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  • Before starting your search, calculate how much rent you can afford — a good rule of thumb is spending no more than 30% of your monthly take-home pay on rent. 
  • Also, consider the costs of the apartment other than rent, like utilities, internet, and monthly parking or pet fees, if applicable.
  • Start saving in advance, since it’s not uncommon for apartments to require as much as three months’ worth of rent when you sign your lease, and check your credit in advance. 
  • Finally, make sure to double check that you have all agreements in writing on the lease, and consider getting renter’s insurance to protect your things.
  • Policygenius can help you compare renter’s insurance policies to find the right coverage for you, at the right price »

Searching for and renting an apartment can be a long process. From saving for the amount due when you sign your lease to the costs of moving into your new apartment, it can be an expensive process, too. 

But, with some planning ahead, negotiating, and lots of research, you can make your apartment search a little bit simpler. Brian Carberry, a managing editor at rental search website Apartment Guide, says there are a few steps to take to make your apartment search as surprise-free and smooth as possible.

How to rent an apartment

Know your budget first, and check your credit

Calculating how much you can afford to spend on an apartment should be your first step. Generally, this should be calculated as part of your income. Financial planners often recommend spending no more than 30% of your income, reports Business Insider’s Tanza Loudenback. 

It’s best to calculate the rent you can afford based on your take-home pay each month, after taxes. While people often use their annual salary to find this number, that’s probably not the best way. It may be more than you can really afford. 

Once you’ve found out how much you can afford, you’ll also want to double check your credit report — it can be done for free online. Landlords often check potential tenants’ credit reports, and you’ll want to know where you stand to avoid any surprises. Disputing any mistakes could help raise your credit score and get an edge in your apartment search.

Start looking for an apartment below your target total rent payment. Even in an apartment, you may have more due each month than just rent. “Some properties will have utilities included, but in others you’ll have to pay out of pocket for these expenses,” Carberry tells Business Insider by email. Factor in the monthly costs of internet, laundry, utilities, and any fees for parking if you have a car.

If you have a pet, you may also owe pet rent — Carberry says that pet rent will likely increase your rent between $50 and $100 per month. 

Start saving up — you’ll need to have cash on hand before you can sign the lease

Even though you’re renting the apartment, you’ll need to have a significant amount of cash on hand to be able to sign the lease. Start saving early to make sure that you can afford it when it comes time to sign.

“You’ll be responsible for an application fee, a security deposit — typically one or two months’ rent, but can be more or less depending on the area — and your first months’ rent,” Carberry says. If you have a pet, also budget for an additional refundable security deposit. 

“You could be looking at up to three months of rent dues before you even move in,” Carberry says. According to Apartment Guide data, the average one-bedroom apartment in the US rents for $1,621 per month — which could make for about $4,863 due at move-in for an apartment with a security deposit worth two months’ rent.

Do your research on the area where you’re looking to rent

Knowing about the area around the apartment you’re considering could help you score a deal. 

“Have an idea of what you can afford to spend and how much apartments are going for in the areas where you want to live,” Carberry says. “Certain areas will be more expensive than others, even if just separated by a few blocks.”

It’s worth remembering that your apartment’s rent, utilities, and even other smaller fees like parking are up for negotiation. “If you have this information, you’ll be better informed about what’s realistic for you and may put you in a stronger position to negotiate based on what’s available in the area,” Carberry says. 

Start your apartment search by looking at potential homes in person

While renting a home has lower stakes than buying a home would, you’ll still want to be equally as happy with the apartment you’ve chosen to rent. For that reason, it’s worth evaluating things like you would if you were going to own the place. 

“Once you get in the unit, check the appliances, windows, and fixtures to see how new and updated things are. Take a look at the walls and see if they have been repainted cleanly,” Carberry says. “If a landlord isn’t taking the steps to make an apartment look nice on first appearances, chances are there will be more problems that you can’t see.”

Seeing it just one time may not be enough, Carberry says. “Drive past the area where you want to rent at different times of the day. The road out front might be much busier at 5 pm on a Friday than it is at 11 am on a Sunday.”

Before signing your new lease, get everything in writing, and get the right insurance

Once you’re ready to sign the lease, make sure that your rent amount and anything else included in your rent is correct. “Ask the leasing agent to clearly outline everything for you in writing,” Carberry says.

Then, there are only two things left to do: move in, and make sure you have the right renter’s insurance coverage. Renter’s insurance can protect your things if something happens to your apartment. While some landlords require it, it’s still a good idea even if it’s not required — it’s relatively affordable with an average cost of $15 per month, and could be a big help if it’s needed. Shop around for it and compare several quotes, or consider bundling it with other insurance policies to make it cheaper.