Most savvy renters know not to start the apartment hunt without a number or price range in mind. Viewing luxury apartments that could never fit into your budget can be disheartening and dampen your enthusiasm for those you can actually afford. At the same time, it can be frustrating to tour apartments that lack the quality or amenities you need, because you haven’t done the math to figure out just how much rent you can afford monthly. Figuring out a price range and screening complexes and rentals based on this criteria is the first and most important step in budgeting for your housing.
However, many renters don’t factor in the additional monthly living expenses associated with housing, and this can trip you up even if you’ve got some wiggle room in your budget. Because the apartment hunt and moving process can be frenetic and stressful, it’s easy for even the most thoughtful and organized renter to miss a few details. For that reason, I’ve gathered here a list of tips for considering all the financial aspects of your new living situation.
Most of your extra expenses are going to come in the form of utility payments. A good leasing agent should go over with you what’s included in your rent- but don’t be too shy to ask if he or she doesn’t say anything. Never assume that utilities are included in your rent! All-inclusive rent was the norm a decade ago, but nowadays, it’s the exception. In the rare case that rent does include utilities, you can be sure the rental agent will mention this- it’s probably one of their best selling points!
The basic utility costs you need to consider are:
- Gas (if the apartment has gas heat/appliances)
Make sure to ask which utilities are sub-metered, and which are allocated. In general, most complexes will have sub-metered electricity, but not for water. When utilities are sub-metered, it means that individual apartments are not individually measured for usage, and instead your charge is calculated based on a formula decided by the management company (often, you pay depending on the number of occupants living in the apartment, and the square footage). What this means for you is that your charges won’t be based on your own actual usage- so, for instance, even if you didn’t use any water in a particular month, you’d still owe a payment, because you’d be paying a percentage of the total property’s bill.
Some properties will have a sweetheart deal with the local cable company, and can offer you a small discount on your cable and internet package if you book through them. Make sure to ask if this is an option, as it could save you a little monthly.
Amenities are considered a part of your rent by your management company, so you should take into consideration what you’re getting for your money. Some amenities can save you money, while other times you may be paying extra for something you never use. While a laundry list of exciting amenities might be enticing, don’t let it distract you from more important considerations: Do I need (and am I willing to pay a higher rent for) all these added features? Does this apartment complex address all my basic needs? Here are a few of the amenities that are guaranteed to translate into premium rents:
- Gated community: You are automatically going to pay more to live in a community with restricted access. Many consider this an amenity worth paying for, and it certainly has its advantages. Gate controlled access will limit the amount of unwanted visitors in the complex and may reduce your risks of vehicle break ins or home invasion: but it doesn’t guarantee your security. It’s important to realize, also, that often times the gates around an apartment complex aren’t impenetrable to someone who is determined to get it. You’ll need to seriously consider your budget and your priorities to decide if it’s worth it to pay premium rates for a controlled access security.
- FitnessCenter: While a fitness center is a pretty common amenity, you can’t depend on finding on in every apartment community. Having a well equipped fitness center in your complex can save you from the cost of a monthly gym membership. If you’re already locked into a contract with your gym, however, or an apartment’s fitness center is outdated or crowded, then it may not be worth paying a little extra rent for access.
- Laundry Facilities: Any apartment or rental house will offer one of four laundry scenarios: a washer/dryer, connections (often with the option to rent an appliance set), an onsite laundry facility, or no facilities at all. You can expect to pay a significant premium just for washer/dryer connections, and the appliances themselves will most likely run you an additional $20-$40 per month to rent. If you can stand lugging your dirties to the Laundromat instead of doing the wash in the comfort of your own home, you can save a good chunk of change on your monthly expenses. Whatever your needs or preferences, though, make sure you ask the rental agent what your laundry options are, and the associated fees.
Pet ownership can be expensive in any circumstance, but it is especially so in a rented dwelling. Deposits and fees will vary widely depending on the area and the management company, but you can expect to pay a hefty deposit and possibly a nonrefundable fee for each cat or dog you own. Some complexes will even charge a lesser “small animal” deposit for birds, reptiles, rodents, and so forth. I’ve yet to come across a deposit for a small fishbowl, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was someone out there who charged one! You need to budget for these upfront expenses when planning a move; while some management companies will allow you to break deposits up into a few payments, you can’t rely on this.
Additionally, some places will also charge you a monthly pet rent. Many places charge $5 or $10 per pet, but some will charge as much as $25 a month for each animal. This expense needs to be taken into consideration when deciding how much apartment you can afford.
With all the fees and deposits involved in a renter’s pet ownership, it’s easy to be tempted to not declare your pet at all. As a former property management professional, however, I implore you to nip this instinct in the bud immediately. For a full explanation of why this is a bad idea, please refer to my article “Renting and Pet Ownership.” In a nutshell, chances are you’ll make yourself miserable, eventually be discovered despite your best efforts, and you’ll end up incurring more financial hardship than if you’d declared your pet in the first place. If you really can’t afford to cough up money for a pet deposit and fee at move in, ask your rental agent if they’d be able to work out a payment plan for you.
If you take the time before and during your apartment search to consider all aspects of your monthly responsibilities, you are less likely to overextend yourself. Going into the hunt for you new home with all the necessary information will streamline the process, make your search more efficient, and help you to find the best apartment home for your money.