1. Budget Bear in mind the monthly rent won't be your only expense. You'll have to account for other expenses such as utilities, renter's insurance, furnishings, and miscellaneous items like curtains. This helpful calculator can give you a general estimate of what you can afford, but every situation is different. When reviewing your lease, take note of fines and fees. If they are high, and you have any concerns you might not be able to afford rent, be very cautious about getting in too deep.
2. Read Your Lease Thoroughly This may seem obvious, but too many people excited to move into their rental put ink to paper without the proper attention to detail. Ideally, the landlord or Realtor will will review the lease in detail with you to make sure everybody is on the same page. Regardless, you should be sure to read through everything at least once to make sure there are no surprises or expectations you cannot or don't want to meet.
3. Get Renter's Insurance Even if your landlord doesn't require it, I highly recommend you sign up for a renter's insurance policy. Not only does it protect your valuables and you and your guests from liability, but often, when bundled with car or other insurance policies, it will be cheap or even free after discounts. Renter's insurance is one of those things you hope you'll never need, but if you do it's a life saver.
4. Plan Your Move
Speak to the landlord about move-in options. Some will allow you to start moving in early if a rental is vacant - a way to lower the stress of your move with a simple question. When do you do an initial inspection? How and when do you convert utilities? Are you meeting at an office first or will you meet directly at the rental? Is there any information or payments required to move in, for example, proof of insurance.
Enlist help from friends to make moving day easier, but make sure you're packed and prepared when help arrives. The last thing people sacrificing their day to help you move want is to watch you pack.
5. Do Your Own Inspection Sometimes the excitement and stress of moving can leave you holding the bag on issues with your rental you didn't notice at your showing or note at the initial inspection. Take lots of pictures when you move in of things as small as paint on a window pane or stain in a tub. Even if you don't want the landlord to address an issue, it's important to document it in writing and photo to ensure you won't be charged for damage you didn't cause. You could be doing your final inspection with a different owner or Realtor, so having proof of what the place looked like at move-in is essential. Send a detailed list of all pre-existing problems to your landlord within 24 hours of moving in. Make sure to notify the landlord immediately if problems come up in the first few weeks. Seemingly minimal issues such as slow drains, dripping faucets, noisy neighbors, etc. could become urgent issues down the road.
I hope this provided some useful information for your first lease signing. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions for my Renting 101 pages. Thanks for reading!