Apartment hunting can be a long and involved process if you don’t know what you should be looking for. There’s nothing worse than spending weeks of looking at crappy rentals, only to find your dream apartment and realize that it’s way outside of your price range. However, conducting an apartment search doesn’t have to be a futile endeavor. Use this renter checklist to make sure you take an approach that will result in finding the perfect apartment for your price range.

1. Create a List of Must-Haves

Before you even begin trolling Rent.com in your quest to find an apartment, it’s important to create a list of your must-haves. This can narrow down your search process considerably, as you won’t even need to bother looking at apartments that don’t contain the items on your list. What “must-have” means will vary from person to person, so determine what apartment amenities are most important to you.

2. Construct a Budget

Prior to starting your apartment search, you will also need to construct a budget. The general rule of thumb is that your rent should amount to no more than 30 percent of your income. Keep in mind that you might have to give up some things on your must-have list if it becomes obvious that these amenities are only available in apartments out of your price range.

3. Check Rent.com

Now that you are armed with your budget and checklist, it’s time to find potential apartments on Rent.com and make appointments to view them. Don’t forget that Rent.com verifies all apartment listings!

4. Tour Apartments

As you visit each apartment, be sure to check them thoroughly–opening cupboards, turning on faucets, and looking for signs of wear and tear. Come prepared with a list of questions for the landlord, such as whether pets are allowed and which utilities you would be responsible for. You may also want to talk to the neighbors before signing the lease to get a better idea of what it’s like to live in the building.

5. Read the Lease Before You Sign

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to read an apartment lease before you sign it. If you have a problem with anything that you find in the lease, the time to negotiate with your landlord is before you sign it, not after you’ve moved in.