Beyond the Rent: Tips for Choosing a Low-Cost Apartment

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Beyond the Rent: Tips for Choosing a Low-Cost Apartment

Beth Fitzjarrald · Jan 30, 2015

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You’ve budgeted and browsed – you know exactly how much rent you can afford. But have you thought about the other mostly-hidden costs of choosing your apartment? Here are 7 quick tips to keep in mind next time you’re apartment hunting. They can help you keep your total budget in check, leaving more for the important things!

Check the commute!

Living two blocks from your downtown office costs $100 more a month than a place in the ‘burbs, but walking to work every day is free! It’s tough to calculate the exact cost of a driving commute, since gas prices change so fast, but consider looking for apartments that are close to bike paths, bus routes, or other non-car commute options to keep the long-term price low.

Where are your necessities?

Other than work, where are the places you have to go most often? Think of these like other costly-commutes. The apartment that is walking-distance from the grocery store and daycare (or library, or church, or night clubs) can save you big bucks over time. Consider finding a place that will encourage the habits you want in your life. Being above the bakery smells great, but living 2 blocks from the gym might make that New Year’s resolution a lot easier to keep!

Can you really use the kitchen?

Cooking in is almost always cheaper than eating out. If you are willing and able to cook for yourself, make sure your potential apartment’s kitchen is big enough, available when you need it, and you can work with any other folks sharing the kitchen space with you. Eating out every night because your housemates still haven’t washed their dishes can add up quick.

Do you have to maintain a yard or other outdoor space?

Yard tools cost plenty up front, and then cost time and money to keep up. Gas for the lawn mower, sharpening the pruning shears, and all that lemonade you’ll need after a sweaty summer afternoon in the yard. Be sure to ask, because you may be responsible for yearly costs of aerating, pesticide application, watering and more.

What are my monthly bills?

Do you have a monthly fee for shared yard upkeep or shared utilities? Which utilities do you have to pay yourself? Rental policies vary widely, so be sure to ask. When comparing two units, be sure to compare their total costs including all fees and utilities. You can usually contact the utility company to get a report of average utility costs over the past year or more.

Can I control my utility usage?

Some old houses have been converted to individual apartments, but the heating is still set for one big house. That means the only thermostat is somewhere you can’t access. You pay half the heating costs, even though your basement neighbor controls the heat. You have to open your windows to stay cool enough at night, but still pay for the heat you’re forced to have in excess. More control means better ability to budget and keep yourself comfortable.

How big is it? And how tight?

I don’t mean that your space should be “tiiight”, dude. I’m talking about how drafty are the walls and doors? Is it well insulated? Heating and cooling bills are the single biggest expense of most living spaces after the rent. Bigger spaces almost always cost more to heat or cool than small ones. You can check how much of your nice warm/cool air might leak out too: poke your head in the attic (if you’re a top-level unit) and check to see if there’s a bunch of insulation. Most places need at least a foot of depth, and it should be evenly spread throughout the attic space. Inside, check for drafty windows, walls, and doors by carrying an incense stick. If the smoke starts blowing sideways when you pass the window, it’s leaky, and leaks cost you in utility bills!

Add these to your next apartment hunt. Your bank account will be glad you did.

What other sneaky costs have you found in your apartment living? Leave a comment below!

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