Apartment checklist: 9 tips for your child’s first place

Tired of cafeteria food and nosy resident advisors, your (almost) adult son tells you he’s ready to move out of the dorms. He wants to move into an apartment at the end of the semester with a few friends instead.

As a parent, the prospect of your child moving into his first apartment can be nerve-wracking, even if you’re the one making sure the rent gets paid on time. What about walking home from the library late at night? All-night ragers? A less-than-honest landlord? Roommates who never wash the dishes?

It can be tricky to balance your child’s burgeoning independence with your need for him to be in a safe, comfortable living situation. But it can be done. Here’s a helpful checklist for your child’s first apartment.

1. Pick the right spot

We all know the old adage: “Location, location, location.” And if you say this to your son, he might just roll his eyes at you.

But location doesn’t just mean how close an apartment is to campus. There are other location-based factors for your child to consider, such as whether it’s close to a grocery store (this one is especially important if he won’t have a car). How much street parking is available? What’s the crime rate like? Who are the neighbors?

2. Make the move easy

Moving can be such a hassle, especially during the sticky hot summer months. With the help of ClosetBox, you can easily store your child’s belongings after finals in May (rather than carting them back to your house for the summer). Then, when it’s time to move into the new apartment in September, the ClosetBox team will return your child’s belongings.

Though you’ll get to spend valuable bonding time with your son or daughter over the summer, you won’t keep tripping over their mini-fridge.

3. Budget carefully

You want to instill good financial sense into your child, and fInding his first apartment is a great time to talk about budgeting, says Brian Davis, co-founder of SparkRental and the owner of 15 rental properties. “Encourage a housing budget of no more than a third of their take-home pay,” Davis suggests. “That should include utility costs.”

Of course, if your child is taking classes full time, they may not be working enough hours to cover any amount of rent. Even so, it’s good to help them understand the importance of budgeting so that when they get out into the real world, they don’t end up blowing their entire paycheck on rent. 

4. Pay attention to utilities

And while we’re on the subject of budgeting, check to see what utilities are included in the monthly rent payment. If they’re not included, you should ask the landlord or the apartment manager for a rough estimate of past utility costs during warmer and colder months. That will give you a good idea of what to expect during each season.

If internet isn’t included, make sure your son or daughter schedules the installation far enough in advance—you don’t want them scrambling to do homework during the first few weeks of class.

5. Walk through together

While you want your son or daughter to feel independent during the apartment search, you also want to ensure that they’re not getting schemed by a deceptive landlord, Davis says. Be present for the initial walk-through inspection, during which the renter and the landlord will go over any existing scrapes, scratches or blemishes in the unit.

Since this is his first apartment, your child may not know what to look for, which is why it’s a good idea for you to attend, too. “Parents will have a more practiced eye at what to look out for and can simply serve as an extra set of eyeballs to make sure all the damage is documented properly,” Davis advises.

6. Check the lease

Before your child signs (and you co-sign) on the dotted line, make sure he understands what happens at the end of the lease. It’s easy to be excited about the move-in process, but remember the move-out process, too.

Even though the end of the lease is months away, you want to be fully informed about the lease terms from the get-go. “Does it automatically renew for another full term? Does it renew on a month-to-month basis? Or maybe it simply ends and the renters must move out?” Davis says.

Of course, you should go over the entire lease with a fine-tooth comb anyway to check for any funky clauses.

7. Read the reviews

Yep, reviews aren’t just for restaurants on Yelp anymore. If your child already has a specific apartment complex in mind, do a little research on the address or the property management company, suggests Adam Barndt of Rent College Pads, an off-campus housing search engine.

Other parents are likely to warn you if there’s something fishy in the lease or if the on-site washer and dryer are perpetually broken. In a community with a high amount of rental turnover, reviews can be super valuable during the apartment hunt.

8. Know the cycle

The rental cycle can vary dramatically from city to city. Barndt warns that students at some schools have to sign a lease nearly a year in advance because there’s such high demand. Students at other schools may sign a lease just a few months in advance.

Your son or daughter should have a good idea of the local cycle or can easily ask upperclassmen. Either way, make sure you’re not looking at properties too early or too late. You’ll be able to stick to your budget more easily when the largest selection of properties are on the rental market.

9. Watch for scams

Craigslist is a great resource for finding legitimate rental properties. But it’s also full of bogus listings and schemers. The first rule of thumb? If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. 

There are some pretty common scams to watch out for, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Some scammers will post listings for “phantom rentals,” or units that are not actually for rent—they’ll even post appealing photos to convince you it’s real. Others will post an ad for an apartment, but they’re really trying to get you to sign up with a pricey credit monitoring service.

So, how can you make sure your web-savvy child isn’t getting scammed while searching on Craigslist? There are a few telltale signs, the FTC says. If the purported landlord asks you to wire money, or if they ask for a security deposit before you’ve signed the lease, it’s most likely a scam. Another sign of a fishy listing is if the landlord says he’s out of the country.

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