Apartment Tips: What Can You Afford to Pay?

Researching your new neighborhood

On the move: When choosing a new neighborhood to call your own, it pays to do a little research. Is it safe? Is it near public transportation? Is there a park for your pooch? A bit of investigative work could spare you stress and money in the long run. (iStock)

We create our future as much as we discover it. Try to expect a good experience in apartment living by planning effectively and doing a bit of area research. It’s also important to mold our plans to fit what we know our life is going to be like.

Money is a prime consideration. All other factors (e.g., number bedrooms, parking, laundry, pets, and proximity to the elevator) are important, but they hinge on your ability to pay for your apartment. In addition to the monthly rent, you’ll have to pay the security deposit and, depending on where you choose to live, you may have to cover the cost of utilities, a pet fee and a parking fee. Your apartment choices will be limited by available funds. There are a few different ways to handle the question, “What can I afford to pay?”

First, you can look for the least expensive apartment that is in an acceptable neighborhood. This involves such possibilities as having the bed in the dining nook, not being allowed to keep Fluffy and maybe even renting a room in someone’s house.

[ Related: Lessons Learned: 3 Tips for the 20-Something Living in Their First Apartment ]

If you aren’t on a shoestring budget, then maybe you’ve got your eye on something quiet on the third floor with a slow lift, a view of a brick wall and a large structural pillar in the middle of the bathroom. The laundry is in the basement and takes quarters. You were hoping for something nicer, or at least a bit roomier, with maybe a washing machine in the unit.

Second, you can settle for a larger and cheaper space in a riskier neighborhood, but then you may be forced to deal with thin walls, late night screaming and a cat that’s afraid to look out the window because of snarling, untended dog packs. You were thinking of something more secure.

Third, you can plan on having a roommate, which will net more amenities for less money out of your own pocket.

Although the second option may seem like the most hazardous choice, choosing to live with a roommate can have a huge, negative impact on your well-being – unless your roommate is a known entity that you’ve already lived with.

If you don’t already know a good roommate candidate, then the only secure choice is the first one. As your income increases, then your view will improve, and you can wash your clothes at 3 a.m. Or wait for a good friendship to develop before you take the plunge into the world of roommates.

Living in an apartment with a reincarnation of Dracula negates any financial advantage considerably. After all, getting rid of Dracula is a lot harder than making the acquaintance in the first place, especially if Dracula’s name is on the lease.

I once moved from a very small, dreary (but affordable) apartment to a beautiful room in a secure complex with two swimming pools, thinking that I was going to be very happy. I had gone through two interviews with my roommates and chose them carefully from several different options.  I thought that I was sharing an apartment with a minister and his wife, only to discover later that she wasn’t really his wife, he wasn’t really a minister and he had a string of girl entertainers on the side. From there (my exit was rather rapid, and I ended up giving away a lot of my possessions that I couldn’t take with me), I found a truly wonderful family that I lived with for a year until I could afford a place of my own. I was lucky to know them, and I still know them. Putting up with a less than perfect situation is preferable to moving in with someone that you don’t know.

If you have a secure job with a good salary, or if you are going to school with guaranteed funding, then you can have fun choosing among the pricier apartments that offer a comfortable lifestyle. But if money is tight, there are still some things you can do to make your life more predictable. Instead of judging a neighborhood at first glance, be an investigative reporter.

[ Related: More Tips for the 20-Something Living in Their First Apartment ]

If you really like an apartment that is close to the Metro, then go to lunch at a nearby restaurant and ask the waitress about the neighborhood. Then ask the clerk at the grocery store. Try talking to other residents in the building.

Use your eyes as well. Are there policemen around? Is there a library? There are only a few urban settings that offer a truly cosmopolitan experience, and a super-secure apartment might not be your cup of tea. If you feel safer around people than you do around an impersonal, planned environment, then a bit of research may pay off for you.

And remember that your first apartment may not be the best apartment, but just make sure that its drawbacks are ones that you know about and can adjust to on a temporary basis. After all, if you choose carefully, it will give you something that you didn’t have before: a landlord referral.

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