Renting

The Ultimate Guide When Searching For Your First Apartment

Ultimate Guide First Apartment

Are You Ready To Move Out On Your Own?

As a past renter myself I’ve documented these 10 tips to help ease your stress while searching for your first apartment.

You’re not alone with the frustration of the unknown rental world and with this comes big responsibility that goes beyond just your finances.

You’ll want to know how to find and move into your first apartment with ease and I’ll show you how.

Dear Mr. CBB,

I’m moving out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment this year as I feel it is the time since I’m 27 years old.

My parents have been kind to let me keep living here after University to help me pay back my OSAP loans.

I studied at a University in my hometown and lived with my parents for the entire 4 years which was helpful financially.

My question is, what tips do you have for someone looking for their first apartment? 

Michelle C.

Windsor, Ontario.

Hi Michelle,

Thanks for your email as it’s a great question that I’m sure many first time renters will be interested in learning more about.

The number one thing to remember if you are hunting for your first apartment is that not all cities are the same.

You’ll have to consider these four stages of apartment hunting and living.

  • Where do I want to live?
  • How can I afford my first apartment?
  • What do I need for my first apartment?
  • How do I budget for my first apartment?

If you come from a big city like Toronto and are moving away for school searching for your first apartment in London, Ontario there will be differences.

Sure, both cities are big but you will find far more variance in prices in apartments living in London than you would in Toronto.

If you are moving from a small town to a large city again you will increase costs and perhaps smaller accommodations that come along with it.

Not only that but finding an apartment is a competition because there are so many apartment hunters in need every single day.

Just because you see a listing for an apartment that ticks off all your boxes doesn’t mean you’re the only one.

There could be ten other people who are waiting in line ahead of you to get their rental application approved.

It’s a tough market out there and finding your first apartment will take time so don’t wait until the last minute to start looking.

Without fail every year I read ads online from students frantic to rent and most often it’s going to be their first apartment.

The problem is they are waiting too late to secure living arrangements and end up paying more money for an apartment outside of their budget.

Finding Your First Apartment

apartment complex

I remember when I moved out of my parent’s house into my first apartment I was ready and nervous at the same time. 

Typically a rental lease will be for 12 months unless you make special arrangements with your landlord.

Searching for my first apartment meant that I needed to do some planning before I signed any rental leases.

Renting an apartment takes time and if you want to find the right first apartment I’d suggest starting with creating a needs list.

Not everything you want and need will make the cut when you find your first apartment but understanding what’s important to you is necessary.

For example, if you have a vehicle and need parking but the apartment you were considering doesn’t offer parking then you’re stuck.

You may have to consider selling your vehicle and taking public transportation, bike or walking to the places you need to go.

Apartment living in Toronto, for instance, is quite competitive and you may find there are no parking spaces that come with a rental. 

If you do get offered a parking space you may end up paying thousands of dollars just to use it.

Some of the best apartments aren’t always the modern living apartments that you find going up in just about every city across Ontario.

More often then not apartments are geared to the rich who don’t want to own a house with a property but prefer apartment living.

You’ll find these apartments come with high-end finishes and impeccable views which are also close to all amenities as well.

Oh, and these snazzy new apartments could be home to a pool, weight room and games centre to attract a diverse clientele of renters.

The monthly rent costs will reflect this as well.

Where to find apartments

For Rent Apartment

Create an apartment list on the computer so you can document addresses and phone numbers of places you want to look at.

Staying organized is very important when searching for your first apartment otherwise you’ll get flustered.

Almost all cities have Rental boxes outside of a business or by newspaper boxes with an Apartment Guide magazine inside.

The apartment guide lists any available rentals in the area provided the landlord has advertised in the print media.

You can also search for your first apartment:

  • Facebook Groups (Select the city you plan to move to)
  • Community Forums or Student Forums
  • Kijiji Rental
  • University and College Alumni Office or Housing Authority
  • Pin Boards at grocery stores and other businesses
  • Word of mouth or networking
  • Local real estate agents

10 First Apartment Living Tips

You’re finally taking the step to rent your first apartment and will be enjoying your new freedom.

Before getting too comfy with the idea here are ten first apartment living tips you should consider.

Tip #1 Budget

Renting your first apartment comes with renter responsibilities and needs and one of them is money. 

Not everyone will have to answer all of these questions based on their personal situation however they are still very important.

If you’re moving into your first apartment and have the opportunity to run down this list and are able to tick them all of you’re in a good spot.

  • Do you have a stable income?

If you are going to school you might be working part-time, collecting OSAP or have education savings put aside for your first apartment.

Whatever your situation may be it’s important to make sure that you net enough money coming to pay your rent on time.

  • How much rent can you afford?

Before you even start looking at potential first apartments you need to know how much you can afford each month.

You’ll want to create a mock monthly budget that includes rent.

I’ve even suggested people do this who are planning on buying a home and taking on a mortgage. It will give you an idea of how much money your expenses will be each month.

You can download my free budget template here.

  • Do you have an emergency savings account?

One of the top questions asked by first-time renters is, how much money should I have saved before moving out?

My suggestion before moving into your first apartment is to have emergency savings with at least 3-6 months monthly savings.

By this I mean if you were to lose your job or unable to work that for at least 6 months you could pay your rent and bills with your savings.

Anyone should do this whether they rent an apartment or own a house or condo.

  • Do you have enough saved for first and last month’s rent?

A few steps above we talked about whether you could afford your first apartment but now you need to save up first and last month’s rent.

Almost all landlord’s as for first and last month’s rent just in case something was to happen which for many people it’s a good thing.

Tip # 2 Where do you want to rent?

Sometimes the best apartments are hidden gems so don’t always look for the obvious and start apartment hunting as soon as possible.

Taking a trip to the area where you plan to move if it’s not in your hometown is a great way to get familiar with your new city.

Tip #3 Rental Reviews

This is a great resource if you really want to know what’s being going down in a place you plan to apply for an apartment rental.

Have a look online using Google to see if there are any online rental reviews for the place you are considering. If that fails then try asking a local Facebook community for their feedback.

There’s always going to be a few people that might have some form of reference to pass along to you.

In the end, you make the final call and remember that not all tenants are good tenants so reviews are often as handy as an employment referral.

Tip #4 Credit Report

Canada's Credit Score Range
Canada’s Credit Score Range
  • Do you have good credit?

Landlords will run a credit check on you so make sure your credit report is clean and if it’s not you may want to sort that out first.

No landlord will want to rent a place without a proper credit check unless they are slumlords and don’t care or follow any rules.

They do exist, everywhere.

You can order your free credit report in Canada by filling out a simple form and it will be mailed to you.

Tip #5 Rental Insurance

  • Can you get renters insurance? (Rental insurance is also known as tenants insurance)

Rental insurance is a must if you are renting even if you are renting a room or subletting an apartment.

Find out by calling local insurance companies in your area and ask them the procedure for securing renters insurance and the costs involved.

Tip #6 Types of Apartments

Don’t get overwhelmed with the variety of apartments on the rental market because there are quite a few.

Understanding which one suits you and what they all mean is an important step in apartment hunting.

Let’s go through some of them.

Studio Apartments

studio apartment

Studios also are known as the bachelor apartment are typically a one-room apartment and can be classified as small apartments since everything you need is in one room apart from the bathroom.

Apartment Complexes

renting first apartment

Apartment complexes also known as apartment communities are where many apartment buildings surround each other and belong to the same rental company.

Although, you may find various apartment buildings that all differ in design and size that are owned by various companies or corporations lumped in one spot with little to not land besides parking.

Apartment Condo

first apartment condo

Condo buildings look like apartments but they are called condos because the inside looks like a house.

It has everything you will need with high-end finishes and a price tag to go along with it.

You will also pay condo fees which cover maintenance to the complex to keep it in tip-top shape.

Downtown Apartments

downtown highrise apartments

Downtown apartments also are known as city apartments that are built where all the action is including a hot night-life.

You’ll find these apartments to be pricey since they are closer to local amenities.

This means that you can walk wherever you need to go or public transportation, subways, trains and so on are at your fingertips.

Country Apartments

country farm house first apartment

You may find your first apartment in the country in a barn conversion, farmhouse or in small apartment complexes.

Not everyone wants to live in the city so if you are looking for nature, peace, and quiet then look for your first apartment in the country.

Student Apartments

Student apartment

These are typically called college dorms and close to the University or College which makes them ideal for students.

You may find you live in shared accommodations with other roommates but you’re still living in an apartment setting.

House Apartment

house apartment

A house apartment is fairly common in every city and town across Canada.

It is where a homeowner has transformed a house into an apartment.

The house may have more than one apartment with the basement being one and the main level being second.

Living on the main level will typically cost more than living in a walk-out basement apartment.

Tip #7 First Apartment Needs/Amneties

girl at the laundromat

When hunting for your first apartment consider what you need rather than what you want first.

Create a checklist of must-haves including what establishments and businesses you’d like in the area.

This is where you get to be the grown-up and decide what you want because it’s your money that you’re spending.

  • Do you want to be in walking distance to school or work?
  • How far are both the grocery store and pharmacy?
  • Is there a hospital nearby?
  • How far to the closest shopping mall?
  • Where is the closest bank that I do business with?
  • Are there ATM’s in the area?
  • Would you rather have restaurants in the area?
  • Do you prefer a park nearby?
  • Is there a laundry facility on site or do I need one close to my new apartment?
  • Does my apartment have an elevator or a balcony?

Tip #8 Understand Your Rights as a Tenant/ Landlord and Tenant Act

As a tenant, you must understand your rights and it’s not a bad idea to educate yourself before you sign your lease.

|Tip #9 Read and Understand Your Lease

Always read your lease from top to bottom, side-to-side because you don’t want to get caught up in something you weren’t aware of.

  • How much notice do you need to give when you leave?
  • What are, if any tenants obligations when renting?
  • What can you do and what can’t you do while renting?
  • Can I paint my new apartment?
  • Can I hang pictures with nails?

Those are only a few questions you may find in a lease but If you find something that is questionable ask your landlord.

Perhaps you can both come to an agreement to make a change to the lease so it suits both of you. If you’re not happy then don’t sign it and keep looking for a landlord that will work with you.

Tip #10 Have fun decorating your new Home

decorated apartment

The best part about owning your first apartment is that you get to decorate it any way you like. If your landlord allows you to paint you can go wild with colour.

If you’re living the frugal life head to just about any second-hand shop in town to find home decor for a fraction of the price.

It will take time to collect all the things you don’t already have for your first apartment but in time you’ll get there.

Heck, we’ve been living without a couch in our home for over a year and are surviving.

Take charge of your credit cards and don’t rush into buying things you can save up for first.

Be sure to host a house warming party and invite your friends over to see your new place.

Renter’s Beware

Apartment life isn’t so bad as long as you make the best of the space you are in and finding rental accommodations that suit your needs.

Lastly, be aware of rental scams because these crooks prey on people who think they are talking to a landlord when they are not.

Always go to meetings with a landlord with another person and do it in public.

Go to the apartment you will be potentially renting together or consider taking a virtual online tour if available.

Never hand over cash and make sure you always get a rent receipt for income tax purposes at the end of the year.

Choosing your landlord wisely is just as important as ticking off the boxes on your first apartment needs checklist.

Discussion: What other tips do you have for someone looking to rent their first apartment?

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One Comment

  1. It’s interesting to learn that downtown apartments are good for walking to public transportation and being where the nightlife is. Since I am graduating from college this year, I need to find an apartment closer to the city so I can enjoy the night scene more often and be more independent. I’ll be sure to keep these options in mind as I search for what is available and what is in my budget.

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