The home study is done before the adoption to evaluate your ability to parent. What exactly has to be covered in the home study varies by state, and can even vary by county. If you are adopting internationally, most sending countries also specify items they want addressed in the home study. For example, some states have specific bedroom size requirements for the child, some countries require that you own your home, some counties require that you have your well water tested for EPA drinking water standards, etc.
Regardless of what state you live in, the social worker will evaluate your living situation. If where you are living is unsafe for a child, then you would probably have to move before the home study because the social worker would have no way to make sure that you will move to a safer place before your child is born or referred. However, if your apartment is just small and not your ideal but isn’t unsafe or totally inappropriate for a baby, then you do not need to move before the home study, unless, of course, your state or sending country has a specific requirement that your current apartment doesn’t meet. You should tell the social worker that you are planning to move to a bigger place in the same neighborhood, but he or she will be evaluating your current residence for the home study. Also keep in mind that you do not need to have the child’s bedroom or nursery ready before the home study.
Being a renter is seldom a problem for state or county home study requirements, but when adopting from a different country, some will specify that adoptive families own their home. I list these requirements in the country adoption charts at CreatingaFamily.com. Before you panic, check with your agency to see if there is a way around this requirement. I have heard of countries waiving this requirement if the adoptive parents have a letter from their parents saying that they will inherit the “family house.”
The biggest mistake people make in anticipation of the home study is focusing on the evaluating aspect. Ideally, a home study is as much about educating you and answering your questions as it is about judging your worthiness to adopt. Remember, they aren’t looking for perfection. If they were, I would never have been allowed to adopt.