As much as you may love your family, getting out from under their roof is one of the most exhilarating steps you can take in life. At the same time, however, getting your own place (or splitting it with a lot of roommates) can be intimidating—if not downright scary. After all, you’ve spent your life avoiding rent, credit checks, and all the other “joys” bundled with independent adulthood. Not to fear: Although it seems daunting, there are smart steps you can take to prep for the leap.
1. Getting an apartment takes (a lot) more than rent.
As my son recently discovered (and I had to help with), having a paycheck isn’t all it takes to get an apartment. Nowadays, landlords also have an extensive set of non-negotiable requirements. One of their absolute must-haves is a good credit score. However, if you don’t have credit yet, there’s no need to fret. You don’t need an extensive history; any positive payments should do. You can start by opening a credit card and paying it back on time. And remember, bad credit dings are just as harmful as having no credit.
2. Get your savings in order.
Landlords want to see stability in your savings and checking accounts. The longer you’ve had an account, the better. If you don’t have a bank account currently, you may want to open one. What they’re looking for is your ability to pay first and last month’s rent, along with a security deposit (equal to another month’s rent). If you’re in a pricey area, this can really add up! So, start saving today; the worst thing that can happen is more money in your pocket. I also recommend using apps like Mint – which can help you save for free.
3. References matter.
Just like a job application, landlords might ask to see two or three character references. (On top of paying rent, they want to make sure you won’t trash the place.) Apartments rent quickly, so get these in order now. A good one to start with is your current employer.
4. Your roommates also matter (and not how you might think).
You’ll (hopefully) choose roommates that are clean, respectful, and fun to be around. What you might not realize is that their financial qualifications are also important. Landlords sometimes treat applications as an “all or nothing” scenario. You don’t want to have the perfect apartment lined up, only to get dragged down by others – so make sure their financial ducks are in a row.
5. Get your feng shui on.
Unless you want to eat dinner on a milk carton, you’ll need to get furniture in order, too. And this can really add up if you’re not careful. Thankfully, your parents (and your roommates’ parents) probably have some stuff they want to get rid of. You can also browse local websites, where there will be plenty of people trying to hand off their used furnishings.
6. Don’t forget about the bills.
On top of rent, you may have to foot the bill for heat, water, and electricity every month. Additionally, you’ll probably want Wi-Fi and some form of TV service. It might not seem like much, but it adds up over time. Make sure you’re clear on what you will and won’t pay, and shop around if you’re not happy with the prices.
7. The little things add up.
Before you blow any remaining cash on a flat screen for the apartment, remember that the little things do add up. For instance, after moving out, I realized that soap didn’t magically appear in kitchens! Maybe I was a little naïve – but still, you need to account for those tiny expenses before they become a big shock. It’s helpful to create a (generous) list of basic supplies needed. It might seem silly, but you’ll be surprised at how much is required. And it’s better to be shocked now rather than a few days before rent’s due. Even better, you can divide and conquer with your future roomies to cut down on costs.
The bottom line:
All these steps might seem like a tall order – but trust me when I say that moving out on your own is worth it. Even if you’re in a cramped apartment scrounging for quarters, that first leap can be a fun one.