Having Mom and Dad cosign on an apartment (if they're willing) could give prospective landlords peace of mind about renting to someone without a long credit or employment history. However, if you don't have a cosigner, Grosz suggests guaranteeing extra money upfront to show landlords that you're financially responsible. Carrying a letter from your employer as proof of employment is another option. Prospective landlords may also want to run a credit check, so try to clear up any issues on your credit report before starting your search.
• Scope out the neighborhood. Real estate agents have a saying: "location, location, location." This rings true for apartments as well as houses. Choose an apartment based solely on the interior, and you may wind up in a less-than-desirable neighborhood, far from friends or work. If you're relocating for a job, Culkin suggests asking your employer for recommendations on neighborhoods. Walkscore.com can give you a sense of how walkable an area is based on proximity to public transportation, restaurants, grocery stores, and other places.
Also look at how the building or area is maintained. "If it's a high-rise, are there lights out in the hallways? Is the lighting in the parking lot adequate?" asks Deegan. If not, it could be a sign that management will be slow to respond to tenants' concerns.
• Conduct a thorough walk-through. Some people will rent off of Craigslist without seeing an apartment in person, which can lead to problems later, according to Deegan. "Any prospective tenant should make sure everything works: the stove, the refrigerator, any appliances, and make sure the water runs hot for half an hour if you take long showers," he says. Also document any preexisting issues like scratches on the floor or holes in the wall so they won't get deducted from your security deposit when you move out.
• Get everything in writing. Large apartment communities typically have you sign a lease, but individual property owners or landlords may be more lax about paperwork. Whatever the scenario, don't rely on a handshake to seal the deal. According to Grosz, your lease should answer questions like, "how much notification do you need to give to move out? Is your security deposit refundable? Are you responsible for fixing up the apartment when you leave?" If you're uncertain about anything in your lease, have someone else review it. In fact, your college may offer lease-review services to students and recent grads.