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How to find the first apartment

Check out the place

Once the application process is done, the next step for a diligent renter is a thorough walk through of the apartment, preferably with a property manager or owner, to make a note of any pre-existing damage.

"Make an itemized list of things wrong with apartment. If there's a doorknob gouge in a wall or tattered blinds, put it on the list and have the agent sign it," says Tracey McCartney, executive director of the Nashville-based Tennessee Fair Housing Council. "If you don't do that, there's a danger that later on they'll try to make you pay for it." If there is damage to the apartment when you move out, the owner may deduct the cost of repairs from your security deposit so that you don't get the full deposit refunded to you.

Buy renter's insurance

Also, this is a good time to investigate renter's insurance. If you already have an auto policy with an insurer, you may be able to get renter's insurance through them. Either way, a renter's policy is inexpensive, essential protection against theft, natural disaster and liability.

"If someone else's candle burns down the apartment complex, the complex's insurance will pay for the building, but not for your belongings," says McCartney, "And if it's your candle that burns it down, the complex's insurance company may come after you. Renter's insurance can protect you against that."

Read the lease -- really

Your next step may seem obvious, but thousands of renters have failed to do it and faced serious financial consequences later on: Read the lease before you sign it.

"Reading the lease lets you know what the policies will be if you want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend move in or if you want to get out early," says McCartney. "Don't rent from any place that won't give you time to read it or that won't give you a copy."

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This is especially true for those looking to sublease, which means renting an apartment from the leaseholder. First, be sure the property allows sublets. If your name doesn't appear on the lease and you are paying your rent to the person whose name is on the lease, you may have no legal right to be there. You could face eviction.

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