Renter Guides

Your guide to apartment searching

A smart apartment search takes a little soul searching.

Ready to start your apartment search? Before you head to the online listings, take a few minutes to work out what you want, what you need, and how to approach apartment searching in a smart way that’ll get you both.

Your guide to apartment searching

  • Understand how to decide if you really should move.

    Your decision on whether or not it’s time to start an apartment search depends on two main things: what your ideal rental situation looks like and whether or not you can afford rent for anything closer to that ideal than what you have now.

    Create a short list of the core reasons you’re thinking of moving. As you move through the following steps, keep coming back to these reasons. If you’re finding places during your apartment search with the right things that fit your budget and fulfill your reasons for wanting to move, it’s a good sign that you’re ready.

  • Make a wants-and-needs list.

    Make a list with two columns: things you want in an apartment and things you absolutely need. Your needs might be proximity to your work, pet-friendliness, walkable to the train, or number of bedrooms. Your wants list might include a big kitchen, an in-unit washer-dryer, and being near a bike trail.

    Here’s a tip: Trulia’s apartment search tool allows you to filter your search by a bunch of different filters, like allows pets and microwave included. Use these filters to guide your list.

  • Set your budget.

    One of the most important filters you’ll use when apartment hunting is the price. And to answer the question, “How much rent can I afford?” you’ll need to look at some numbers. Here’s a step-by-step for rental budgeting:

    • Start with your monthly net income—what you actually bring home after taxes.
    • Subtract all your fixed monthly expenses, the stuff you most likely can’t change, e.g, student loan, car payment.
    • Look at all other expenses like groceries, utility costs, cable TV, gym membership, entertainment. If there are any you can cut or lower, now’s a good time to do it. (Tip: Experts recommend spending about 10%-15% of your net income on food—buying groceries and eating in restaurants.) Subtract any of those expenses you don’t cut from your monthly net income.
    • Consider any savings or spending money you’d like to add into your budget. Subtract those from your monthly income as well.
    • What you have left could be what you have to spend on rent. Experts recommend your rent should be around 25% to 30% of your gross (before tax) monthly income, (but some rental markets can make that challenging).

    Remember, too, there might be some tradeoffs, that may come up during your apartment search. If you find a place a block from work, you may get rid of your car. Some rental units include utilities or a gym. Keep these things in mind while apartment hunting, and you’ll have some more flexibility in your budget.

  • Start saving up for move-in costs.

    Most landlords will ask for first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit up front. You might also be required to get rental insurance, and there might be an application fee and a cost to have a credit check. And will you need movers? Think through the one-time moving costs you’ll have when moving and start saving for them now.

  • Make the roommate decision.

    Unless you’re moving to fulfill a dream of living solo, sharing the rent might mean you can afford to expand your apartment search. Think back to that list of reasons you want to move and your wants-and-needs list. Could you hit more of your goals by sharing your kitchen? Decide if your budget, goals, and ideal living situation would be well-suited to splitting rent with a roommate.

    If the answer is yes, look strategically. Use your apartment searching goals to find a friend, family member, co-worker, or another potential roommate who wants the same things from a rental that you do.

  • Determine when to start looking seriously.

    Once you start looking, be prepared to sign a lease quickly — even if your move-in date is weeks away. Experts recommend giving yourself about four weeks from your first serious inquiries to signing a lease, so consider that timing when you start your apartment search. If your lease is up in six months, you may want to give it a few months to start making calls.

  • Decide what neighborhood is best for you.

    Where your rental is located is just as important when apartment hunting as what’s inside the unit. A great way to find out what it’s like to live somewhere before you commit is reviewing What Locals Say reviews on Trulia. Millions of residents have shared their firsthand experiences of living in their neighborhoods, helping you find the best fit. When you find a neighborhood you can’t wait to call home—you’re ready to start looking for homes there. You can also use Trulia Neighborhoods to find information on schools, safety and crime, neighborliness, restaurants and entertainment, and more.

  • Start your search.

    Now you’re ready to go online and start your apartment search. Use Trulia’s search filters to find all of the options that fit your needs and budget in the right neighborhood. Look at every potential listing in detail. Be sure to check out:

    • 3D apartment tours, available on Trulia
    • Any additional fees the landlord may require
    • Lease terms (12-month, month-to-month, etc.)
  • Schedule and go on viewings.

    Once you’ve whittled your list down to a few options that fit your apartment search goals, start scheduling viewings. After all, no matter how hot a market is, you’re going to want to see the place in-person before signing a lease. You can request a viewing right on each Trulia rental listing, which makes the process quick and easy.

    During each viewing, bring all of your lists with you: Your reasons for moving, want-and-needs, and your budget. Also bring a list of all the amenities from the listing that attracted you to the apartment in the first place. While looking around, make sure you see everything you expect, and ask about anything you’re unsure of. With all your questions answered, you could be ready to make your big decision and rent an apartment.

    Now that you have an overview of apartment searching, you may want a few more details about budgeting. Check out our guide on answering the question, “How much rent can I afford?” next.