Tips for renting your first home without roommates

David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A year and a half after I graduated from college, I moved into my first apartment of my own. Finally I was living without roommates.

Solo living was glorious. I lived by myself for eight years, in five apartments in three cities. I learned a lot. So here’s my advice to you if you’re getting ready to live on your own for the first time. And someday, when you’re ready to buy a home, return here for advice when you shop for a mortgage.

Make a list of deal breakers

When you tour an apartment, visualize living there, doing mundane things. Is there anything about the place that would drive you nuts?

I’ll give you a couple of examples:

  • One apartment had a bathroom faucet that I couldn’t adjust when my fingers were slippery with soap or shaving cream. I know that sounds like a trivial thing, but I hated fighting with that faucet every morning. It put me in a bad mood before I’d had a cup of coffee. After I moved out, I made a beeline to the bathroom, to critique the faucet, whenever I looked at a prospective apartment. Rental agents thought I was eccentric. I didn’t care.
  • My first solo apartment was in El Paso, Texas, where the desert sun roasts everything. The place had a narrow slit of a window in the living room. That kept the air-conditioning bill down, but the apartment was too dark. Insufficient daylight is a deal breaker for me.

What are your deal breakers? Write ’em down. Take the list with you. Do you hate to wait more than 15 seconds to get hot water? Does it drive you mad when an upstairs neighbor walks in heels? Will walking to the front door at night be scary because foliage hides the doorway from the parking lot?

When you don’t have to compromise with a roommate, you can be firm about your deal breakers.

And when you buy a house someday, shop for mortgage deal makers.

Don’t rush to furnish the place

People will give you furniture. They will sell used furniture for cheap. Or you’ll procure abandoned furniture. I stumbled across a kitchen table and a pair of chairs in a laundry room, with a note: “Free to take.”

Empty-nesters love to give away furniture to young people who are just starting out. My first bed was given to me by a co-worker whose son had grown up and moved away.

Perhaps you’re wrinkling your nose at that, because a used mattress isn’t your thing. Here’s a second opinion, from Lance Davis, Bankrate’s optimization editor, who recently got a solo apartment: “Splurge on a mattress. Buy everything else used. You spend a ton of time in your bed, and getting a good night’s sleep is important. Otherwise, you’re young. You shouldn’t have the expectation that you need fancy coffee tables or anything. Functionality over fanciness.”

Seize the day

Let’s say you’re living in an apartment that’s just OK. Then a splendid place becomes available. It’s a vast improvement over your current quarters. Go ahead and break your lease.

Remember that dark apartment in El Paso? I had been living there six months when my friend Dave moved to Mexico City, leaving behind his marvelous apartment. It was in an old, mission-style building with a romantic balcony overlooking the Rio Grande and the twinkling lights of Ciudad Juarez. I’ll never regret paying a penalty to break my lease so I could move into Dave’s awesome apartment.

Holden's apartment, El Paso, Feb. 1988

That brings up another tip: Use your network. One colleague found her apartment via the venerable “a friend of a friend is moving out” routine. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be living where I am because the rent is atrocious,” she says. “I got a great deal!”

Ask what the neighborhood is like

From Lance again: “If possible, find someone who lives in the apartment complex or neighborhood about their experience living in the area. There are things you won’t think to ask that neighborhood veterans will be able to share with you. Like: For some reason, the water bills in this complex are crazy high compared with my friends’. Or, there are ducks that hang out at a nearby pond and sometimes waddle over here” and, uh, mess up the place.

Be realistic about finances

“Factor in utilities, Wi-Fi, cable, renters insurance, proximity to places you’ll have to go to frequently, etc.,” Lance says. I’ll add another item to that list: student loans. A lot of student loans have a six-month grace period after you leave school. If you rent an apartment before those payments begin, don’t forget to factor the monthly student loan bill into your budget.

The same is true later, when you buy a home. Choose a mortgage that you can afford along with your other expenses.

Miscellaneous tips

Other stray bits of advice:

  • Avoid renting an apartment with a door directly across the hallway from an elevator.
  • If you’re going to have loud overnight visitors (or if you’re loud — you know who you are), select a place where your bedroom wall isn’t shared with the neighboring apartment.
  • Don’t sleep on a futon on the floor in scorpion country (like El Paso, for instance). I’ll say no more.

Mortgage rates this week

The good news is that mortgage rates edged a tiny bit lower this week, and they’re still low. This is a great time to shop for a mortgage and grab a nice interest rate.

The not-so-good news is that not enough homes are for sale. Home prices are rising, and competition is fierce for homes on the low end of the price scale. Read all about it in this week’s mortgage analysis.

RTI comment of the week

Every week, Bankrate posts the Rate Trend Index, in which loan officers predict whether mortgage rates will go up, down or stay about the same in the coming week. Here’s the comment of the week:

Vote: Unchanged. The Fed’s monetary policy did not reveal any surprises and remains unchanged. The fed funds rate was left unchanged. The upcoming jobs report could have an influence on mortgage bond activity, but if it is anything like this week’s ADP report, it will be a non-event. I anticipate mortgage rates to continue to hold steady this week as mortgage bonds continue a sideways pattern.

Elizabeth Rose, branch manager, Movement Mortgage, Dallas

Holden Lewis

I have a nice house and a nicer mortgage rate. Let me show you how to do the same.