Eleven Things First Time Renters Should Do
So you’re leaving the dorms (or your parent’s house) and heading out on your own. Congratulations! Here are some tips to help you navigate apartment hunting and utilities. Do keep in mind that your particular rent situation will vary based on what you’re renting (house, apartment, room, duplex…) and where you’re renting it.
1. Know What You Want
There are a lot of factors that go into finding the perfect rental. Location, size, cost and amenities are only the beginning. Make a list (together with your roommates, if applicable) of your ideal place, then rearrange it in order of priority. You can then use this list as a reference when checking places out online or in person. You should also note non-negotiable things that you need (e.g. wheelchair accessible, full kitchen) and cannot live with (noisy neighbors, high crime rate). This form can help you keep track of potential rentals and all of their details.
2. Learn About the Landlord
Renting has several perks over buying. Foremost among these is that you don’t have to deal with building-related tragedies like the roof falling in. However, it’s important to be able to trust the guy who does deal with those issues. You want a landlord who is accessible, honest and fair, so talk to the neighbors and watch for red flags when getting in touch with them.
3. Learn About the Neighborhood
Check crime ratings and sex offender registration, take a walk in the evening and observe whether local places are well-maintained or neglected. Similarly, look for laundromats, public transportation, restaurants, libraries, bars and other places that you frequent.
4. Read the Lease
A big mistake that many first-time renters make is signing the lease without reading it. Your lease is like a FAQ about the rental process: it details noise policies, rules about pets, rent and fees and any other things you’d like to know. You can also ask to amend your lease (before you sign it, of course!).
5. Research Utilities & Insurance
The monthly rent price isn’t the same as the total monthly cost of living in a rental. A call to the city or municipal utilities provider will give you an idea of the historic trash, water, sewage, electric and gas costs. A Google search should reveal local Internet, phone and television options, and a simple Internet form will get you rental insurance quotes. While you can choose to forego some services (who has a landline, anyway?), others (like rental insurance) are required or highly recommended. This article can help you to estimate your monthly costs.
6. Check Upfront Costs
You may not have a down payment, but being informed about security deposits, first/last month’s rent, utility installation fees and anything else you’ll have to pay right away can seriously affect how affordable a place is.
7. Know About Pets, Kids and Visitors
While the landlord’s specific policies should be explicit in the lease, asking about specific details that are pertinent to you—such as what pets are allowed or at what point overnight visitors are considered occupants—is better done at the beginning of a rental relationship rather than finding out via fines later.
8. Have Good Credit/A Paycheck/Cash
Most rental applications are going to ask about your income and rental history and perform background, reference and credit checks. If you’ve had a full-time job for a while, are financially responsible and have rented before, you don’t really have to worry about this. But if you’re renting for the first time, don’t have a job, have a criminal or poor financial history or don’t have any references, you’ll need something to get the landlord’s attention and persuade them to consider renting to you.
The single most effective thing you can do is offer to pay cash in full up front. If that’s not possible, a cosigner or killer references can help you stand out from other applicants.
9. Count Furniture & Moving Costs
Another up-front cost to consider is that of moving supplies (boxes, tape, takeout food, a U-Haul) and of the furniture you’ll need or want right away in your new place (couch, washer & dryer, lawn mower, microwave, shower curtain). Many of these costs—especially the furniture costs—can wait a while, but it’s good to know what you’ll need to spend and how much cash you have to make for your new place feel like home.
10.Don’t Lie to the Landlord
Consider this situation: you have a secret Chihuahua. Your lease forbids animals, but because your dog is so small and you never got caught in the residence halls, you’re pretty sure you can pull the shade over your landlord’s eyes for a one-year lease.
This is a bad move. If your landlord finds out you broke the lease, at best he’s irritated and gives you a fine and/or a bad reference to your next landlord. At worst, you’re evicted for breaking the lease. Leases can be amended before they are signed, so the best course of action is always to discuss hang ups openly and honestly before they become major issues.
11.Hold Your Roommates Accountable
One way to defray the cost of moving out on your own is to have roommates or housemates. The people you choose are (ideally) your friends or people you find to be trustworthy. That being said, you are all entering into a legally-binding, major financial commitment and should have records and measures to back that up.
If you’re splitting the responsibility and the cost equally, make sure that everyone signs the landlord’s lease and is considered equal. If some are subletting from others or there is inequality in the relationship, you should have a legally binding document that outlines exactly what that is. These customizable subletting contracts and room rental agreements are a good place to start.
Renting is a far smaller commitment than buying, but still requires attention to detail in order to find the perfect place to live.