In the past 3 years alone, I have moved a total of 3 times. This has given me a lot of experience with the process and insight into the stressful process of MOVING.
The first time I moved was into my husband's apartment. This taught me a bit about having roommates, what it's like to move into a space someone already occupies, and what it's like to move in with your significant other. (SPOILER ALERT: It's NOT as romantic as you would imagine!)
Soon after that, we moved house together. Unfortunately, we ended up moving to a place that was nice, but really didn't suit our needs and lifestyle. Through this experience, I learned how important it is to know exactly what you want, what you're willing to compromise on, and what you won't tolerate.
Our third move was to an apartment that was well-priced and decent. It had most of what we wanted, though a bit of a fixer-upper and wasn't in my ideal neighborhood. The lesson here was the importance of doing research about the neighborhood and paying attention to the finer details of the apartment you're considering.
In this article, I'll combine all my past experiences to talk about roommates, moving in with your boyfriend/girlfriend, making a checklist of "Must-Haves," "Like-to-Haves," and "Should-Nots," researching your potential neighborhood and residence, and checking the finer details.
Tips for Moving in With a Roommate
Before I moved in with my husband, I had the pleasure (and sometimes displeasure) of living with my best friends in a townhouse my senior year of college. It's true what they say: You don't really know someone until you find their dirty underwear in the kitchen sink.
That being said, I learned a few things about being a roommate and what it's like to have roommates that I think will be useful for those wanting to go this route:
- Set boundaries, expectations, and get a clear sense of each others' living habits and lifestyle. Don't assume that because you're best buds you'll make great roommates. Moving in together without an idea of what your life will be like together can be a fast way to lose a friend.
- Respect your roommate's space and make sure they respect yours. Clean up after yourself; do your own dishes, don't leave your stuff all over the common spaces, pick up your dirty clothes, and encourage your roommate to do the same. Clutter leads to chaos.
- Define your space, their space, and the common spaces. Everyone needs an area that is strictly theirs. Keep this in mind if you are looking for a place to move to with your roommate. If you're going to share a room, then where will your space be? It could be even just a "your" chair or "your" desk. Just make sure things are even.
- Chore charts may be helpful in keeping the place neat. In my experience though, they don't always work. Regardless, find some way to make sure everyone is doing their fair share of maintenance. I like having a set day where everyone cleans at the same time. Make a list of what needs to be done, turn on some music, and you might actually have some fun.
- Define who is paying for what and when. Make it fair. If someone can't contribute as much financially, maybe they can make up for it by cooking dinner for everyone, or picking up some extra chores. Don't turn this into some sort of punishment or abuse, however. That's just not cool.
- If you are moving in with people you don't know yet, try to have a couple meetings beforehand to get a sense of who they are. It's still important to go over the points above, as well.
Having roommates can be a wonderful experience, even if you're an introvert like me. Following these tips will help you get the most out of your living arrangement.
Moving in With Boyfriend/Girlfriend
Moving in with your significant other isn't too much different than moving in with your friend or having a roommate:
- You still need to set boundaries and list expectations.
- You still need to respect the space and do what you can to keep it tidy.
- You still need to develop some sort of cleaning system, whether it's through a chore chart or scheduling a day you both clean together.
- You still need to establish who is paying for what. Who has the light bill? Who has cable? Are you going half on rent or is one paying for rent and the other paying a couple other bills so it's even? Have a clear plan of action so nothing goes unpaid for.
- Most importantly, in my opinion, you need to define your space, his/her space, and together spaces. This is especially true if you are moving in to somewhere they already live or vice versa.
Moving in with your significant other is something that shouldn't really be rushed. Take time to get over your honeymoon phase, get to know each other, and get a sense of each others' quirks and living habits.
Are You REALLY Ready?
When making a list of chores, don't forget the small things--like cleaning out the refrigerator!
Making It "OURS"
When you move into a space someone already occupies, it is easy to feel like it is not yours. Tension rises fast when you feel like a guest in your own home. Here are some tips to making your home together feel less like "his/hers" and more like "ours." These tips are just as true for when you are moving into a new place together, too.
- Move the furniture around. This is a cheap (and by cheap I mean free) way to give your place a new look and feel. Work together to set up a new arrangement.
- Buy new furniture. Okay, before you do this do some research first and have an idea of what you'd like to buy. Shopping for furniture blind will inevitably lead to arguments and buyer's remorse. There's no excuse for not knowing what kind of furniture you want (and for what price) when you have the internet! Don't get swindled!
- Re-decorate. This is something my husband asked me to do when I first moved in with him, to make me feel more comfortable. Just switching out the shower curtains, buying new towels, and bringing in new dishes and accessories really made me feel more at home. My husband gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted, but it is good to make it a team effort.
- Paint. This is another cheap way to transform a place. Whether you're moving into your partner's place or moving someplace entirely new together, a fresh coat of paint can bring new life into a space.
- Showcase art, pictures, trophies, and other things that are important to both of you. Mix them up in the common areas and use them define your individual spaces.
- Try and make as many decisions as you can as a team, even if that decision ends up being, "Babe, you can do whatever you want."
- If you don't like something your significant other is doing, don't ignore it. Discuss it right away. Even if it's something small like, clipping toenails on the couch, or leaving shoes in the middle of the floor. The sooner you eradicate these small problems, the happier your home will be. Discussing things before they get out of hand will prevent full-blown arguments in the future.
Before You Look for a New Place
Before you even begin looking for places to rent, you should know your credit score. If it is below 600 it is considered a bad score. If you have bad credit, be prepared to explain why and prove that you are still able to pay the rent. Having bad credit will, unfortunately, make finding an apartment a bit more challenging for you--but it isn't impossible. If you have time before you need to move, work at improving your score. This will help you out a lot since nearly all rentals will require a credit check.
When renters check your credit, the most important thing to them is your rental history and if you pay stuff on time. So if your score is low due to reasons other than that, they will be more likely to cut you some slack.
You can check your score for free (really free, not free-for-30-days-then-we-charge-your-credit-card free) at Credit Karma. More recently, I've been using Credit Sesame to keep track as well. They are both pretty much the same thing, but I like to check them against each other to see if there's anything one has that the other doesn't. If you are overwhelmed with debt, check out Freedom Debt Relief for help--though this is a long process, not a quick fix.
If you have good credit, great job! Renters will be a lot more flexible with you and you're more likely to find good deals on rent.
How much should you save to move?
As soon as you even think you might move soon, begin to save. Save, save, save, as much as you can, as fast as you can. This may mean changing your lifestyle for awhile so you can put money away. Do your best not to touch this money or you may be kicking yourself later.
How much should you save?
Renters usually require one month of rent then a security deposit. Security can be the equivalent of one month of rent, or a month and a half of rent, or half a month of rent. Some rental places also require an additional fee if you have pets. This could range anywhere from $25 - $250 or even more (when the fee is lower it usually means that it will be a fee you have to pay on your rent all the time, when the fee is higher it's usually a one-time thing). Those are just the expenses for when you've actually leased the place.
There are lots of other expenses you need to consider as well.
Rental applications sometimes come with fees so that renters can do background/credit checks. Application fees are typically $50 - $60.
If you use an agent you may have to pay them as well. Expect to pay half to one full month's rent of the property they found you or a flat rate of whatever they decide.
Then, of course, you have to create a budget for what it will cost to move your stuff from one place to the other, buy new stuff, decorate, so on and so forth.
I'd recommend making a budget for everything; a budget for pre-rental expenses (broker fees and app fee), a budget for leasing expenses (first month's rent and security), a budget for moving expenses, and a budget for home improvement.
Try and cut costs where you can. You can do this by enlisting the help of friends and family to move. Using secondhand items once you've moved until you've saved enough to buy your own furniture. Hunt for rentals on your own without the use of an agent. Look for properties that don't have fees.
So in short, your goal to save should look something like this:
- [Perspective rent x3] + pre-rental expenses budget + moving budget + home improvement budget = goal savings
- If you're moving really quickly, prioritize your savings and figure the bare minimum of what you need:
- [Perspective rent x2] + pre-rental budget + moving budget = at least this much to move
Do what you can to save even more than what your goal is because unforeseen circumstances spring up all the time.
Having access to fun and safe playgrounds is essential for our family.
For Your Safety
Make sure the place you in to has both a fire alarm AND carbon monoxide alarm. In some cities/states your landlord is REQUIRED to provide this. So, if it is missing talk to them about it. If they are not required to provide one, you should definitely install one yourself. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer!
Make a Moving Checklist
To prevent falling in love with the first place you look at, make sure you have a checklist of essentials, desires, and things you'd like to avoid.
Must-haves are things that you are not really willing to compromise on. To make your list of must-haves consider your family and their needs, your physical condition, your lifestyle, and what makes you happy.
Here are some questions to help you make your list of must-haves:
- Do you mind walking up steps or would you prefer a place on the ground floor or with an elevator?
- If you have kids, is it near decent schools and places they can play safely?
- Is it by restaurants and amenities that appeal to you?
- Is there a washer/dryer or hook-up? Or an on-site facility/nearby facility you can do your laundry?
- Is there a dishwasher?
- Are pets allowed? Or would you prefer a place that doesn't allow pets?
- If you have a car, are parking spaces available to tenants? Is parking easy to find?
- Do you have central heating/cooling?
- What is included in your rent?
- What kind of floors would you prefer; wood, carpet, linoleum, etc.?
- Do you want to live in a quiet or busy block?
- Do you have easy access to public transportation?
- Do you need more than one bathroom?
The less important "Must-Have" questions can fall into this category. These are things that you'd like to see in your new place, but you can live without if they aren't there. In addition to the questions I listed above, you can ask yourself these (who knows, maybe some of these are "Must-Have" questions for you)!
- Is there a nice view?
- Is it by a gym, dog park, or other place of interest to you?
- Does it come furnished?
- Is there a lot of closet space?
- Are the rooms big?
- Are the bathrooms big enough?
- Can you put in a washer/dryer or dishwasher if there isn't one available?
- Is cable or wi-fi included?
- Can you paint?
- Is their a playground, pool, gym, community garden, or court on-site?
These are things you'd really like to avoid. Some might even be deal breakers.
- Are the walls thin? Are your neighbors noisy?
- Is it a walk-up or have steps? (If you have kids, consider this if you need to haul a stroller)
- Is it in a neighborhood you don't like?
- Are there rules against pets?
- Is your landlord a jerk?
- Does it ice-over in the winter? Who salts and plows the driveways, streets, and sidewalks?
- How is it heated and who controls the heat? Are the windows properly insulated to keep in heat? (You may want to ask people who actually live there about this, because landlords lie! I know this from experience!)
- How is the air circulation? How does it feel during hot seasons?
- Is there mold? Paint chips? Damaged floors? Bugs? Rodents? Bad water? Any other disgusting or dangerous things that may make living there difficult?
- Is it worth what you have to pay for it? Is the price fair compared to similar properties?
Only you know what works best with your lifestyle. These are just suggestions to help you brainstorm your ideal living situations. Chances are, you won't find exactly what you want. Compromises will have to be made, but having an idea of what you're willing to compromise on and what you aren't will help the process go smoothly.
Moving to NYC
If you're moving to NYC, NYC.gov has a very useful resource for researching a potential place, the Building Information System (BIS). Using BIS you can search the address (and even the apartment) of the place you are planning to move and view safety concerns, complaints, and other data on the building that may help you make your move. This is a great way to find out if your building has pests, if the heat and hot water are reliable, and if the building is safe. It will only take a few minutes to do the search and it could potentially save you from the headache of moving to a crappy place.
I'm not sure if other states or places around the world have this system in place, but I would strongly suggest checking out your local government's "Buildings Department" to find out.
Research Your Community
So you've found the perfect apartment! Before you sign the lease, do a little research on your neighborhood. This is particularly important for families with children. It will also help you get a better sense of who your neighbors are and what living in that community be like. If you're having trouble picking a place doing some neighborhood research will help you decide.
Here are some useful resources for researching your neighborhood:
- Google Maps*
- Neighborhood Scout
- Area Vibes
When you go to check out the place, make sure you schedule some time to walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the community. Search for places of interest to you, locate local amenities, look for parks and other recreational sites.
*Google Maps and Walk Score have been incredibly helpful to me for my latest move. With Google Maps I'm able to see and get a feel for the neighborhood without actually having to make time to go down there. I still think it's a good idea to actually visit potential neighborhoods, but this helps weed out places I definitely don't want to be from places I do. With Google Maps I can easily find all the things that are important to me, such as nearest trains, parks, day care centers, supermarkets, laundromats, and so on and so fourth. I can walk the streets of the neighborhood without leaving the office. It's fantastic, I love it. I still love using Google to do my research. Furthermore, if there is a neighborhood you'd like to live in, you can pull it up in Google Maps then search "apartments" nearby. Rentals and realty places will pop up on the map. Some don't use rental websites to promote so you may find some good places that you wouldn't have if you just used rental sites alone. Google Maps will also help you get an idea of what your commute is going to be like. I intend to move upstate but keep my job in NYC, so knowing what to expect from my commute has helped me limit the neighborhoods I would like to move to.
Walkscore tells me how walkable an area is. This may not be important to everyone, but for someone like me--who doesn't drive--knowing I can easily walk to the supermarket or train station is vital information. Walkscore also offers apartment suggestions for areas you may be interested in moving to and a list of local venues. I check all of my potential apartment listings with Walkscore before pursuing them.
Take a Closer Look
The real deal breaker may not be something big, like it's a 4-story walk up, or the heater is from the 1900s. It might be something so small, you may not notice it until after you've moved in. Here are a few telltale signs to look out for when inspecting your apartment.
- Look for mouse traps, roach traps, and any other pest trap. Where there are pest traps-- there are pests!
- Check kitchen drawers and countertops for mouse droppings.
- Check for dust, holes in the wall, or any other indicators that pests may be around.
- Run the water in the sinks and shower and flush the toilet. Check out the water pressure and water quality.
- Turn on the lights, is the place well lit? Are the lights in weird places?
- Are the windows and doors drafty? Are the vents old? These things can end up running up your heating bill in the winter!
- How has the landlord maintained the place? If they've done shoddy work, chances are they won't be the best at getting things done. Even little details, like how they've done their paint job, can be an indicator of their ethics and how they'll treat you as a tenant.
- Are the wood steps rotted? Are the windows painted shut? Are any light fixtures broken? Are the doorknobs loose? Check around for any wear and tear that may cause problems for you later.
Just taking a little time to look into the details your landlord may not want you to see might save you from making a big mistake, or at least prepare you for what to expect from your new home.
Need Help Looking?
Having trouble finding apartments? Websites like Rent.com and Zillow.com can help. They also have apps you can download.
Search queries like "affordable housing in..." and "apartment lottery" can help you find places to rent for decent prices.
If there is a neighborhood you want to live in, drive around or walk around and take down as many "For Rent" numbers as you can. It also helps to take pictures of the places so you can remember them.
If you can afford to, I would highly recommend enlisting the help of a broker. Research a couple and go with one you feel very comfortable with. A good broker is willing to work with you, no matter what your situation may be, to find you a home that will suit your needs.
Before working with a broker, find out what their fees are. Some brokers will require you to pay them a finder's fee that is equivalent to the first month's rent of the apartment they find you. Some brokers will require a percentage of the ANNUAL rent of the apartment they find you. Usually, they expect you to pay the day you sign the lease, so you must have this money ready for them.
When working with brokers, I would suggest low-balling the amount you are willing to pay for an apartment. If you tell them the maximum amount you are willing to pay, they're more likely to look for apartments in that higher range than the ideal amount you'd be willing to pay. If after a few viewings, you are really unhappy with what they are showing you, then you could let them know you'd be willing to pay more for a better place. However, I would only recommend this if you have plenty of time to search for an apartment. If you are trying to move right away, be upfront about your situation from the start.
To make the process go faster make sure you have copies of these materials together, and--if possible--have them on hand when you visit an agent/broker (especially if you need something right away):
- Your Social Security
- Your ID.
- Your last 3 paystubs and/or an income verification letter* signed by your employer stating your job, how long you've been working there, and your weekly/semi-monthly/monthly wages (however often you are paid).
- Your most current W-2s.
- Your most recent bank statements for checking and savings.
- Your bank account information (i.e. Account number, address, number)
- Your employment information (i.e. Name of your employer, supervisors name, address of work, and phone number)
- Close relative's name, address, and phone number.
- Information on your current address and previous addresses for past 3 years (i.e. Address, Landlord's name, landlord's number)
- Checkbook or $600 - $1000 cash for a good faith payment to hold an apartment you (for security reasons, a checkbook would be safest!)
- Knowledge of your credit score and--if it's not so great--knowledge of what is bringing it down.
*A signed income verification letter is especially important if you are working "off the books." Since you do not have paystubs to prove your income, this is the only way you can prove you have income at all. There are landlords who are unwilling to rent to those without paystubs, but some might be more flexible--so don't despair.
You may not need ALL of this, but having it ready will help a lot!
Happy Home Hunting
I hope you found these tips helpful! I know moving can be stressful, especially if it's something you've never done before. Best of luck to you on your adventures in moving! I hope you find the perfect home!
If you have any suggestions on how I can improve this article or if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
03/19/2015: What a loser I am, I'm moving again! (I moved back to NYC last year, which is where I'm from--but ended up hating it with unrivaled passion and decided that the Hudson Valley really is the best place for me.) Hopefully this will be the very last time I move, at least for a few years. How lame. The good thing about this is that I will be an expert at this stuff, haha. Anyway, I've added more stuff in bold. All previous updates are now in plain text.
09/12/2014: Added a useful resource for moving to NYC!
04/21/2014: I am moving yet again! So I've decided to update this with more information that is helping me with the process. All new links have a * beside them. Happy moving!
© 2013 Samantha Harris
Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on September 06, 2015:
Congrats on the HOTD! I am an experienced mover too and have written some advices here at HP. You have covered a lot of informations and I am sure these will help a lot of people.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on September 06, 2015:
Great tips about moving. It's so informative and well detailed. I've moved a year ago to a new apartment. Congrats on HOTD!
Suddath on June 19, 2014:
Definitely a good way to keep your stuff organized and under control. As important as packing everything well and secured, your moving company will play an important role to make this transition even smoother.
Congrats on your blog!
Richard Warren from London, United Kingdom on December 18, 2013:
You're an expert mover! You include all the important advice in moving.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 07, 2013:
You seem to cover everything about moving and settling in. Good cautionary advice about moving in with room mates. Thank you.
torrilynn on December 07, 2013:
This was some great advice on what you should do when you move. A friend of mine moved in with her friend and lets say things didn't go as planned. They should have set boundaries but instead thought since they were friends everything would work out smoothly. It didn't. Voted up.
Colleen Swan from County Durham on December 06, 2013:
Hi, some good advice here. It has also pricked my memory; especially the boyfriends that soon became old friends.
Samantha Harris (author) from New York on December 06, 2013:
Good point! I'll have to add that in.
Hezekiah from Japan on December 05, 2013:
Good tips, I think it is also very important to confirm what the terms are which your landlord of estate agency. e.g. How many months rent eligible once you leave, and also if move out inspection charges will be subtracted.