Finding your first apartment ain’t easy. Take it from me; as someone who recently just went through the process, finding your first grown-up place to live post-college is probably the second biggest decision you’ll make as you enter the real world. It is far different from moving out of your dorm and into a fraternity house, where the only decision there is whether you have enough room for a bar and a FIFA station. Luckily for you, I recently left the comforts of my parents’ home and began looking for my first domicile. Here’s my worldly wisdom:

1. Budget

The least fun and most important part of the search – the goal here is to avoid being that bum who needs a loan from your roommates or parents to make your rent payment. As a general rule of thumb, your rent should NEVER exceed 50% of your monthly income (unless you crazy good at saving money) which is why I like to follow the 50/20/30 method:

50% of your monthly income should go to fixed costs that recur monthly: rent, utilities, subscriptions (i.e transportation, gym membership, Netflix obvi).

20% of your monthly income should go to your savings/financial goals.  We’re grown-ups now, so let’s lay the groundwork for a stable future. Whether you’re saving for a nicer apartment, student loan payments or just an emergency fund – keep a cushion around. You don’t want to be stuck looking at an empty savings account when you break your laptop because you thought it might serve as a good koozie.

30% of your monthly income is allocated to flexible spending: shopping, vacations, beer, groceries, entertainment, beer, dry cleaning if you don’t work at a startup (nerds). Essentially anything that can fluctuate and isn’t a fixed cost.

2. To roommate or not to roommate

Ah, the ultimate question. This step is often dictated by your budget and location. If you’re in Manhattan or San Francisco and don’t work for a hedge fund, you’re most likely going to need a roommate(s).  Now if you’re in a city like St. Louis or Richmond, where the average 1 bedroom is under $1,000, then you’re Gucci Mane. Decisions, decisions.

So now that you have decided that you need a roommate for financial or emotional reasons, where do you go about looking for roommates? The classic strategies still hold; you can, of course, live with a friend or use your network to find someone. But these days, there’s a bunch of new tools to try out too.  Companies like Symbi, RentHoop, Roomster offer the ability to match with potential roommates based on mutual interests, living habits or just a shared desire to avoid the serial killers on Craiglist. Find yourself a charmer!

3. Neighborhood

Job? Check (hopefully). Budget? Got it. Roommate and future bffaeaeae? Yep. Now it’s time to choose your neighborhoods. When picking a neighborhood(s) to narrow your search, you need to evaluate a couple of things. Like our first step, budget – can you afford to live in that neighborhood? Sure, living in Tribeca is nice and all but you don’t want to turn your budget in 90/5/5. Second, location, how far are you from work? What would your commute look like? Do you always have to travel for necessities? Re: Vibezzz, do you want a quiet neighborhood with families living there? Or are you the life of the party and need to be on the main strip? These are very much personal opinions, which means it is important to ask yourself and prioritize when narrowing your search to a couple of neighborhoods.

4. Ruthlessly prioritize

In New York, this usually means you have to give up some combination of laundry, not walking up 6 flights of stairs to reach your apartment, a mouse-free environment, or having actual bedroom walls.  Then you realize you actually have to give up all of these and still pay more than you wanted. Let’s just keep moving here.

5. To broker or not to broker

FINALLY, damn, that took a while… time to start actually looking at some apartments!!!

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WHOA there, partner, not so fast:

Now you gotta decide if you want a real estate broker or not. This is sort of like learning to drive a car; you can either take paid driving lessons or you can learn how to drive by doing donuts in a Walmart parking lot using your friend’s 1996 Subaru Outback. One is expensive and tedious but “safe” (boring), the other is free-flowing, dangerous, and kind of fun. With a broker, you often get to see exclusive apartments, they can cut deals with landlords, and they probably know a heck of a lot more than you. The catch: the good ol’ broker fee, which can be up to 15% of annual rent. That’ll throw a wrench in the budget. If you decide to go down this route, I would definitely recommend our friends over at Triplemint who can make your life a lot easier if you need a broker. 

The non-broker option is the path less traveled. But it can work if you’re truly committed. I would recommend building a list of apartments you are interested and start scheduling showings. Websites like Zumper, Craigslist, Streeteasy (if in NYC), and Padmapper are also great resources.

6. YOU DID IT! YOU FOUND YOUR FIRST APARTMENT!

Ah, the journey is complete. You now have the perfect, beautiful apartment to call your own. Sure, it’s a 6th-floor walk-up with no AC, dimly lit hallways, and a stench of hard-boiled eggs, but who cares…you can officially call yourself an adult.

Well, you may have found your first apartment, but if you ever need a job don’t be afraid to hit up Scouted for all your first, second, and third job needs.

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