Two White women sitting on floor, surrounded by packed boxes, with coffee cups

A Guide to Help You With Your First Apartment Search

Your first apartment is a big step into adulthood. Whether you're getting a place off campus or moving postgrad, here are the basics to land a place.

You’re moving out! Looking for your first apartment can be a strenuous process. Whether you’re moving off campus, moving in with a partner, or just getting out of your parents' house, now is a time to celebrate but also focus. There are a lot of variables to get straight before you sign a lease, so here are some important things to keep in mind throughout the process of finding your new home sweet home.

Starting your search

Depending on where you’re moving to, you can use websites like, Zillow, ApartmentFinder, or HotPads. You can also browse your local classified ads, check Facebook, or ask friends who rent in the area for recommendations. I found my first apartment by looking through Google Maps for apartment buildings and calling the phone numbers on the signs outside, so that might work for you too.

When looking through listings or talking to potential landlords, narrow down your search by figuring out what you want out of your new home. Variable amenities include a dishwasher, in-unit or in-building washer and dryer, available parking, included utilities, and more. You should also narrow your search by location: Is it near work? Your friends? A bus stop? To avoid being overwhelmed with choices, pare down your list based on rent and factors that are important to you.

Related: 5 Ways Job Location Can Affect Your Financial Future

Mastering the timing

Timing is tricky. I’m one of those people who likes to get out in front of things, planning everything to a “T.” So when I started calling landlords more than four months before I planned to move, they had no idea if they would have any openings. Most places only require a minimum of a month’s notice from current tenants who are leaving, and those places probably won’t still be open several months from now. But there’s nothing wrong with still doing some research and reaching out early. You can at least get an idea of prices and amenities and there could be a landlord who knows a longtime tenant is moving out soon. Usually, you’ll have to be a little flexible to work around availability dates for the places you really want.

Touring apartments

When you find some apartments you’re interested in, you’ll set up tours to get a better feel for the spaces. There’s a lot to keep in mind on a viewing—this is a big part of your decision. Do you feel comfortable in the neighborhood? How’s the security of the building? Take a good look around and try to imagine your belongings in the rooms. Will everything fit? Is there enough storage space? Also ask yourself questions like: Are there enough outlets or light fixtures? Do you have good cell reception? Are the neighbors loud? Is there a peephole, smoke detector, dead bolt, and fire extinguisher?

In addition to asking yourself questions, there are plenty of questions to ask the landlord. This is a big decision, so speak up. How do repairs work? Are you allowed to put nails in the walls? What parking is available for tenants and guests? How do you pay rent (cash/check/card)? Are there any changes the landlord plans to make before you move in? The more questions you ask, the more serious the landlord will see you are, giving you a leg up on other potential tenants.

Also, take someone with you to a viewing. Whether it’s your partner, future roommate, sibling, parent, or friend, having someone with you is a good safety measure. Plus, it helps to have a second opinion whether they’re involved in the final decision or not. After you’ve found a few places that appeal to you, you’ll need to fill out applications, as you likely won’t be the only one vying for the place. Outside of basic personal information, applications ask for former landlords or references, your driver’s license number, or your social security number.

Related: 7 Ways to Boost the Mood of Your College Apartment

Signing your lease

When it comes time to sign a lease, be sure to read it thoroughly before signing or paying anything. Look specifically for clauses about pets, damages, subletting, rent due dates, late fees, utilities, and any changes your landlord may have mentioned making before you move in. Always make sure to get a copy of the lease as well. And ask the landlord any questions you have about wording or language before you sign.

Making your initial payments

When you sign a lease, you’ll have to pay a security deposit and potentially first and last month’s rent. A security deposit is equal to one month’s rent, which your landlord holds on to until in case of damages. If you leave the apartment in good condition when you move out, you’ll get it back. First and last month’s rent may be due at the time of signing, or you may not pay that until you move in.

On top of rent and utilities, you should consider getting renters insurance. This typically covers costs in the event of a break-in, fire, or flood. Your apartment may be covered under a policy the landlord has for the building—but only some things may be covered. Check with your landlord. While it’s an additional expense, it often isn’t much and provides you with peace of mind in case of an emergency.

Furnishing your apartment

Once you have an apartment, your next big step is finding furniture. As much as you may be tempted to start decorating from the vast catalogs of big-box department stores, there are cheaper options out there. Try pursuing secondhand, charity, and consignment stores as well as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Just keep an eye out for scammers!

Also, look out for antique stores or yard sales. You can even ask relatives if they have anything they want to get rid of. If you’re on a budget, spray paint can liven up secondhand furniture, and there are lots of DIY ideas on Pinterest to help you decorate your new space.

Communicating with roommates

If you’re not living on your own, there’s one more step to the apartment search. Living with other people can be awesome, but it comes with challenges too. Before moving in, have an open, honest discussion with your roommate(s) or partner about boundaries, making rent payments, and keeping up with cleaning, groceries, and other responsibilities. Figure out what each of you is bringing possessions-wise and draw out a diagram of what will go where so you don’t have to argue while moving heavy furniture.

Once you’re moved in, create a system for giving each other space, what you will and won’t share, how comfortable you are with guests, and more. Even if you’ve known each other for years, living together can bring new things to light—good and bad. So always continue to communicate.

Related: Strangers or Besties? Developing a Good Dynamic With Your College Roommates

Now all that’s left to do is throw a housewarming party! Hopefully, this guide will help you figure out your way through this hallmark of being an adult. You’ve found your new place and made a lot of difficult decisions along the way, but you should be proud and ready to settle into your new life.

You can find a lot more advice on taking control of your adult responsibilities in our Student Life section!

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About Emily Rogan

Emily Rogan is a student at Morehead State University, where she's studying Communications and Theater. When she's not in school, she is an actor, musician, singer, and writer.


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