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Looking to rent? Follow these 4 simple steps to find a cheap apartment in a nice neighborhood

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Apartment hunting on a budget can be a nightmare if you're forced to make compromise after compromise to avoid breaking the bank. But many apartment seekers don't realize that by taking the right measures, you may still be able to find a great apartment in your dream neighborhood without going over your budget. Here's a quick guide to help you through the process.

Set a budget

Deciding on a budget should be your first step toward finding your dream apartment because it will help focus your search. Of course, your budget should depend primarily on what you earn.
"I recommend not spending more than 25 to 30 percent of your income on rent," says Steve Berkowitz, CEO of Move Inc., which operates Realtor.com.

Regardless of how expensive the rent is, also be sure to include other factors in your budget, such as the cost of living and commuting prices.

Prioritize

Depending on your budget, you may need to make some compromises when it comes to choosing the ideal location. However, you shouldn't have to compromise on the most important aspects of your new neighborhood. That's why Berkowitz recommends creating a list of "must haves" and "wants," to help you sift through your desired locales.

Make sure to find a rental in your price range that has all of the 'must haves' and some of the 'wants' that doesn't require you to spend more than 30 percent of your income," he says.

Choosing the right area

Once your budget and priorities have been set, you should have a clear picture of the locations you can afford. But affordability isn't everything - it's also important to choose an area that suits your tastes and needs. According to Berkowitz, after price, the most important factor when choosing a location should be how long you are willing to commute to work, as well as local amenities like parks, restaurants and shops.

"When looking at properties, make sure to pay attention to the traffic and atmosphere in the neighborhood," he says. "Some things to keep your eyes open for are nearby train tracks, hospitals and fire stations, as all of these can bring a lot of noise at all hours of the day."

Starting your search

Once you've narrowed your search down to a few specific areas, you can begin your bargain hunt. Unfortunately, cheap rentals are often rare, so both patience and vigilance will be critical to success.

When it comes to apartment hunting, an aggressive strategy can make all the difference, according to Boston-based real estate agent and founder of RentPrefs, Matthew Boyes-Watson. Bargain apartments can get snapped up quickly, so it's important to check Internet listings and classifieds at least twice a day, he says.

"Call, email, and then call again. If you're working with a realtor, being pushy will get you far. If you're dealing with a landlord you can't be too aggressive, but certainly be present," he says. "Take the first available showing. You want to be the first in, as those under-market gems are usually a one show deal."

You might consider creating a spreadsheet detailing the prices and amenities of listed apartments in your desired areas, to help give you a sense of the price you should be aiming for. If you spot an apartment that's slightly over your budget, consider seeing it anyway, as you may be able to negotiate a better price in person.

"If the landlord is in a pinch, they are facing a vacancy, or they are leaving town, you have some ability to negotiate," Boyes-Watson says. Similarly, a stable job and excellent references might ultimately encourage the landlord to sweeten the deal.