5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Neighborhood

Research and spend time in a location before signing a lease.

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Affordability is at the top of most prospective renters’ list of must-haves when searching for an apartment. A bargain may seem like the ultimate win, but an apartment that fits into your lifestyle is essential to avoid hidden costs. If your inexpensive apartment score is in the wrong neighborhood, you might face extra expenses and inconvenience.

The wrong neighborhood could also mean fewer amenities, more costs you can’t afford and less time spent doing the things you love because of a long commute.

Here are five things to consider when you find yourself tempted by a bargain apartment in an unknown or less-than-desirable neighborhood:

Commute time. For those who drive, the farther from work you live, the more expensive your commute is likely to be. With the price of gasoline at $3.38 per gallon on average, your wallet can take a hefty blow from commute time. Remember to factor in tolls and maintenance costs you’re likely to accrue for wear-and-tear on your vehicle.

If you opt for public transportation, make sure your new neighborhood provides easy access to buses or the subway. Even with easy access, a new neighborhood often means a new route, and your time spent traveling could become longer or require multiple transfers, causing you to wake up earlier or feel stressed if you’re late to work.

Of course, walking is the most cost-efficient option in most instances. If your new neighborhood is a short walk from work you’re likely to save more in the long run. However, if you live in an area where inclement weather is common, factor in the cost of frequent cab rides.

Access to necessities. Think about the places you visit frequently when checking out a new neighborhood. A couple of staples to keep in mind include grocery stores, pharmacies and banks. If your apartment does not provide a laundry service or gym, you'll want to keep an eye out for those in the area as well.

Make sure the quality and price of these nearby necessities are reasonable. You may have a grocery store nearby, but it might only carry gourmet products with expensive price tags. If you steer clear of processed foods and your local store doesn't stock fresh produce, factor in the cost of transportation to another store. Check out reviews for local businesses in your area on review sites such as Yelp or Angie’s List to get an idea of what to expect.

Proximity to education. Proximity to good public schools is a major bonus for renters with children, especially if you are located on the bus route. However, if the schools nearby don’t have great education programs, some parents opt to send their children to private school. If you choose a private school, consider the cost of tuition, enrollment fees, uniforms and extra commute time.

Entertainment within reach. Great neighborhood entertainment options can make the difference between a house and a home for many prospective renters. Traveling outside your neighborhood for  restaurants and nightlife can turn date night or drinks with friends into a costly endeavor, especially when you factor in additional transportation costs including taxis or lot parking for trendy restaurants in crowded neighborhoods. Besides nearby restaurants and shops, look to see if your neighborhood of interest offers free entertainment options such as public pools, parks and museums.

Easy access to loved ones.
If you’re moving farther away from family, friends or someone you're dating, commute costs and time can add up here, and even hurt your relationship.

According to a recent rent.com survey of 1,000 single renters, 43 percent of respondents said they would not be willing to date someone who lived more than 30 minutes from them. If you are willing to commute for love, keep commuting costs in mind when selecting a neighborhood.

Many factors that go into finding the right apartment for you and your budget, and not all of them are on the lease or in your unit. Research and spend some time in your prospective neighborhood to find hidden expenses or hidden gems.

Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for rent.com, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and provides tips on how to move.