The 12-Step Ultimate Apartment Hunting Checklist (+ Free Tracker)

Would you shop for a car without doing any research first? No! Which is why having an apartment hunting checklist has priority over scheduling an apartment tour.

Just as you wouldn’t waste an afternoon driving from car lot to car lot with no idea what type of car you want or your budget, the same approach applies to apartment hunting. An apartment search checklist will guide your apartment hunting and make the process run more smoothly.

a woman writing on her desk details of her apartment hunting checklist and drinking a cup of coffee

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Apartment Hunting Checklist

So you’ve made the decision to look for an apartment. Now what? This Ultimate Apartment Hunting Checklist will help you narrow down your apartment search.

In the 12 steps outlined below, you will be primed for apartment hunting.

  1. Determine What You Need
  2. Decide on Your Must-Haves and Preferences
  3. Familiarize Yourself with Apartment Hunting Procedures
  4. Create a Spreadsheet to Track Apartments
  5. Do a Wide Search for Apartments
  6. Narrow Down Your Apartment Search
  7. Rank Your Apartment for Touring
  8. Find Someone to View Apartments with You
  9. Schedule Apartment Tours
  10. Go on Tours and Ask Questions
  11. Refine Your List & Compare Places
  12. Apply & Move In

These steps will help you nail down your preferences, conduct effective apartment research, and schedule potential apartment viewing.

1.   Determine What You Need

The first step in the apartment hunting checklist is to determine what you need. How much can you afford? Under what time frame do you want to move? These are a few questions you must address before starting an apartment search checklist.

  • Timing
    • When do I want to move?
    • How long of a lease do I want to sign?
  • Budget: Maximum Rent & Utilities
    • How much am I willing and able to spend on rent and utilities?
      • For guidance on how much you should budget for rent and utilities, I suggest you check out the Crown website for their budget templates. These were extremely helpful for when I first moved out and when I started my first job.
    • How much do I have saved up for a security deposit? Can I afford it now or do I need to save up a little longer?
  • Pet Policies
    • Am I planning to have a pet? 
    • If so, you’ll need an apartment complex that allows pets and the breed of your pet.
  • Roommates
    • Am I wanting to or planning to have roommates?
    • How much are my roommates wanting to pay in rent and utilities?
    • Do I have a roommate in mind or do I need to find one?
    • Why do I want a roommate?
      • At first, I thought I wanted a roommate. Once I started living on my own, I realized that living solo was much better for me.

2. Decide on Your Must-Haves and Preferences

After answering the questions in the first step, the next item on the apartment hunting checklist is to determine your must-haves, preferences, and nice to haves.

  • Your must-haves are things about your apartment that you are not willing to compromise on. In other words, if this apartment doesn’t have the must-have, then you won’t live there.
  • Next, you should determine any aspects that you have a strong preference for or against. These are things that you don’t want to live without, but you could.
  • Lastly, the nice-to-haves are nice perks and bonuses that will only sway your decisions if apartments are equal in all other aspects.

Here are some questions to help you in developing your list of preferences.

  • Location & Attractions
    • Where do I want to live?
    • How long will my commute to work be?
    • What’s around the area? Are there parks, restaurants, shopping, theaters, etc.?
    • Am I close to friends, family, church, other activities?
  • Walkability
    • Do I want to live in an area where I can walk places?
    • If so, how safe are the streets? Are there sidewalks and crosswalks?
    • What is around that I’d like to walk to?
  • Availability of Public Transportation
    • Am I planning to take the bus/train/subway to work or other places?
    • Is public transportation easily accessible from where I want to live?
  • Parking Policy
    • Will I have a car on the property?
    • Am I ready to pay more for parking, if necessary?
    • Is guest parking available or easily accessible?
  • Amenities & Features
    • What are my must-haves, wants, and would-likes for the amenities and features of my apartment? My apartment complex as a whole?
    • Here are some examples:
      • In-unit washer and dryer
      • Dishwasher
      • Central Air conditioning & Heat
      • Garage Parking
      • Free Printing
      • Business Office
      • Pool
      • Gym

3. Become Familiar with Apartment Hunting Procedures

If you’re renting an apartment for the first time, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the apartment hunting process. Seek the guidance of your parents, older siblings, church friends, trusted mentors, or someone else who has done this before and whom you trust.

Generally, the apartment hunting process goes as follows:

  1. Research Apartments
  2. Make a List of Apartments to Visit
  3. Schedule Apartment Tours
  4. Compare Apartment and Choose on to Apply to
  5. Complete and Submit an Application
  6. Work with Leasing Office to finalize Application
  7. Application Approved or Denied
  8. Sign final Leasing Documents and Pick Move in Date
  9. Move in

In addition to understanding the apartment hunting process, here are extra aspects to consider before you rent your first apartment. These lessons are better learned now then later on when you’re deep into your apartment hunting checklist.

1 – Credit scores matter

Credit scores are what apartment complexes use to determine if you’re likely to pay your rent in full and on time every month. Depending on your credit score, they determine how much your security deposit will be or if they’ll rent to you.

If you’re new to credit scores and finances, here are my recommended financial resources for young professionals.

2- Save before Renting

You need to have your security deposit (and more) saved up before renting. You should already have the cash for the security deposit before you start your apartment hunting checklist. This is one of many things to consider when deciding to move out of your parents’ house.

How much the security deposit will be depends on many factors, such as your credit score, renting history, and the apartment policy. As a young, first-time renter, chances are your security deposit will be higher, so keep that in mind.

3- Shorter lease terms are more expensive. 

For example, a 4-month lease is typically more expensive than a 13-month lease. During your apartment tour or before touring, be sure to ask for all of the lease-term options so you can compare different prices if you’re debating which lease length to pick.

4- Apartments don’t earn equity. 

Apartments are great for the short-term. All the maintenance is handled for you, so you don’t have to worry about fitting the bill if the apartment air conditioning breaks.

At the same time, with each rent check, you aren’t gaining any ownership in the apartment. If you’re ready to put down roots and make an investment that grows over time, you may consider putting house-buying on your radar.

Apartments are great for young professionals because we usually aren’t ready to put down roots and are likely to be moving for a new job, schooling, etc. So, there are many situations when renting an apartment is also appropriate. 

5 – Get Recommendations

An honest recommendation goes a long way. Remember that all leasing agents want you to lease an apartment. So, they may not give you the truth about what it’s like to live at a complex.

Try to get an honest opinion from a friend, college, or someone else who lives at the complex. It may enlighten you of things you wouldn’t have known otherwise.

4. Create an Apartment Tracking Spreadsheet

Once you’ve got your priorities, it’s time to begin the true apartment hunting by finding renting options in your location of choice. I recommend creating a spreadsheet to keep all of the information in one place. Otherwise it will be difficult to remember which complex has what features and compare apartment units.

Feel free to download and add additional columns for different features or apartment aspects to track. I recommend viewing the apartment search checklist in Excel for the best experience.

  • Looking for more freebies? Check out the KJL Co. Freebie Library with all the printables from my posts and free phone screensaver designs.

5. Do a Wide Search for Apartments

With an apartment hunting spreadsheet to help you stay organized, now it’s time to get to work on finding possible apartments. You can research each apartment complex in a couple of different ways:

  • Use an apartment search engine like apartments.com.
  • Go directly to the apartment’s website.

My recommendation would be to do both! I always start with the apartment search engines because they are great for nailing down your location, giving you a list of options, and helping you narrow it down.

You can filter by different categories, such as price, numbers of beds/bath, amenities, etc. The downside is that they don’t always have the most up-to-date information about the complex, availability, and pictures. 

Once you’ve got a solid list of apartments you are interested in, go to the website for each apartment complex and verify the information you found. Fill out your apartment search spreadsheet to keep track of the data.

6. Narrow Down Your Apartment Search

Next, it’s time to narrow down the apartment hunting search based on your must-haves, preferences, and most importantly, the budget. Narrow down your search by asking yourself these questions about each potential apartment:

  • Availability – Are the apartments available in the time frame you’re looking to move?
    • If no, then scratch it off the list.
  • Pricing – Does the rent fit into your budget? Are utilities included? Are there any amenities fees?
  • Floor Plan – Do you like the floorplan of the apartment? 
    • Big closet? 2 bathrooms? Private balcony? Check. 
  • Location in the complex – Is the available apartment on the right floor/corner/facing the street/courtyard like you want?
  • Apartment Features – Does the apartment have the apartment features you are looking for? How many of your must-haves, wants, and would likes does the apartment have?
  • Apartment Amenities – Does the apartment have the apartment amenities you are looking for?
    • Need to have a pool? Free parking? Double check here or cross it off the list.
a young woman makes her apartment hunting checklist in the living room with her dog

7. Rank Apartments for Touring

Take your apartment hunting spreadsheet and add an additional column for “Rank.” You’ll want to go through each apartment complex and read over the information previously noted. Instead of trying to rank all of the apartments on your list immediately, first decide if they are top ten worthy.

Ten apartments is a manageable size for viewing apartments. It also gives you wiggle room in case some places no longer have availability don’t when you’re ready to view apartments.

Next is the hard part: ranking the 10 apartments from 1 to 10. You’ll need to consider:

  • Budget
  • Location
  • Features
  • Roommates
  • Attractions nearby
  • Parking
  • Floor plan
  • And more.

Once you have your list of 1 to 10, you can move to the next phase in the apartment hunting checklist: apartment viewing.

8. Find Someone to View Apartments with You

While this step in the apartment hunting checklist is totally optional, I highly recommend it. Grab a friend or family member and bring them along for the ride.

Renting an apartment is an important goal for any young professional. But, you may be so enamored with an apartment or a location that you go way past your budget, forget to ask important questions, or say yes before doing all your research.

Engage a trusted friend in your apartment hunting to prevent you from becoming too “starstruck.”

9. Schedule Apartment Tours

Next in the apartment hunting checklist is scheduling apartment tours. 

Should you tour an apartment before applying?

Yes. If at all possible, you should tour an apartment before applying for 3 reasons.

  • A little bit of staging and good lighting can make an apartment that’s not-so-great in person appear really-really-great online. 
  • Additionally, applications usually have an administration fee attached to them. It’s more economical to only apply to the apartments where you really want to live. This list will be shorter after you’ve toured the apartments.
  • Lastly, when you tour an apartment, you can also see the quality of the amenities and get a feel for the area.
    • For example, does it feel safe and well-lit? Does it have a lot of attractions nearby? Are the streets noisy or quiet?

These are a few questions that can only be answered by visiting the place in person.

10. Go on Apartment Tours and Ask Questions

An apartment tour is the perfect time to ask questions to the landlord or leasing agent about the apartment and the apartment complex. Additionally, you can get questions answered about the application process, pricing, amenities, floor plans, availability, and security.

Apartment Tours are a critical step in the apartment hunting checklist where you can get a feel for the apartment complex and the area.

 If you’re unsure what to ask, we have a complete list of questions to ask when renting an apartment.

11. Compare & Refine Your List

With your questions answered and apartment tours finished, now is the time to compare places and refine your list.

  • What stood out to you about each apartment complex?
  • What areas and locations did you like best?
  • Which places fit your budget and your timeline?

When you’ve finished comparing places and answering these questions, it will hopefully become clear which apartment is right for you. Surprisingly, this step in the apartment hunting checklist has been easy for me. After apartment tours, it’s clear which places seem like home and which aren’t a good fit.

12. Apply & Move In

The last step in the apartment hunting checklist is to apply for your top apartment choice. Each apartment has a different process. So, be sure to ask about this during the apartment tour.

An application confirms your interest in the apartment and starts the leasing process.

Once you’ve confirmed your application and signed your lease, it’s time to start the move in process. We have a full article about steps to prepare for moving into an apartment.

The End of the Ultimate Apartment Hunting Checklist

Apartment hunting is a huge step in “how to start adulting,” but it’s also an exciting one. By getting organized, seeking wise counsel, and praying to God for direction, apartment hunting doesn’t have to be scary.

Instead of getting overwhelmed, go back to the basics–deciding your budget and location. Start there and follow the apartment hunting checklist one step at a time.

How do you prepare for apartment hunting?

Leave me a comment below!

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