Sooner or later most renters are bound to ask themselves: Shouldn’t I stop throwing my money away on rent for my apartment and see if I can buy one instead? Good question. Owning property can make a whole lot of sense, financially and otherwise. Still, the nuts and bolts of how to buy an apartment may seem daunting at first. Never fear—just check out these steps to get started.

Check where you stand in the rent vs. own equation

First things first: Whether buying or renting is cheaper depends on market conditions where you live—and how long you will stay there. One way to crunch all these numbers at once is with our rent vs. buy calculator, where you can enter your ZIP code or town and/or how much you’d anticipate paying to own or rent in your area.

Let’s say, for instance, that you pay $1,000 to rent, but buying an apartment will cost $200,000. Upfront, of course, buying will seem pricier, because you’ll have to cough up as much as $48,000 for a down payment and closing costs. But as long as you stay put for at least five years, the balance tips, making buying the cheaper option.

The reason: After five years, you’ve built equity in your home rather than tossing your money away on rent. So be sure to compare costs in your area and see what makes sense for you.

Figure out how much apartment you can afford

Another calculation you need to make is how much you can afford to pay for an apartment. Check out our home affordability calculator, where you can plug in your income, debts, and down payment savings.

Let’s say, for instance, that you have an annual income of $70,000, pay $250 a month to credit cards and other debts, and have $40,000 saved toward a down payment. That means you could afford an apartment worth about $263,000, for which you’d pay $1,575 per month. Knowing these numbers is important, because they will help you narrow your apartment hunt to your desired price range.

Educate yourself on co-ops vs. condos

If you’re looking to buy an apartment, you might likely encounter both condos and co-ops. So what’s the difference?

“A condo is similar to buying a home where you are actually getting the deed to the unit, and generally if you ever want to rent your unit out, you will be able to without any stipulations except, of course, that the new tenant must qualify through the condo board,” says real estate agent Lila Nejad of Douglas Elliman.

“A co-op is buying a share in a building, where you own the unit, but there are more board requirements to qualify for purchase and non-U.S. citizens are far less likely to get into most of these buildings. The subletting policies are also generally much stricter, often with limitations of only two years, or no third-party renting at all.”

Decide on your must-haves

When starting the hunt for your dream apartment, it’s important to narrow the playing field, so to speak.

“While we all want great space, closets, and a premier location, I always ask my first-time buyers what they love about where they currently live and what their top three must-haves are for a new apartment,” says real estate agent Elena Sarkissian of Douglas Elliman. “For example, double vanities in the master bath, floor-to-ceiling windows, higher ceilings, a washer/dryer, or morning light could be essential to some buyers.”

This is also the time to think about where you’d ideally like to live (i.e., what part of the city fits your lifestyle) and how far you’re willing to commute to work. The more specific you can be upfront, the easier it will be to isolate potential listings.

Find the right real estate agent

Buying a home is hard, but buying an apartment might be even harder. The competition is tough in densely populated areas where apartment dwellers congregate, so it’s more important than ever to have a trusted buyer’s agent fighting by your side.

“An apartment buyer today needs to have a real estate agent who has the market savvy and experience to advocate for the buyer and properly position him or her in these multiple-bid scenarios we are experiencing today,” says Sarkissian.

Not only can a knowledgeable agent help you find the right apartment, but she can also position you to lock down the deal and guide you through the process. A good agent will also know the right questions to ask, like about the building’s pet and subletting policy, so you aren’t blindsided later. So, don’t just take the first agent that comes along; contact a few and ask them questions (like how long they’ve been in business and what neighborhoods they specialize in) to know whether they’re the right agent to guide you through this tricky process.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a writer who lives in a tiny apartment in New York City, where she loves decorating and dreaming about gorgeous dwellings.

When you are ready to buy a home, give me a call and let’s find out what are the features and amenities which makes you feel giggling inside. Call me at 714-698-9655 or email Noemic@Sevengables.com