If you’re looking for your first apartment — whether on your own or shared with a roommate — you’re probably eager and excited, daydreaming about the freedom, the parties and even the decorating. While it’s an exciting time, it’s good to be aware of some of the goofs you might make in your first home on your own.
Here are seven common first-time renter mistakes you could make and how to avoid (or correct) them if you do.
1. You’ll Let Your Parents Do All the Talking
“If I’m renting to a younger person, I want to make sure they’re responsible, so they’re not doing themselves any favors by bringing their parents,” said Barry Maher, principal of Barry Maher & Associates, who has owned several rental properties over the years. “If their parents are co-signing the lease, then OK, they have to do that, but I have to see that they are capable of taking care of themselves … and [if] they aren’t depending on Mommy and Daddy, I’m going to feel a lot better about renting to that person.”
2. You’ll Make a Late Payment
If you find yourself in a financial pinch, it’s good to communicate with your landlord. Maher said it’s also better to make a partial payment than no payment at all. Tell your landlord you can’t pay in full, explain the reason why, give them a firm date when the rent will be paid in full and ensure them it won’t happen again. If you do this, there’s a good chance your landlord will work with you and won’t file any negative reports.
“If they’re responsible about it and upfront about it, you do what you can as a landlord to work with them,” Maher said.
In some cases, paying your rent late also can have a negative impact on your credit scores.
Some landlords report rent payment history to the credit bureaus, and the information could wind up on some versions of your credit reports. It’s a good idea to find out if your landlord reports to the major bureaus directly, or if they use one of various third-party services that do it for them.
Some landlords also check specialty renters’ reports compiled by smaller credit bureaus instead of, or along with, your traditional credit reports to see if you have a reported lease history. That means that even if your previous landlord doesn’t report to the major credit bureaus, your payment history could still impact your ability to find another apartment when it comes time to move. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.)
3. You’ll Try to Own a ‘Dog-Cat’
A lot of leases restrict the types and sizes of pets you’re allowed to have, and if you think you’ll get away with having a pet without your landlord finding out, you’re probably wrong, and it could end up costing you money and the trust of your landlord.
Worse yet, if you think you’ll get away with lying about what type of pet you have, you’re not going to do yourself any favors.
At one of Maher’s apartment complexes, for instance, the lease allowed for indoor cats but no dogs. But that didn’t stop one tenant from trying to pull a fast one.
“She called me up one day and said, ‘Well, I got a cat, uh … but it’s a little bit different. It’s a cross-breed. It’s a ‘dog-cat,'” Maher said. “This is a 19-year-old young woman who hadn’t taken biology, I guess, so she had this ‘dog-cat,’ and it was such an outrageous lie, that I actually stopped and thought for a moment, ‘Is there such a thing as a ‘dog-cat’? … That didn’t win any trust points for her, and the situation went downhill pretty rapidly from there.”
4. You’ll Overspend on Decorating
It can be easy to get carried away with your credit cards and assume that you’ll be able to pay them off quickly thanks to the money you’re getting from your new job. Sadly, this is how many recent college graduates find themselves trapped in a cycle of debt. Instead, consider seizing this opportunity to begin a lifetime habit of never charging anything you can’t afford to pay. By paying each month’s statement balance in full, you’ll avoid interest charges and problems with credit card debt.
5. You’ll Apply for Credit at the Wrong Time
When you give permission for a landlord to request a copy of your credit report, you’ve initiated a credit inquiry. This type of credit inquiry is considered a hard inquiry, which does affect your credit score.
Because of that, applying for a credit card or two right after you sign your lease might not be the best idea. A typical inquiry can be expected to drop your score by only about 5 points, but that adds up when you’re signing a new lease, opening a new furniture store credit card, applying for a new general-use credit card, taking out a new auto loan, etc. You want to keep your hard inquiries spread out a bit more, or you could risk being denied a line of credit.
That said, there are other types of inquiries into your credit report — such as a credit card company checking your credit before sending you a pre-approved credit card offer — that do not affect your credit score. These types of inquiries are referred to as soft inquiries and include a consumer’s own request for copies of her credit reports.
6. You’ll Cause Damage to the Apartment
If you cause damage to your apartment (and you probably will, so just accept that it will happen), it’s a good idea to let your landlord know as soon as possible or get the damage repaired (correctly – your landlord is going to notice a shoddy patch job if you put a hole in the wall) yourself.
Also, when you move in, be sure you get a checklist from your landlord and do a walk-through of your apartment, noting all existing damages prior to your move-in. Take pictures or video as well to document that these issues existed prior to your arrival. Optimally, you’ll want the landlord to repair these issues, but documenting them when you move in can save you from being charged for them when you move out.
Before you leave, ask the landlord to be present for a final walk-through and get a signed copy of a list of needed repairs, if any. Again, photos and/or video are a good idea here.
7. You’ll Choose the Wrong Roommate
“The roommate situation is really tough,” Maher said. “I’ve had great tenants who had great roommates, but for whatever reason the roommate left and they’ve got to find someone else, and do it pretty quickly. So they get somebody else in there who isn’t so great.”
It’s important to remember that you are responsible for paying the rent in full every month, whether your roommate has his or her share or not, so make sure whoever you choose is financially responsible and can make the rent payments (and utility payments, for that matter) on time.
More on Mortgages & Homebuying:
- Why You Should Check Your Credit Before Buying a Home
- How to Find & Choose a Mortgage Lender
- How to Refinance Your Home Loan With Bad Credit