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How to find the first apartment

Whatever your college living situation was, odds are that it was probably a little noisier, grungier or smaller than what you had in mind for your post-graduation life. Add to that the probability that you'll need to relocate for a new job, and there's a good chance you'll be on the lookout for a new apartment. But before you sign on the dotted line, here are a few steps you should take to protect yourself -- and get the best possible deal.

Before you even begin the application process, you should be upfront with questions and as well-informed as possible about the property. Know where your potential landlord stands on pets, qualifications for tenants and other possible deal breakers. If you do have any potential red flags, such as lacking current employment, needing for a cosigner or having a checkered credit history, mention those things at the beginning.

"One of the worst things a potential tenant can do is make a property manager go through the whole application process only to find out they have credit problems or they need a cosigner," says Sylvia Hill, president of the National Association of Residential Property Managers and HMS Development in San Jose, Calif. "Be upfront about it."

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The property manager will check your credit and employment anyway, and being honest about it ahead of time may make a landlord less likely to reject your application outright. And even if it doesn't, at least it saves you both the time and trouble of filling out an application that is destined to be rejected.

When you fill out the apartment application, you will need to put down an application deposit to hold the apartment while the owner checks your background. If for some reason you are rejected, you may lose the deposit. If you take the apartment, you will need to make a security deposit, usually one month's rent, which will be refunded when you move out.

Checklist of expenses for apartment rental
  1. Application fee or deposit holds the apartment while renter's background is checked.
  2. Broker's fee if renter uses a third party to find the apartment.
  3. Security deposit is usually one month's rent, refundable at the end of the lease.
  4. First month's rent needs to be paid.
  5. Renter's insurance covers renter's belongings.
  6. Last month's rent is sometimes required as well.

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