Moving to a new apartment is an exciting milestone filled with opportunity—you have the chance to start fresh, make a big career change, and explore a city you’ve always wanted to live in. But between the expenses, the packing, and the process of actually finding your new apartment, moving can also be pretty intimidating. If you’ve recently found yourself up late at night searching “how to find dream rental” or “when to sign the lease” on your internet browser, you’ve come to the right place to learn more about leasing.
By learning as much as possible about the moving process, including when do you sign a lease for an apartment, you can make your move a more enjoyable, stress-free experience.
In this blog, we’ll explore the best time frame for signing your lease, as well as some important steps you should take before lease signing.
How Far in Advance Should You Sign a Lease?
If you are not looking into how to renew a lease, then it is important to understand the best time to sign your new lease. First, it’s always helpful to look at your current lease and real estate situation. In most cases, your current landlord or property manager will want one to two months’ notice of whether you intend to re-sign your apartment lease. So, if the end of your lease is approaching and you don’t plan on re-signing, you should start the process of looking for a new apartment and signing a new lease.
However, to determine your exact timeline, you want to find a balance between signing too early and signing too late. Here’s why:
- If you wait too long to look for a new apartment and sign a written lease, you could find yourself facing stiff competition with other renters and little time to spare.
- If you sign a written lease too early, you could miss out on new listings, or worse, be stuck with two rents to cover.
Generally speaking, it’s best to sign a new lease about a month before your current lease term expires (in other words, about a month before your move-in day), especially if you’ve already paid your last month’s rent. This way, you have a month to plan, pack, and move into your new home.
8 Things to Do Before Signing Your Lease
While the process of signing a new lease can seem quite simple, there are actually a few steps you should take before signing to ensure you get the best deal for your new living situation. One of the first things you should know is the difference between a lease vs rent. Regardless of whether you’re moving for a new job, looking for a change of scenery, or fulfilling a lifelong dream, taking the following factors into consideration can help you make informed decisions at every stage of the moving process.
#1 Consider the Cost of Living vs Your Income
A 2019 study found that nearly half of all Americans believe that a rising cost in everyday expenses is the greatest threat to their financial security. To ensure your own financial security, it’s important to look into what the average cost of living is in your new city or town.
Even if you’re moving because of a new job that offers a higher salary, this increase could be offset by higher expenses on utilities, gasoline, public transportation, groceries, and healthcare. So, before you sign a new lease, you should gather as much information as possible about these everyday expenses.
Then, consider your income, and ask yourself:
- Is it enough to afford rent each month for the duration of my lease?
- Will I have anything left for emergencies?
- Will I be able to spend on things like going to museums and restaurants?
With rents on the rise across the country, it’s smart to keep your income in mind before signing a binding lease agreement. That way, if you do choose to move, you’ll be prepared to budget accordingly.
To give you a better idea of various costs of living, here are the average monthly rent prices for one bedroom apartments in some of America’s most populous cities:
- New York City – $4,333
- Los Angeles – $3,200
- Chicago – $2,395
- Houston – $1,243
- Phoenix – $1,376
- Philadelphia – $2,146
- San Antonio – $1,132
- San Diego – $2,462
- Dallas – $1,531
- San Jose – $3,006
#2 Determine Your Ideal Move Date
Are you moving to a city with unbearably hot summers and frigid winters? Is it rainy there in springtime? Is it a college town where most people use the summer months to move to their new apartments, dorms, and houses for the next academic year?
If you have the ability to choose when you move, you should always try to keep such factors in mind before signing a lease and locking in a move-in day.
#3 Cast a Wide Net
Sometimes, it can be tempting to sign a lease for the first apartment you see, especially when you consider that as of November 2021, apartment occupancy in the U.S. hit a record high of 97.5%, meaning that the market is incredibly competitive for renters.
However, it’s always important to check out as many apartments as possible before you sign a new lease. While it can be time-consuming in practice, it pays off by allowing you to compare things like:
- Rent prices
- Neighborhood walkability
#4 Do a Walk-Through
Maybe you’re getting ready to move across the country, and you’d rather not visit apartments in person before you sign your lease. However, whenever possible, you should do a walk-through of the place you plan on living. This will give you a much more accurate idea of the space than pictures or videos can.
During your walk-through, imagine spending months or even years there. Picture your furniture in every room, the art you plan on putting up, and even the way you would organize your kitchen. Consider things like:
- Is there enough natural light to keep your plants healthy?
- Will you need to add any area rugs to reduce noise while moving around?
- Will your current furniture fit in the space?
However you proceed, a walk-through can be a real game-changer on any apartment hunt.
#5 Ask About Amenities & Utilities
When looking for an apartment to rent, some people tend to think about rent and location before worrying about the kind of amenities they’ll be provided and the utilities they may have to cover. In the long term, however, having a dishwasher, laundry room, and communal space can make a huge difference in improving your quality of life throughout the duration of the lease agreement. Not to mention, those utility costs can quickly add up.
Before you sign, make sure to check with your landlord or their representatives about the kinds of amenities you can expect to enjoy once you move. Also, be sure to confirm who is responsible for paying which utilities. In particular, ask your landlord who covers:
- Hot water
- Trash removal
By knowing these questions to ask about an apartment, you can narrow down your search while making the most out of your monthly rental payments.
#6 Check Out the Neighborhood
So, you found the perfect apartment, but have you taken a tour of the neighborhood? Did you carefully scope out its bars and restaurants? Did you check to see what kind of grocery stores are within walking distance? Does it feel safe? Are there any green spaces for you to explore and stay active?
The point is, a great apartment will only get you so far if the neighborhood leaves you wanting more. Before you sign your lease, spend some time in the surrounding area.
#7 Find Cosigners if Necessary
If you’re a full-time student who depends on loans or a young professional trying to get situated in the early stages of your career, it’s not uncommon to need a cosigner or guarantor who will sign the lease agreement with you. This person, usually a family member or someone close to you, will be legally obligated to cover your rent if you should be unable to pay for whatever reason.
Landlords typically require a cosigner for tenants who:
- Work low-wage jobs
- Have a low credit score
- Have minimal savings
In New York, for example, landlords typically like to see that their renters make at least 40 times their monthly rent in annual income. So, if you pay $2,500 a month for a one bedroom in Brooklyn and intend to live there by yourself, you’ll need to make around $100,000 per year to avoid needing a cosigner. If you plan to share the apartment, however, the household income of both tenants can be used to reach the required level of income.
#8 Read the Agreement Slowly and Carefully
Finally, the most important step to take before signing your lease is to read the agreement slowly and carefully. Lease agreements can be lengthy. Typically written by lawyers, they can also be incredibly dry. While you might skim through an article for the important news you need or skip to the end of a book before watching the movie instead, you can’t do the same with your lease agreement.
These documents include important, legally binding details, such as:
- The amount of rent due each month
- The day your rent is due (and when late fees will be charged)
- Whether or not you can keep pets
- The amount you owe for your security deposit
- Whether or not you can sublet the apartment
- And more
As you go through the lease before signing, take note of any questions you have or any changes you’d like to propose. While you may not get the perfect deal, it certainly never hurts to ask.
Leasing Made Better with Common
If you’re looking to move to a new apartment in a new city (or to a new apartment in your current city), consider Common. Our traditional apartments and coliving spaces are designed with comfort, attainability, and community in mind.
Rent in most Common homes includes amenities like on-site laundry, communal lounges, high-speed WiFi, community events, and more. Plus, our homes are located in some of America’s most vibrant cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, and Philadelphia.
With great service, all-inclusive options, and plenty of community events to take part in, Common understands what it means to make the most out of your new lease. Explore our homes today.
- CNBC. Nearly half of Americans say rising cost of living is the greatest threat to financial security. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/04/47-percent-of-americans-say-cost-of-living-is-top-threat-to-future-security.html
- Rent.com. Average Rent Prices in the Largest U.S. Cities. https://www.rent.com/research/average-rent-prices-in-the-largest-cities/
- CNBC. Apartment rent and occupancy hit record highs, even as market enters its traditionally slow season. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/06/apartment-rent-and-occupancy-hit-record-highs-in-november.html