When Mary Mullenix and her college roommates decided to rent their first apartment, enthusiasm quickly took over.
“We were so excited to live off campus that we went with the first apartment we viewed,” she says.
Had they looked at other options before signing the lease, they would have learned that there were other apartments only a few blocks away that offered more amenities—a parking lot, updated energy-efficient appliances, in-unit laundry and more storage space—within the same price range.
Mullenix has gone on to rent three other apartments since then, including the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, place she currently resides in. She’s become a bit of a renting expert, with the added bonus of being a member experience trainer and member service representative at Dupaco’s First Avenue branch in Cedar Rapids.
If you’re getting ready to rent your first apartment, Mullenix has some advice for you.
- Establish a budget before you sign a lease. Staying within an affordable price range is imperative, so you need to determine what you can afford to pay for rent and utilities before you sign a lease. Most landlords will give a rough estimate on what past renters have paid in utilities each month if they aren’t included in the rent, Mullenix says.
“When it comes to the budget, give yourself a cushion,” she says. “Living paycheck-to-paycheck is not fun. We all deserve to have fun money left over after the bills are paid.”
A free Dupaco Money Makeover can help first-time renters establish a budget and set up a savings account. Mullenix utilizes two separate checking accounts—one for rent and bills, and the other for her fun and everyday spending. She also takes advantage of the You Name It Savings accounts to budget and save for other things, like a down payment on her first house.
“Dupaco makes it easy to budget,” she says.
- Weigh apartment wants vs. needs. By knowing what you need and what you could live without, you will be in a better position to stick to your budget and find a place you are happy with.
“I learned after my first apartment that a washer and drier is a must-have for me,” she says. “I did not realize the inconvenience until I had to make sure I always had plenty or quarters, and there was not always a guarantee that the washers and driers would be vacant.”
- Be choosy with location. Location is extremely important, because you want to make sure you feel safe in the area you live, Mullenix advises. Location can affect how much you pay, though. The more restaurants and entertainment in the area, the higher the monthly rent will likely be.
- Pay attention to the details. As you go through each apartment, consider the whole space. Don’t forget to look at storage and closet space, parking options and laundry. If laundry and parking are not included with the property, are there convenient locations nearby?
To keep track of each apartment, consider taking notes and photos with your phone. It can help you sort through your options to pick the best place for you.
- Protect your belongings with renters insurance. Plan for the unexpected by purchasing renters insurance. The coverage typically costs $10 to $12 per month and can help cover the replacement cost of your belongings should you lose them in an event such as a fire or theft.
“It's such a lifesaver if something awful were to happen,” Mullenix says.
- Take care of the home. Even though renting is typically a temporary home, it’s important to take care of the apartment complex. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it can save you green. At the end of the lease agreement, your full deposit can be returned to you if no accumulated damage has been noted by your landlord.
“The deposit could be used to help the next deposit, go toward a down payment on a home, put into savings or maybe for something fun,” Mullenix says.
By Emily Kittle