Apartment Hunting 101


There are more than 16 million apartments in the United States, but finding the right apartment can sometimes seem like a one-in-a-million shot. Here’s an apartment hunting guide to narrow down your search.

Fast Facts about Apartments

City with the Highest Median RentSan Francisco ($1,388 per month)
City with the Lowest Median RentWichita, Kansas ($650 per month)
Average Median Rent in the United States$871
Average Median Individual Income in the United States$26,510

Step One: Plan Ahead

According to the Census, more people move to a rental between May and August than any other time of the year, so if you know you’ll need to find an apartment during this time period, you may want to leave yourself extra time to look for a place since competition will be steeper.

Step Two: Set a Budget

When it comes to apartment hunting, the next thing you have to do is figure out your price range. What can you afford?

The general rule of thumb is that your rent should be 30 percent of your income.

So, for example, say you make roughly $50,000 a year (you want to take your income after taxes are taken out). Thirty percent of $50,000 is $15,000. Take this number and divide it by 12 (as in the 12 months you’ll pay in rent), and you’ll get $1,250, which is the maximum you should spend monthly on an apartment. You may also want to consider additional expenses when it comes to setting money aside for rent, including utilities—3 or 4 percent of your income should go toward this.

Step Three: Narrow Your Search

After considering what you can afford in an apartment lease, scout neighborhoods within your price range. Niche Local can help as an apartment hunting guide. For example, here are a few neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.

Niche Local: Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

You can click on individual neighborhoods to read profiles of them, with school districts serving the area, plus schools and colleges nearby. You can also find out a bit about what the housing is like, including the median rent and the percentage of renters versus owners.

Niche Local: Squirrel Hill

Also, figure out how you might fit in within a neighborhood through Niche demographic stats like the age breakdown. If you’re 25 to 34 years old and are hoping to be surrounded by people within this age group, then you may want to consider a Pittsburgh neighborhood like Highland Park, where 19 percent of residents are between 25 and 34.

Niche Local: Highland Park

On the other hand, neighborhoods like Stanton Heights in Pittsburgh may have an older crowd and may not be what you’re looking for.

Niche Local: Stanton Heights

Step Four: Begin the Hunt

Once you figure out what neighborhood or neighborhoods you can afford and where you might fit in, start looking at websites like CraigslistPadmapper, and other online apartment guides for listings. And while this is probably a no-brainer when it comes to apartment hunting tips, don’t rely on photos in the ads. Make sure you visit the places to see the actual residences. Check the cabinets for bug infestation and also for rodent droppings (which can look like black pepper). Take photos of apartments to remind yourself of what you like and don’t like about particular buildings.

Finally, after you visit, act accordingly—a key factor in how to find an apartment. Anyone who has been through the apartment search will tell you that it’s not always an easy process. If you like a place, make your intentions known immediately because there could be someone else in your shoes who commits to the apartment before you do. If you don’t nab the apartment in time, keep searching listings or even ask the landlord if similar residences will open up.