Your First Place? Ten Tips

What’s more exciting than moving out of the barracks, off the ship, or out of your parents house?  It is fun and overwhelming at the same time.  Here are 10 things that will make it easier, faster, and more enjoyable.

  1. Check your credit report before you start looking.  Clean up any errors and make sure that it presents a good picture for a potential landlord.
  2. Figure out how much you can afford.  Experts recommend that you not spend more than 1/4 to 1/3 of your total income on housing expenses.  In the military, it is a little more complex, but that is still a good starting point.  Another way to look at it is to make sure that you are spending less than your housing allowance, when you include the rent, utilities and renter’s insurance.  Take your total take-home pay and subtract all your expenses:  savings, car payment, insurance, food, clothing, cell phone bill, credit card payments, entertainment, and uniforms.  Add a bit for unexpected expenses and plan to stay under the amount you have left.  Preferably pretty far under!
  3. Plan for deposits:  Not only will your new home require a security deposit and your first month’s rent (and often the last month as well), but you may also need to supply a deposit for your telephone service, gas and electric bill, and cable bill.  Security deposits are usually one month’s rent, and utility deposits can run from $25 to $250.
  4. Make a list of all the things you will need to buy, and estimate the costs.  You’ll need a bed, sheets and blankets, towels and a shower curtain, dishes, glasses and pots and pans.  You’ll probably want some furniture and a TV.  The costs of putting together an apartment can be overwhelming – make sure that you are prepared.  You can save a lot by doing most of your shopping at thrift stores.
    Resist the urge to make your place look like the apartment on a TV show – you probably aren’t going to live there long enough to justify such expenses!
  5. Make a list of needs and wants.  Consider cost, location, size, parking accommodations, safety, washer & dryer, pool, exercise room, and pet questions.
  6. Use a variety of resources to find good possibilities.  Ask your friends and coworkers if they have recommendations.  Look in the newspaper and freebie real estate books.  Contact a real estate company to see what they have to offer.  Use the internet for other options.
  7. Check out your prospective neighborhood several times – at night, in the morning, and on the weekends.  Drive from the new place to work during rush hour.  Talk to people who already live nearby…they often know a lot of stuff that the landlord won’t tell you (and might not even know about.)  Look to make sure that the parking lots are well lit and that no strange people are hanging around.  See if security doors are closed or if residents are propping them open.
  8. Make sure you see the actual apartment or house that you will be living in, not just a model.  Check it out thoroughly – try the sinks, flush the toilets,  and open and close the closet doors.  Sniff around and listen carefully.  Look for evidence of bugs or rodents.  Make sure that it is a place that you want to live!
  9. Read your lease carefully, and think about it for a couple of days before you sign the lease.  Make sure that everything that you’ve discussed with the landlord is spelled out in the lease:  pets, pest control, noise, late fees, visitors, parking, etc.  Most installations legal or housing offices have lease review services.  Check to make sure that you understand everything in the lease, and that it clearly states who pays for what utilities.
  10. Get renter’s insurance!  Once you’ve moved in, you will need to protect your stuff from loss.  Renter’s insurance is very inexpensive and well worth the money.  Your auto insurance agent probably offers renter’s insurance as well.

I feel like my list sounds like a list of reasons why you shouldn’t get your own place.  That’s not what I’m trying to say at all!  If you plan ahead and stay smart, you can get the right place for you and your budget.  Enjoy!

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.