Guide me to a smooth move-in and making it my home.
June 17, 2008 2:02 PM   Subscribe

As a first-time renter, what should I do to avoid problems down the road, what will I forget to buy that I need, and how can I make it my home?

I'm a soon to be third-year college student moving from the dorm life into an apartment of my own about a half mile from campus. What I'd like to know is what are some mistakes that new renters make that I should avoid and how can I protect myself? How crucial is renter's insurance (I have a few computer and would probably have a semi-nice HDTV)?

I'll be purchasing most everything for the apartment from Amazon due to it being tax-free for California and having Prime (proposed items here). For furniture, I plan on picking up the basis on the cheap from Craigslist. When I first move in, I plan on taking many photos to document the condition of the apartment - would digital photos be suitable as evidence should anything ever happen with a dispute over the security deposit?

And lastly, how can I make this place my home? That is something I've never been terribly good at - I'd like to give the place some personality, but of course, there are strict limits as to how I can modify the residence. Help - any suggestions/advice is appreciated, even if it might seem really obvious!
posted by cgomez to Home & Garden (39 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
How crucial is renter's insurance (I have a few computer and would probably have a semi-nice HDTV)?

A year of insurance is cheap enough that you should do it, in case of theft, fire etc. If you have auto insurance, talk to your company to see if they offer a deal on renter's insurance.

And lastly, how can I make this place my home?

Floor lamps, framed artwork, rugs, bookcases, string lighting are a few ideas.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:11 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Renter's insurance is crucial, and cheap. If your apartment burns, or gets burgled, your landlord is Not Responsible.

Making it a home: keep it neat and keep it simple. Live without stuff until you really know you need it, rather than picking up anything and everything you think you might need and being stuck with a ton of junk. That list of yours already has stuff you ought to postpone.
posted by beagle at 2:12 PM on June 17, 2008

Do get renter's insurance. It's pretty cheap, and you'll be glad you have it should anything happen to your place.
posted by at 2:14 PM on June 17, 2008

Keep a journal of every issue you have with the apartment and every communication you have with the landlord.
posted by bryanzera at 2:19 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't try to "make it a home" all at once. Just be sure that you have the furniture you need to be comfortable and functional. The personalization stuff will come on its own as you settle in.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:21 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Absolutely get renter's insurance. I was in an apartment that had a pipe burst and flooded my apartment. The apartment was responsible for replacing the carpet/flooring/walls/paint. I was out of my apartment for almost a week while repairs were made. All the damage to my personal belongings were not the responsibility of the apartment complex. This was 1981 and the $22 a month I paid for insurance put me up in a hotel and provided meals for the time I was unable to stay in the apartment and repaired/replaced my damaged property. Well worth the investment!!
posted by cainiarb at 2:21 PM on June 17, 2008

Digital photos should be OK in a dispute over deposit forfeiture. Make sure you burn any pictures of dents, scratches, etc to a CD and give your landlord a copy.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:23 PM on June 17, 2008

I've been aggravated repeatedly upon moving into apartments when I realize that I don't have a shower curtain. If your bathroom has a tub/shower combination, make sure you have a new curtain handy : ) One place I moved into, the previous tenant took the curtain ROD too! That sucked at 11pm on a July night after I had spent all day moving in.
posted by autojack at 2:28 PM on June 17, 2008

What I'd like to know is what are some mistakes that new renters make that I should avoid

You should buy a toilet plunger immediately.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:29 PM on June 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

I think you're worrying too much. Just go live there, and learn-while-doing.
posted by Class Goat at 2:30 PM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

There was one very, very important item that I forgot when I moved into a place by myself, and I don't see it on your list: a shower curtain (and rings).
posted by shadow vector at 2:31 PM on June 17, 2008

When I moved into my first apartment, there were two things I needed that I never thought to buy, a shower curtain and toilet paper. D'oh. Thankfully, the apartment office left me a little care package with TP.
posted by advicepig at 2:31 PM on June 17, 2008

Get renter's insurance and go through the policy to understand what it covers. Eg if there's a fire, and your mattress is smoke-damaged, will the policy pay for you to get a new one? For individual items of value you MAY want a separate policy that lists them and gives you replacement value; depends. If you are eligible for USAA insurance, go through them and get the agent to explain everything to you on the phone. When you call to get insurance, they'll ask you how much all of your stuff is worth -- note this means how much it would cost you to buy new stuff, not how much you could get if you sold your old stuff. They'll also talk to you about liability insurance (which covers payments if a visitor is injured in your house and they sue you), and about separate coverage for specific items.

In terms of furnishings: a major criterion for me was always, does this item break down so that I can move it myself in future moves? For the first few years of renting you may be moving a lot, and it's much nicer if you can do the move with a few friends. When friends help you move, the protocol is that you buy pizza and cold beverages, and you're on the hook to help them with their next move. Consider getting a futon bed for the first few years renting for this reason. (You may hate futons, in which case, get a real bed.)

If you buy a real bed from a furniture store, they'll usually deliver it too.

When you move in, be sure you have readily accessible (in "first day box"):
-toilet paper
-shower curtain
-a few light bulbs (sometimes apartments come without them) and at least one lamp in case there are no ceiling bulbs in the room you need light in
-stuff to set up your bed
-phone and phone cord, if you'll be using a landline

Your first priority when moving in is to set up a sleeping area. Then set to work on everything else. This way when you're worn out, you can just quit and you'll already have a place to sleep.

How to make a space more homey:
-area rugs
-wall decorations (framed is classier than just posters, but a tiny bit trickier to hang)
-curtains or other window treatments
-logically arranged storage (bookcases, coat pegs, hangers in the closet, etc) so that when you need to clean up, everything has a place it belongs. Avoid using your floor as permanent storage place for anything (doing this always makes it feel like you are just temporarily camping out in a place, IME).

Keep your lease in a place with your other crucial documents. Take note of your responsibilities under the lease -- must you mow the lawn/shovel the snow? etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:32 PM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Renter's insurance is a good idea.

When you move in and before you unpack, make notes of everything that's not right with the place and send a copy to your landlord. Ask him to sign it and return it—and ideally to fix all that stuff. But this helps protect you down the road.

Things you will need:

Basic tools (hammer, wrench, screwdrivers, etc). A flashlight. Extension cords. Kitchen/bathroom cleaning supplies. Dish soap and scrub brush. A broom. Maybe a vacuum cleaner (if you have carpeting, this is not optional). A plunger (do not wait until the lack of one becomes an issue). Pots, pans, a couple sharp knives, spatula, wooden spoon, food containers, hot pads, a colander. You can get sort of a "kitchen starter kit" at Target. Tableware.
posted by adamrice at 2:33 PM on June 17, 2008

Also check your local paper's archives and ask around to see if bedbugs etc are a problem in your area. If so, be wary of cheapo secondhand furniture.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:38 PM on June 17, 2008

And yeah, it's a good idea to put cleaning supplies in your first day box too, since the fridge or other areas may be really inadequately clean when you move in.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:40 PM on June 17, 2008

The microwave could probably be purchased at a substantial discount on Craigslist (typical market value of a microwave on CL is about $20-50). There's not much reason to buy one new.

From a purely economic perspective, renters' insurance is a bad deal, unless a) you really couldn't afford to replace your stuff, b) you know you are at more risk than the insurance company thinks you are (you like to smoke in bed; the building is falling apart; you gave your meth addict friend an extra set of keys so he could feed your hamster when you're away), or c) you're tempermentally risk averse and feel uneasy about the prospect of the loss you'd take if you got robbed. But it is cheap, so hey.

I strongly second the recommendation to get a plunger ASAP. The first night I spent in my apartment I arrived from Italy at around 10pm (4am Italian time) and the toilet had been clogged by the previous tenant. I had to knock on doors to borrow a plunger from the neighbors.
posted by phoenixy at 2:43 PM on June 17, 2008

What about utilities? Make sure your landlord gives you a list of all the utility companies you need - gas, electric, water, garbage, phone, cable, internet. You will need to find out what's included in your rent and what isn't. Have everything set up and operating by the time you move in. Otherwise you could move in and not have any electricity on!

Those that aren't i included in your rent, you'll need to contact directly and get that set up. Know that as a first-time renter and possibly someone without much of a credit history, you may have to plop down a security deposit for some utilities.

Here's a tip - if you ARE getting a landline, ask for an easy number to remember. Always works for me. Otherwise you'll get randomly assigned a number.

Another tip: set aside a suitcase like you're going on a trip somewhere which contains what you'll need for the first night - toothpaste, toothbrush, something to sleep in, clean clothes, a towel, soap, shampoo, etc. That way you don't have to dig through boxes to get to stuff you need immediately.

And know where your pillow and fresh sheets are for your first night! A lot of people end up sleeping on the mattress with dirty clothes on because they can't figure out where their linens are.

Homey things: nice smelly candles (I prefer those that are in glass containers, less likely to burn your place down), plants, pictures of family and friends.

I'll never forget my first night alone in my first ever all by myself grown up apartment. It's an awesome, scary, thrilling moment signaling a huge step in adulthood. Enjoy it!
posted by HeyAllie at 2:55 PM on June 17, 2008

Figure out where the laundromat is before you need to do laundry. Figure out where the grocery store is before you start to starve. Figure out where the liquor store is before you invite a girl over for a drink. Get the number of a reliable plumber before your toilet explodes. Find out who to call when the heat stops working at 3am before you wake up freezing your ass off.

posted by sondrialiac at 3:09 PM on June 17, 2008

Bring your neighbors cookies/beer and strike up a few conversations with them. It will make your life more pleasant if you have somewhere to wait while you're locked out.

And find a locksmith before you're locked out.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:10 PM on June 17, 2008

Make a copy of every key (mailbox, apartment, gate if there is one or write the code down if there is one) and give this information to a trusted friend who lives nearby. The best way to handle this is to put the items into an envelope with your address, apartment number, emergency contact (such as the landlord's afterhours line or the phone number associated with the apartment's maintenance crew) and just hand it over to someone you trust.

The worst thing about getting a shiny new apartment on your own is being stranded at an odd hour or in another city with an emergency.

Emergency = you are at home visiting your folks and get a call from the landlord that your apt. flooded or is on fire. It is 5 a.m. and you just flew into town again and have left your keys in another state. You have gotten into a fight with your significant other and been dropped off, only to realize your keys were in the other person's car. I won't go on because there are a lot of weird, stupid, bizarre things that can happen and having an emergency resource of keys/person on standby to check things out for you is terribly important.

Also, your neighbors can be enemies or friends. If you're friendly and outgoing, consider introducing yourself to the neighbors immediately adjacent (below/above/beside). Make an effort to communicate that if they have an issue with you (noise/smells/smoke/pet) that you would appreciate discussion with you first to rectify the problem before calling police or the landlord, and promise them the same courtesy. You cannot imagine how much easier it makes life when you can avoid constant confrontation in close quarters.

One more thing: I can't stress enough that apartments are bare-bones. Many times you'll visit during the day and don't realize that when you move in, the lights in the parking lot are so bright you will never get to sleep in your bedroom without heavy fabric over the windows. If you are buying window coverings or ordering them from Amazon, get the thickest ones you can find. Pulling an all-nighter and then sleeping after the test will be SO much easier!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:14 PM on June 17, 2008

I just want to echo Class Goat that you are worrying too much, and some of these posts will probably amp that anxiety up. I've lived alone in apartments for almost 16 years and never had a disaster. I've locked myself out maybe three times. If you're missing a shower curtain the first night, point the shower head at the wall and put down a towel in front of the tub. No lightbulbs? Every corner store sells them. Not sure where the dishes are? Getting pizza delivered is like a rite of passage in every new apartment I've had. Need curtains? Surely you can handle a couple of nights without.

My point is, whatever it is, you can deal. There will inevitably be things you'll forget to buy beforehand, so you buy them later. I hope you can stop worrying enough to enjoy the process. There's little that can happen that you can't cope with.
posted by loiseau at 3:27 PM on June 17, 2008

Don't underestimate the importance of a good cleaning before you move in. If you know the place is clean, you'll feel more comfortable. This will also give you a chance to look around and make sure that there isn't anything nasty that the landlord should be doing.

When I move into a place I pick out one corner, or one place that I want to be comfortable/ where I want to relax. Then I move in around that space. If one corner gets nice sun, your chair or bed should go there. If there's a nice view, put your couch there and work around it. Put a poster you like where you'll see it.

I've always been open and friendly with my landlords. They're suspicious because if they've rented out for long, they've been screwed. The same is true with tenants. Try to get on a cooperative footing. As for security deposits-- don't worry too much. Most landlords will give them back to avoid small claims court, unless you've been a nightmare.

Once things go sour with a landlord, they seldom get better. So I always try to make an effort at first.

Oh, one other thing: put down shelf paper before you stock your cupboards. It makes them easier to clean, particularly when it's time to move out.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:31 PM on June 17, 2008

Regarding locking yourself out, see if you can fiddle with your lock. A lot of them can be set so that they have to be locked from the outside with the key, ensuring that the only way you get locked out is by losing the key.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:31 PM on June 17, 2008

How crucial is renter's insurance (I have a few computer and would probably have a semi-nice HDTV)?

Someone broke into my rented house while I was a student. They didn't take my 21" CRT or my 266MHz laptop I rescued from a skip, for somewhat obvious reasons. They also didn't take my wallet, phone or camera as I had them on my person at the time.

They did, however, steal a jar containing 2kg of small change, worth about $10.

what should I do to avoid problems down the road

You may find you don't have an internet connection when you move in. Depending on installation times, it might take a few weeks for you to get one. Also you may find nearby houses have their internet encrypted, and local coffee shops try to sell access for $10/hour. In this time you won't be able to get to online maps, find supermarket locations/opening hours, order things online, etc (using your credit card from an cybercafe is not recommended).

If you take an old broadband modem with you, make sure you have all the drivers you need to make it work as you won't be able to download them.

Some companies will only deliver your first credit card order to the credit card billing address. Consider ordering some trivial value items to get this formality out of the way if it's likely to cause you a problem.

As Class Goat points out, these things are pretty trivial. You don't need to worry.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:46 PM on June 17, 2008

Looking back, I spent too much money on stuff for my college apartment, when I should have realized I would be moving away from my college town after graduating. All the furniture I bought from Target disintegrated anyway, and I ended up spending around $1,000 to schlep not-that-nice kitchen equipment, linens, and a mattress across the country in a U-Haul. Once I had my first real job (and decent paycheck), I replaced virtually all of it within 2 years with higher-quality stuff. All of which is to say: think about whether it's a good idea to buy $60 pots and pans, $30 cutlery, $45 dinnerware set, or a $50 iron (I never ONCE used my iron in college, and if I needed one, I'm almost sure I could have borrowed from a friend). Is there a chance you'll have to jettison it all anyway? If so, I'm positive you could that sort of stuff much, much cheaper at your local Target or Walmart in the clearance section. You will almost certainly spend a ton of money on unexpected stuff you don't realize you need until you're making your fourth trip of the weekend to the store, so be careful about blowing your entire budget on a couple of mid-range things (and panicking one week into the semester as you have no money left for some essential stuff). Just off the top of my head, here's some items that appear to be missing from your list:

--Cleaning supplies (1 bottle ammonia cleaner, 1 bottle bleach cleaner, Comet)
--Toilet bowl cleaner
--Toilet bowl brush
--Laundry basket (the rubber kind you put clean clothes in)
--Laundry detergent
--Ice cube tray (might not need if you have an automatic icemaker--but sometimes those create funky-tasting ice)
--A bunch of lamps (lighting sources are one of those things you never think of when you move into your first apartment, but I can guarantee that no matter how many lamps you initially buy, you'll have to go back and get more)
--A lot of lightbulbs

And that's after just glancing through your list and thinking about it for a minute or two. So definitely hold back at least $100 - $200 to use once you've moved in and lived in your apartment for a week or so; there's all sorts of things you'll need to buy that you don't realize yet if this is your first place.

Good luck! Living off campus was a million times better than living in the dorms. You're going to love it.
posted by iminurmefi at 4:02 PM on June 17, 2008

The biggest tip that I can provide (this is after dealing with an exceptionally terrible landlord) is that any communication to your landlord about the conditions of the apartment should be in writing. Even if you just stop over to the management office to say "hey, my toilet is broken" make sure to give them a written note at the same time.

The same concept when you move in. In addition to documenting problems with your camera, write up what problems there were upon moving in and submit it to the landlord.

Good luck!
posted by mcroft at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2008

Ah yes, autojack mentioned the 11pm crouching euro-shower. Awesome.

I don't need to bother to nth renters insurance, but I will point out that you can probably get it cheap as an add-on to your auto insurance.

Congratulations BTW! A first apartment is so much fun, I have so many great memories from mine!

As for making it homey, are you allowed to paint? Painting parties are fun! Tell your friends you'll buy lunch if they help you paint. College students will do anything for free food. My first post-dorm bedroom got a coat of awesome limey-green that I still miss. I will say, however, that if you plan on painting a bright color, pick out your bedding first and then the was a bitch to find bedding that worked in that room.

The only thing I'd really recommend to avoid problems down the road with your landlord, is to document everything. Anytime you notice any problem, write down the date it starts, date you contact landlord or other appropriate person, etc. That way you will have weight if the landlord slacks, and you can say "hey i called you three times since May 1st and it's still not fixed."
posted by radioamy at 4:08 PM on June 17, 2008

What I'd like to know is what are some mistakes that new renters make that I should avoid and how can I protect myself?

More than anything, don't buy things until you know you need them, because it'll be a pain in the ass (not to mention a palpable waste) when you go to move again. Very little is going to be essential straight off, and you will be fine, absolutely fine, if you have to get through a night or two of improvisation.

Your list looks on the excessive side of comprehensive to me, but perhaps it's essential for your lifestyle.
posted by carbide at 4:16 PM on June 17, 2008

-Don't mix ammonia-based cleaners with bleach-based cleaners.
-Don't use dishsoap for the sink in a dishwasher.
-Do read labels on cleaners, esp if they require you work in a ventilated area.
-Do check out the smoke detector situation; do they have batteries? are they properly positioned? etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:21 PM on June 17, 2008

Upon looking at your actual list: yeah, you will be spending a lot more money than you need to. This depends on your standards, of course, but

Things you can get at goodwill/salvation army which will be just fine:
flatware (if you don't care if it matches)
everyday dishes (ditto)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:26 PM on June 17, 2008

As for home decor, check out Unclutterer, a blog that has helped me tons as far as small-space living goes. For inspiration, check out AT's annual Smallest Coolest competition.
posted by sian at 4:35 PM on June 17, 2008

Thanks a ton for the response thus far, this is why I love MetaFilter.

As for the shopping list, I'm trying to find lower price items as well. My only thing is that I prefer to have plates and pans that match one another, otherwise I'd head to Big Lots or something and grab the cheapest thing. So, since I like to cook, if those items end up costing $50 or $100 more than had I grabbed cheaper items isn't a huge concern since I could be more frugal in another area.

Also, if it makes a difference to the question at hand, I plan to be living in this apartment for a minimum of two years and then who knows once I finish with my undergraduate studies.
posted by cgomez at 4:42 PM on June 17, 2008

re: your Amazon list: You don't need both the Pur water filter and the Brita pitcher. One or the other will be enough. Also, if you choose the Pur, don't buy it till you're sure it will fit on the faucet.

Also also, "T-Fal Initiatives 10-Piece Nonstick Inside and Out - $59.99": at that price, this will be crap and you will hate it within 3 months. You can get a couple of better pieces (one skillet, two pots, lids for each [bonus if lid for skillet also fits the larger pot]) for the same amount of money.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:48 PM on June 17, 2008

I agree with radioamy...if you can paint do it!!! It's a great way to make it YOUR place. Most of the places I lived agreed to let me paint as long as I agreed to paint it back to white when I left and some didn't even require that.
Smells seem to make a place seem homey to me. If you like smells (some don't I know and I can't imagine) find one you like, no matter the source: candles, reed diffusers, plug ins, room sprays, cleaners...whatever and make it your "home smell". I travel for work and there's nothing better than coming home and knowing I'm there due to the great, familiar smell...oh yeah, and the comfy bed. I highly recommend a comfy bed. Mine was made perfect when I was able to splurge on the featherbed topper.
posted by illek at 8:25 PM on June 17, 2008

What size is the oven in your new place? When I moved into my current abode I discovered that none of my large baking sheets (like the one you have in your Amazon list) fit in my apartment-sized oven.
posted by sanitycheck at 1:23 AM on June 18, 2008

Great thread. I will definitely add that you never need as many kitchen things as you think you might. This year I moved overseas from a large 2 bedroom house into a studio apartment for work. I went from having my dine-in kitchen with all my fancy gadgets and matching cutlery to having one spatula, one serving spoon, one saucepan, two bowls, two plates, two glasses. It's been quite liberating. Less things to fiddle with!
posted by wingless_angel at 3:01 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You like cooking.
You need to personalize your space.
Grow some herbs.
They're pretty.
They'll come in handy.
Your place will smell better.
Be better oxygenated.
They don't take up too much room.
They're perfect.
posted by Menomena at 10:41 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Personally I prefer not to own too much stuff; like wingless_angel I only need two bowls, two plates, etc. You may have a different personalty; bear that in mind while reading this post.

I got through college without (or having but not using) the microwave, the toaster, the umbrella, the shredder, the bathroom scales, the iron, the pizza pan, or the utensil set.

I seldom used my second chopping board, let alone a third. I only used the large, medium and frying pans out of my pan set. I only needed one kitchen knife, not 14, and it served as my peeler and pizza cutter as well.

I don't see mugs, a kettle, a cafetière, wine glasses, champagne glasses, a set of kitchen scales, a wooden spoon, a mixing bowl, cake tins, or any bedding except two pillows on your list of items.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:07 PM on June 18, 2008

« Older The greyhound doesn't go far enough north.   |   Looking for more foodies. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.