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Recent Grads Share Winning Tips for Snagging Your First Apartment

Just graduated? Conquer the rental market with real-life advice from recent grads.

Well done. You finally have that degree in hand, and you’re ready to tackle “real” life. First order of business: a place to live. If you’ve already started your search you may have noticed that academic work can seem easy compared to finding your first apartment and job. Have no fear — Trulia has done some of the toughest homework for you: We surveyed recent grads and real estate pros and gathered an apartment hunting checklist to ensure that your quest for home sweet home is as easy and quick as possible. We also used data from Trulia, Indeed, and the U.S. Census to find the best places for new grads to live and work.

11 Been-There-Done-That Apartment Hunting Tips from Recent Grads

1. Have Your Rental Paperwork Ready to Go

Andrew Hove graduated from Wesleyan University in 2015 and was looking to land a place to live in LA with a roommate. Hove was researching potential apartments long-distance from Boise, ID, while his roommate pounded the pavement on location. “Things are very competitive in the L.A. rental market so my friend would go to open houses with completed applications and a checkbook—being super-prepared is the best way to land a choice apartment,” says Hove, who works as the financial controller at Faction Entertainment. Start building your ready-to-go paperwork by creating a rental resume using our easy template. It asks all the questions landlords want answered.

2. Decide On a Budget—and Stick to It

Andrew Hove knows how easy it is to get upsold when apartment hunting and he advises settling on a maximum monthly rent—either by yourself or with a roommate—and holding tightly to it. “It can be very tempting to get talked into paying more for a place with more bells and whistles,” says Hove, “so you really need to establish your top price and not waver on what you’re willing to pay.”

3. Don’t Worry About Being in the Center of Everything

Alex Jacks, a 2016 Northeastern grad who moved into his current apartment right out of school suggests forgoing downtown for affordability. “Here in Boston, the further away from Downtown Crossing, the cheaper it gets, and you will get more space for your money. I live in Mission Hills, and I love it,” says Jacks, a software engineer at Hitachi Data Systems. “Don’t think you need to be right near your friends because the need to be constantly socializing goes way down. Work is far more intense than college and partying!”

4. Explore Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods

Matt Bless of Vanguard Realty in Brookline, Massachusetts advises young clients to look for rentals where you can get more bang for your buck. In the Boston region, he likes Roslindale and West Roxbury, which he says, “are much more affordable than Boston proper.” If you’re flexible about where you live, you have more options, and can often land more square feet at a much lower price than super-desirable neighborhoods in the heart of a city.

5. Be Open to Nontraditional Living Arrangements

Eric Klein of RE/Max Achievers in Boston, says it can be smart to look outside of the standard apartment living situation post-graduation. “There are also a lot of empty nesters who may rent out a room or efficiency apartment. You may get more bang for your buck in a nicer neighborhood, than traditional rental options,” he says. Finding a roommate who already has a place can also allow you to live in a building or neighborhood you might not be able to afford otherwise.

6. Hang Out in the Neighborhood Where You Want to Live

After consulting social media and connecting with fellow alums, 2015 Tufts grad Emily Lewis found her San Francisco apartment the old fashioned way. “There was a For Rent sign in the window. I was riding home in an Uber when I saw it. My landlady is in her 70s, and I would never have found the listing online because there wasn’t one. Honestly, the best advice I can give is, walk around the neighborhoods you love and look around.”

7. Bite the Bullet and Hire a Broker

Natalie Speck, a 2015 NYU grad who stayed in Manhattan after graduation, recommends using a broker, especially if your time is limited. “Brokers are very expensive in the city, so if you have some flexibility it’s worth trying to find an apartment without one. But if you’re getting down to the wire, a competent broker will help.” Speck, a publicity coordinator at Starz who now lives in the Upper West Side, describes her own experience, “When we had a week to find somewhere, we went to a really great broker who listened, gave feedback, and quickly found us our current apartment. Oftentimes, they will have listings that aren’t posted anywhere else.” Find the perfect agent or broker on Trulia.

8. Harness the Power of Social Media to Find Apartments

To be close to her first job, Emily Lewis, a communications assistant at NextGen Climate, an environmental-advocacy organization, had to conquer the extremely competitive rental market in the Bay Area. She turned to social media to help. “Social media plays a big role in connecting you to the rental market in a new town,“ she says. “You can easily join rental-search groups on Facebook or find ones affiliated with your high school or college so that you can get tips from fellow alums.”

You may also be able to use social media to get a feel for the neighborhood from strangers by using local features like Facebook’s City Guides, Instagram’s Places Tab, and Twitter’s advanced search.

9. Keep Your Credit Clean

Matt Bless stresses how crucial a squeaky-clean credit report is when searching for an apartment. “Landlords don’t know you, and mostly they don’t even get to meet you before they basically enter into a business partnership on their investment property. So they rely on your credit score to tell them whether or not you are a good bet. Are you responsible? How seriously do you take your financial obligations?” asks Bless. “For better or worse, this is what your credit score communicates. Get a free copy of your report before you start looking at apartments and be upfront with agents and landlords about known issues so you don’t surprise them unpleasantly when they check your credit.  If possible, have credible explanations with evidence for negative marks on your credit.” New to this credit stuff? Make sure you’re up on these important credit lessons your parents didn’t teach you.

10. Try the Personal Touch

“A personal letter with a photo is a great idea,” says Bless. “It humanizes you and may mean the difference between acceptance and rejection on an application with borderline credit or income. It can also help in situations where the landlord has multiple applications on the same apartment.” In your letter, explain what you love about their apartment, and give a few details about yourself that’ll place you in the best light (in other words, focus on your love of reading and volunteer work, not so much on your passion for heavy metal).

11. Having a Co-Signer Can Be a Good Sign

“Many landlords are looking for two things: solid credit and employment,” explains Matt Bless. “Solid employment usually means a minimum of two years job history and a yearly salary that is no less than three times your yearly rent.” Obviously, for freshly minted grads, that’s impossible, so “it’s a good idea to line up a co-signer—also called a guarantor—with excellent credit and good income,” says Bless. “However, not all landlords accept co-signers, and some accept only in-state co-signers.”

Get more rental tips on the Trulia blog:

How Paying Rent Can Build (And Boost!) Your Credit Score

How You Can Change Your Credit Score in 30 Days

3 Secrets to Exploring Neighborhoods with Social Media

How did you land your first apartment? Any tips for the new graduate? Let us know in the comments.