Rentals search

How to Compare Apartments

Rob Whiting
Boom Team

Whether you’re searching for an apartment in New York, Boston, or San Francisco, finding an apartment in any big city is always a monumental task. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a first-time renter or you’re an old hand at renting. Renting an apartment comes with huge decisions that you need to make carefully.

Say you do find a potential list of apartments that fit your needs, your next step would be to narrow down the field until you find the best candidate,

But just how do you compare apartments? Which criteria do you consider before signing the lease? This handy guide will walk you through the steps in finding the right apartment for you.

5 Main Things to Consider When Comparing Apartments

Since there are many things that you would consider when comparing different apartments, it would be almost impossible to list them all down here. Some factors are smaller and less consequential than others, so you need to be able to prioritize them.

Here are the five most important criteria to consider when comparing apartments.

Total Expenses

When you think about monthly expenses, it’s only normal that the first thing that comes to mind is the rent. However, you need to calculate the total cost of renting different apartments to get the full picture and make a better comparison.

Aside from the rent, here are other expenses you need to consider:

Security Deposit

Depending on where you want to rent, the security deposit can differ. In both Boston and New York, the security deposit should only equal one month’s rent. In San Francisco, however, the security deposit will depend on the type of apartment. For unfurnished apartments, it cannot exceed more than twice the monthly rent amount, while it is thrice the amount for furnished apartments.

Always check with the local housing laws to find out if you are paying the appropriate amount for your security deposit.

Application Fees

Application fees refer to the costs incurred by landlords to screen applicants. This includes checking the applicant’s background as a renter, credit history, and other relevant information to determine whether the applicant is in good standing. Typically, these fees are charged to the applicant.

Depending on your state law, these fees can be refundable. In NYC, application fees are capped at $20, and any amount beyond that should be refunded. In Boston, application fees are shouldered by the landlord. In San Francisco, the fees are capped at $50, and the landlord must provide an itemized expense report.


Utilities cover the cost of water, electricity, and heat. The costs can either be rolled into the monthly rent or charged separately. If the costs are separate, the apartment must have its own meter in good working condition.

Other costs

You should also consider other monthly costs that you will incur when renting an apartment such as pet deposits, smoking deposits, or parking charges. Check your lease thoroughly to understand how these deposits work and how much will be refunded at the end of your lease.

Value for Money

There are several ways by which you can judge an apartment’s value for money. You can take the size of the apartment into account, as well as the amenities that come with the apartment. Does being a tenant in the building give you access to common spaces such as a pool, gym, garden, or parking garage?

You can also consider the overall state of the apartment when you moved in; obviously, a brand new apartment will have a much higher value for money compared to an old apartment.

Finally, another way to determine the value for money is considering what features come with the apartment when you rent it. It is fully furnished, or does it at least come with large appliances that would be expensive to purchase such as a refrigerator, washer, and dryer? Does the apartment have built-in closets, storage space, a balcony, and is it cable-ready?

Apartment Hunting


Location can play a huge role in comparing two different apartments. Take note of your priorities. Apartments that are closer to your place of work or your school are obviously more valuable, and that could justify a higher rent or a smaller apartment size.

Renting an apartment in the city versus the countryside can also play a part. Renting an apartment in the city will make you closer to restaurants and business centers, but it also means higher rent. On the other hand, living in the countryside means being closer to green spaces and lower rent, but you might have trouble finding easy public transportation.

Choosing the right apartment location can even affect your daily cost of living. Apartments near grocery stores give you access to fresh and inexpensive food options while living near public transportation or bike paths means lower transportation costs.

Safety & Security

You should think about safety and security in two ways.

First, how safe are the apartments on your list? Do they have updated and working safety features such as deadbolt locks, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide alarms? Do they have quick and easy access to emergency exits? Is the apartment structurally sound and protected from the elements?

Second, consider the neighborhood safety ratings of your apartments. No matter how you cut it, there are neighborhoods that are safer than others. For example, the safest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NYC include Bay Ridge and Park Slope. Two of the safest neighborhoods in San Francisco are Excelsior and Outer Sunset.


Finally, you should consider your lifestyle when comparing different apartments. Choose an apartment that fits best according to the things that you value. If you have a busy work life, an apartment close to your office or public transportation is best. If you love going to dog parks, there will also be apartments that are close to pet-friendly places.

Your lifestyle also refers to the atmosphere that you want to live in. You can choose an apartment that’s in the middle of a business district if you want to live close to a city’s action. On the other hand, if you value your privacy and quiet time, look for apartments that are in neighborhoods with a slower pace of life.

Tips on Making Comparisons

You’re more than likely to find several candidates during your apartment search, especially if you use the guide above. So, how do you use the information you have?

Here are three useful tips that you can use:

Wants vs. Needs

Comparing apartments becomes difficult when all the candidates seem to have great features; how do you really choose? You should be able to differentiate between things that you want and things that you actually need.

There are lots of features that would be nice to have in an apartment, but in the grand scheme of things, are simply luxuries. If you can have them included in your choices, that’s great, but don’t make decisions based on having them around.


Create a clear and uncompromising hierarchy of what you need. Is the distance to work or school the most important, or the amount of monthly rent? Do you need easy access to transportation or do you need a gym in your building more?

Having a clear and solid list of priorities in order makes it easier to answer the hard questions when it comes time to whittle down on your list of possible apartment choices.

List It Down

It might sound simple, but making a written list can actually be a huge help! Even something as simple as a “pros and cons” list for each apartment can help you arrive at a sound decision much easier.

Final Thoughts

When comparing apartments, it can be tempting to choose apartments based on luxuries rather than your needs. After all, many landlords do go out of their way to make apartments as attractive as possible to renters.

However, sticking to clear priorities and standing firm makes it easier to choose the best possible apartment. When in doubt, take a step back, walk away from your list, and focus on something else. Come back later when you’ve taken a breath so that your mind will be clearer.

Hopefully, this guide has made it easier for you to compare apartments!

Ready to take the next step to better credit?