, but certainly not least, always read your lease in full and don’t be afraid to ask questions if something is unclear. Though this can be the least exciting and most tedious part of your big move, you need to be aware of your landlord’s requirements such as how much notice is needed if you decide to move and how to communicate changes and requests to avoid fees.

Knowing what is expected of you as a resident is just as important as paying your actual rent and can save you a headache and money in the long run on your first apartment after graduation.

Related

Things to Think About Before Renting Your First Apartment

The Seven Deadly Sins of the First-Time Renter

Top Budgeting Resources for 20-Somethings

Sandra Hagen is a property manager at The Marylander Apartment Homes in Baltimore, owned and managed by Morgan Properties. Morgan Properties is the 20th largest apartment owner in the U.S. with 150 apartment communities and over 45,000 units located in 10 states: PA, MD, NJ, NY, DE, VA, NC, SC, OH, and NE.

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