While nearly every family dreams of owning their own home, this is not usually a practical goal in the early years of marriage and childrearing. Tight budgets limit housing options. So many small families opt to rent apartments rather than getting a house.

However, who says an apartment has to feel like you're getting less than what you wanted? This article will help you to choose an apartment, step by step, that will still feel like home.

1. Find the most widely-used and reliable method for advertising apartments

By perusing the most commonly used resource, you decrease your chances of missing out on some great apartments or getting overwhelmed and disorganized. Start by consulting your friends and family who have lived in the vicinity. They will have a better sense of the widely-used advertising venues. These might include newspapers, online resources, or the apartment listing magazines available at the grocery store. Otherwise, you'll have to think through what the market is like. My city, for example, is a college town. Therefore, it has a great apartment hunting website set up by the student newspaper.

2. Figure out your priorities

Take a look at your lifestyle. Then, figure out what you wouldn't want to change. What doesn't really matter to you? What would you really like to have? Maybe you love the location of your current place, you have a pool but never use it, or you would like less of your paycheck going toward rent. Knowing your priorities will help you make your decision. I, for one, knew that if I had to drag laundry for two people over to a laundromat every week, we were going to go naked. Needless to say, an in-unit washer and dryer was a must.

3. Make a list of the apartments that meet your criteria

Once you are armed with a list of apartments and a list of priorities, your job is to find the ones that match. Keep yourself from going crazy by creating a chart. I listed apartment names, phone numbers and addresses, as well as notes on how they fit with our priorities. Apartments that were out of our price range were left off the list entirely, as were places that were outside of a certain radius of my husband's job. If one of your priorities is flexible, include apartments that do and don't meet those criteria. You may be surprised how easily you give up square footage when you find out the nearest daycare center has great reviews.

4. Start touring apartments

No matter how good the pictures are on an apartment complex website, nothing compares to seeing it in person. Schedule apartment tours by calling ahead. When you go, bring your chart with you and take notes. I was grateful I did since I inevitably wanted to add things like "the second bedroom closet is way too small." You'll never know details like that without going to look at the apartment with your own eyes.

If you're daunted by the length of your list, you can make your criteria more restrictive. For example, you don't have to look at 30 apartments if insisting on a 2-bedroom apartment will narrow it down to a more manageable list.

5. Consult your spouse periodically as you do your research

Keeping your spouse in the loop reinforces the idea that this is a home you will share. Even if you end up doing all the legwork, your spouse will appreciate that you solicit his or her opinion. This decision will affect your spouse just as much as it will affect you, after all. Furthermore, your spouse may have thought of something that you haven't, or can remind you of a major factor that has slipped your mind. My husband, for example, pointed out that although one apartment had cheaper rent, another apartment had all utilities included. That perk would more than make up for the difference in monthly rent. I never would have thought about that without an open, informative conversation with my sweetheart.

6. Be practical, but trust your instincts

When my husband and I chose our very first apartment together, we settled on the most expensive one on our list as well as the farthest away from his job. We knew our choice was impractical, but I felt strongly that I wanted to live there. My husband was willing to go along with my gut feeling. Eight months later, we love our little home for the newness of the buildings, the kind management team, and our awesome neighbors. Another apartment wouldn't have allowed us to come in contact with the people that we did, so despite the slight inconvenience, we wouldn't have it any other way.

If you can't shake the feeling that you should look for a place with an extra bedroom, or somewhere within walking distance of a library, take your intuition seriously. You may find out down the road that it's something you couldn't live without.

Once you've taken everything into account - your feasible options, priorities, your spouse's opinion, and your gut instinct - you're ready to make a decision. Congratulations! Now go sign the apartment lease, and get ready to enjoy your new home.

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