The time has finally come. You’ve walked across the stage with your head held high, and pride within your every stride. Now that you’ve earned your diploma, it’s time to tackle the real world head first. Whether you are diving straight into your career path or pursuing a couple extra years of schooling, dorm life is one thing you may want to leave behind in your undergraduate days. 
After years of sacrifice, many college graduates are ready to upgrade and find an apartment that better reflects their sense of style. But before you get too excited and sign your name on any old lease, put your education to use and do a little research. Here are six tips to help you rent your first post-grad apartment. (Tweet These Tips)

Step 1: Create a budget and decide what you want

Sit down (alone or with a snack – you’ve always done your best studying when food is involved) and define what you are looking for. First, establish your budget. It makes no sense to search for communities that are outside of your budget. Once you’ve established your budget, you can create a list of the resources you need and features you want. Do you want a two bedroom with a roommate, or a one bedroom and a patio? Do you want an apartment that’s upstairs or downstairs, or located outside or inside? What amenities does the complex need to offer? Is distance or size a factor? What utilities are included? These are just a few things to consider while creating your list.

Step 2: Become a detective

Now it’s time for the fun part. Research! If you’re conducting a local search, you can easily go on a few trips to visit apartments of interest. But the best start is online, so that you are not wasting gas (you have a budget to stick to, after all) visiting every apartment around town. Use your smartphone to go through the process of elimination and compare different attributes and rates. Some sites that can expedite the apartment hunting process include apartments.comapartmentfinder.com, and apartmentguide.com. It’s always good to review more than one source and obtain a broad range of reviews and insight.

Step 3: Brainstorm!

After you’ve compiled the information, take a day or two to think about or narrow down the list of apartments. Make a list of pros and cons until you can land on your top five choices. You might want to choose a back-up, just in case you visit one and find that you’ve been “catfished.”

Step 4: It’s road trip time!

Regardless of whether you’re searching for an apartment across town or the country, it’s imperative to visit the complex in person, ideally seeing the actual apartment you’d be moving into. Make sure you schedule an appointment with each property for a tour. No one wants to be rushed, so try to allot enough time that you can complete the entire tour at each property without shortchanging yourself.

Visiting too many apartments at once can be overwhelming. And since two heads are better than one (in most cases), consider bringing a friend to help with the process. They may notice things or ask questions that you didn’t think about.

Here are a few things you should ask while you’re on the tour: 
1. Is a maintenance person on-site and available 24 hours?
2. What’s included in the rent? 
3. How many electrical outlets are in each room?
4. If amenities are offered, are there extra fees to use them? 
5. Are pets allowed? If so, is there a size limit, extra fee, or local park nearby?
6. Are you allowed to paint, decorate, or hang things on the walls? 
7. Is sub-leasing or breaking a lease allowed? 
8. What is the crime rate in the area?
9. Are there any neighborhood attractions? 
10. Are laundry services available on-site, off-site or in the apartment? 
11. Do they have any renter’s insurance recommendations?

Step 5: Time to decide

Now the time has finally come to make a decision. Hopefully, all of your budgeting, online searching and in-person visits have paid off. If not, at least you’ve eliminated a few apartments and gained the experience to know exactly what to look for as you resume your search. So, if you didn’t find the apartment of your dreams, you might want to begin again with Step 1. But if you found your dream place (or, at least a suitable one), proceed to Step 6!

Step 6: Sign the lease

A lease is a commitment, so make sure you’re sure before you put your John Hancock on it. Read the fine print at least twice to ensure the rental terms are accurate and you agree with them. NEVER assume anything. If you’re confused, don’t hesitate to ask questions to get a better understanding. You can negotiate aspects of the lease and request changes prior to signing. Otherwise, enjoy the fruits of your labor and have fun packing and moving!

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