When you walk into your dream apartment it's easy to sign the lease right away without thinking it through. However, diving head first into a long-term commitment can be hazardous, especially if you haven't taken the time to figure out all the specifics of your living situation. Do you know the location of the nearest grocery store? Are there certain times when you won't be able to get hot water in the shower? How much does the heating bill average during the winter months? These are all the types of questions you should be asking before signing a lease. Here are five things to do before committing to an apartment:

1. Inspect the property 
Make sure not only to closely inspect your apartment unit, but also to take a look around the entire property as well. Do the doors in and out of the building lock properly? Is there staff on hand to provide security and maintenance? If you don't have a washer and dryer in your unit, are the facilities clean and in working order? Is the parking lot overloaded with cars? Don't assume just because your apartment is in good condition that everything else is as well. Take the time to get to know the property.

2. Confirm costs 
Inquire about financial matters such as average bill costs, pet fees, parking passes and other price points. While the rent may seem affordable, your other expenses may make it harder to manage. This can be especially true if none of the utilities are included. Gas, electric, water, rubbish, cable and Internet bills can all add up and break the bank. Discuss all of these costs in advance with your landlord and make sure that the specifics are included in the lease. 

3. Read the lease thoroughly 
Though reading through a lease can be bit dry, it's important to know all of the specifics in case there is a dispute. Furthermore, if you violate your lease, there's no way of really claiming you were unaware of the rules if they're listed on there clearly. This is also important in case the landlord or management company breaks the terms of the lease, as that gives you some legal ground. Moreover, if you need to break your lease, you'll have a better understanding of what the overall cost will be.

4. Map out your commutes 
Even if the apartment is perfect, you may forget all about it when you're making an hour long commute to school or work. Make sure to scout out the location of important places such as the grocery store, your workplace, gym facilities and other points of interest. If you're moving into a large city, consider what means of public transportation is nearby. This is especially important if you don't have a car, and you'll want to consider the amount of time it will take you to get places by bus or train. 

5. Read the reviews 
If available, make sure to read what other people have said about your living facilities. This will help to ensure you lease from a reputable management company or a good landlord. Reading the reviews is also important in learning details that may otherwise be undisclosed, such as if there have been break-ins, pest problems or other issues. Who better to learn about an apartment from than those who have leased the space in the past? However, remember to take reviews with a grain of salt, considering many people online are prone to posting complaints. 

If you're about to leave home and lease your first apartment, you should be doing a lot of research before diving into a new living situation. It's important to ask the tough questions so you can find the apartment that fits your needs, budget and lifestyle. Remember that once you've signed a lease, you're pretty much stuck with it, so take your time and give yourself options. Here are three tips for helping you find the right first apartment:

1. Pay attention to the details 
When you view a nice living space, it's easy to fall in love at first sight. However, an apartment may not actually be as great as it seems upon first glance. If possible, check the light fixtures and water pressure to ensure that everything is in working order. Ask questions about the appliances such as dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines. Make a quick phone call or send a text to make sure you have adequate cellphone service. It's also a good idea to check that the windows open and close properly, especially if you live in seasonal climate. Take note of the building facilities as well. 

2. Take pictures before moving in 
It's best practice to take pictures of every inch of your apartment before moving in, plain and simple. Make sure to get detailed images of any issues that is already present when you move in. Otherwise, some landlords may try to charge you for the damage when you move out. These pictures will also give you a point of reference for when you are moving out so that you can leave the apartment in the condition it was rented to you. In case of a dispute, you'll have picture evidence to back up your claims. 

3. Budget for extras 
Don't throw the entirety of your budget into rent. When viewing an apartment, make sure to take note of what utilities are included. If you live in a cold basement apartment and have a heating bill, those chilly winter months could prove rather costly. Some apartment complexes include utilities in the rent payment, which often drives up the price overall. However, create a budget to compare the two systems and you may find that you are actually saving money if you don't have to pay monthly utilities. Consider other costs such as parking spaces, pet fees and laundry as well.