Before starting your search for a rental unit, you should ask yourself a few questions. How far do you want to be from campus? Do you want a washer and dryer in your apartment or building? Do you want to have a pet? Make a list of the apartment amenities that are important to you before you begin your search. You might not get everything, but it helps to have priorities.
Create a budget
Along with knowing your priorities when looking for a rental unit, it's also important to know your budget. You want what every apartment hunter wants: the nicest place to live for the least amount of money. While some people consider an apartment to be just a place to sleep, others place a premium on home surroundings and luxury.
But how do you determine how much you can stretch your budget — without going broke? Metropolitan Life Insurance Company suggests the following budget based upon your monthly gross income:
- 30% - HOUSING
- 20% - UTILITIES
- 15% - FOOD
- 9% - INSURANCE/PENSIONS
- 9% - ENTERTAINMENT
- 8% - CLOTHING
- 7% - HEALTH CARE
This plan is just a guideline. How much you spend will depend on your specific needs. But to start looking for an apartment, you’ll want to have at least three months' rent saved up so that you can pay the security deposit and first month’s rent. In addition, if you’re a student, you may not have a monthly income, so you’ll need to figure out what your student loans (or other income) allow you to afford.
First-time renters are usually surprised about how many hidden expenses they encounter. Rent and security deposit are just two small pieces of the pie. Here’s a brief run-down of some other costs that many renters either aren’t aware of or overlook in the excitement of moving:
- Security deposits. Security deposits range from $100 to two months’ rent; the average deposit is approximately $250. Some apartments require separate deposits for roommates. Credit application fees are generally $10 to $35. You won’t get this money back if you change your mind, so don’t apply unless you are sure this is where you want to live.
- Verifiable income. Verifiable gross monthly income is usually three times the monthly rent. For example, a rent of $500 would require a minimum of $1,500 gross monthly income.
- Credit check. A credit check will be conducted by the landlord or property management company. If you've failed to make rent payments or credit-card payments in the past, now is when that history could come back to haunt you.
- Rental history. Any previous rental history will be verified. Additionally, some communities are also conducting criminal background checks.
- Leases. All apartments require a written lease. Lease terms are usually for 12 months. Shorter lease terms and month-to-month options often are available at premium rates.
- Utilities. Your rent may often include sewer, water, trash, and pest control. Gas and electricity are almost always paid separately by the tenant.
- Pet deposits. While some apartments allow pets, they often require residents to pay additional fees for this privilege. Pet deposits, usually nonrefundable, are stiff and can range anywhere from $100 to $300 per pet. Some complexes charge additional rent for pets, on top of the deposit.
Iowa Housing Search is Iowa’s free rental housing locator, which enables prospective tenants to choose their housing preference based on what’s important to them. With this service, you can search up-to-date listings of rental housing, view maps and photos of available housing, and filter your search based on rent, amenities, etc. To begin the search for your ideal rental unit , please visit www.iowahousingsearch.org.
Tour the unit
Once you have found a few units that fit your criteria and priorities, call the leasing agent to set up a tour of the unit. Although there may be pictures of the unit online or you know someone that already lives in one of the units, it’s still important to tour the unit yourself. To assist you in your apartment hunt, please refer to this inspection sheet / checklist. This sheet is just a suggested starting point. It may not have every detail of your apartment, so tailor it to your specific needs.
Additionally, when touring the unit you may ask the landlord if their rental property is registered with the City of Ames Inspections Division. The purpose of having a rental property registered with the City is to ensure public health, safety and welfare insofar as they are affected by the continued occupancy and maintenance of structures and premises. You may also contact the Inspection Division to inquire whether a rental property is registered with the City.
Rental housing properties in Ames may also be certified as "Crime Free Housing." To be certified as Crime Free Housing, properties must complete an 8-hour training session put on by the Ames Police Department, which covers a wide range of topics including active property management, a "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design" overview, and laws affecting landlords and tenants. Participating in the program is a means to help reduce crime on rental property. To see a list of all certified rental properties, please click here.