I lived with my own delusions of what my first apartment would be like for a while, but as soon as I hit the pavement to actually find a place I realized it was not going to be like Friends, and if my roommate and I weren’t careful we were going to end up living in an absolute hole.

I also realized the city is huge and there are hundreds of thousands of places to live, all with dozens of pros and cons. It was a lot to process.

Fortunately my ThinkGlink background kicked in and I started to get organized. Super, super organized.

It all worked out, and now I can gladly share my tips for getting focused and taking your first steps towards finding an apartment.

Decide Your Budget

Before you even look at where you’re going to live, figure out how much of your monthly paycheck you’re willing to fork over for rent.

I think this is the weed-out step, and you should get it out of the way as soon as you can, especially if you’re living with roommates.

Always remember, just because a friend says they can afford to get a place doesn’t mean they can. It’s essential for roommates to be on the same page when it comes to deciding how much everyone can afford. If someone doesn’t want to talk about the money, I would guess they don’t have it.

Not only does this step weed out potential roommates, it also focuses your housing options. If you decide on $700 a month, you don’t need to waste your time looking at places going for $1250. If you do, I promise you, it will only make you feel bad.

Live Near Transportation to Work.

My roommate worked in the city and I worked in the suburbs, so the first thing we had to figure out was how we would get to work; neither of us wanted to drive and we discovered public transit would be cheaper.

There was only one form of public transportation that would get me to work in a straight shot so that became the first parameter of where our apartment would be located.

Pick A Neighborhood.

Once we figured out what train to live by, we began looking at the neighborhoods around each station. We quickly selected the area we liked best and the search became even more focused.

Cruise The Neighborhood.

At this point, excitement took over. We jumped into the car and drove around the neighborhood street by street imagining all of the wonderful things we would do and the places we would go.

This was actually the right thing to do.

First impressions are important but it’s vital to really see what an area is like. Going street by street afforded us the chance to really look at the buildings, hear the street noise, see what parking was like and decide what spots we liked best.

We also got to see what leasing companies were in the area, which made our online search easier. (Spoiler: We ended up living on the exact street we wrote down as “awesome” when we were out scouting.)

Define What You Want.

Now that we knew where we wanted to live we had to decide what we wanted to live in.

We began compiling a list of things we wanted in the apartment, noting where we could make concessions (air conditioning, laundry in unit) and where we would not (large bedrooms, dishwasher, intercom door). Our specifications saved us a ton of time.

Once you realize a place doesn’t fit the bill of what you’re looking for it’s easier to move on. Our parameters were also helpful for online searches and to the realtors we worked with.

Don’t Panic.

The housing market is struggling, that’s no secret, which means there is a ton of inventory out there. I was seeing five bedroom homes up for rent. My roommate and I ended up with a great apartment, but between wanting to move into our own apartment and feeling the pressure from realtors saying, “This place will be gone tomorrow,” I definitely think we fell victim to rookie panic.

I think it’s probably true that a fantastic apartment with a great location (in September) won’t stay on the market long, but there’s really no need to rush into anything. There’s plenty of other stuff out there.

My advice? If it doesn’t feel great, don’t do it.

Have you had a similar experience trying to find an apartment? Comment below!

And don’t forget to come back next week for more on Finding An Apartment.