2018 is an exciting time to be moving. Housing markets across the country are booming and home-finder sites like Padmapper are ablaze with the prospect of the perfect rental. But leasing an apartment is no simple task; whether you’re a seasoned lease or new to the world of renting, here are 12 things to consider before crossing your t’s on dotting your i’s on your new digs.
1. Research the area where you want to rent.
Do your homework on your ‘hood. Obvious considerations include the location of the nearest grocery store and proximity to parking and public transportation. But you may want to investigate things like crime, or the growth rate of the neighborhood. If housing prices have gone up significantly in the last year, it’s a good indication that you could be looking at a hefty rent hike when it’s time to renew your lease.
2. Make a wish list.
Whether you’re moving in with a partner, an old college roommate or going solo, it’s important to think about what you consider –– well, important –– in your rental hunt. Your previously short commute might be a worthy sacrifice for a recently remodeled unit with two bathrooms. Or, you might not care about wall-to-wall carpeting as long as your walk-up is on the same block as a Chipotle. Regardless of your priorities, sitting down and drafting a wish list will help you make the right housing choice when push comes to shove.
3. Have the money talk.
If you are moving in with your significant other, it’s probably time to have the much-feared money talk. Getting on the same page regarding your finances is an essential step you should take before moving-in together. No matter how uncomfortable it might make you both, it’s a momentary inconvenience that could save you a ton of stress –– and potentially, your relationship.
4. Check the appliances.
When searching for a place to live, it’s easy to get caught up in the oohs and aahs of every prospective home, but approaching each viewing like a formal inspection could prevent you from making a bad housing decision. Be thorough as you check the condition of the windows, walls, and especially the appliances. And unless you want to spend the next year of your life dreading your morning shower, make sure to test the water pressure.
5. Find out how much you’ll have to pay upfront.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for what a landlord can charge you along with first month’s rent. While many rental agreements will require a security deposit (which will typically be returned to you at the end of the rental term), some will ask for a non-refundable fee. This fee might go towards preparing the unit for a new tenant (you) or paying the broker. Regardless, don’t make assumptions about what you might owe.
6. Check what’s included in the lease.
Make sure you know exactly what’s included in the rental fee before signing a lease. Low rent means nothing if the parking and utility fees will put you over budget every month, or worse, deplete your emergency funds.
7. Ask if you can decorate.
Make sure you and your landlord are on the same page when it comes to the meaning of the word, “decorate.” For some managers, painting walls is totally fine; for others, a tiny nail hole is cause for major concern. If you have grand ambitions of installing a tile back splash, it’s important to discuss your expectations before you sign.
8. Talk about pets early.
Whether you’re a current pet owner or the arrival of a fur-child is imminent, you need to discuss it with your landlord before your sign a lease. Most rental agreements have specific clauses related to pets, either prohibiting animals completely or requiring an additional fee. In those rare cases where pets aren’t mentioned in the lease, bring it up before making assumptions. Housing pets without a prearranged agreement could lead to an eviction.
9. Discuss who’s responsible when something needs to repaired.
As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But if it is broke, don’t hire a handyman if you don’t have to: make sure you clarify who is responsible for necessary repairs when something breaks, or routine replacements for things like light bulbs. Ambiguity is never the best policy when it comes to rental agreements.
10. Find out what the penalty is for breaking the lease.
Even if you’ve found your perfect apartment, break-ups, job opportunities and a myriad of other unforeseen circumstances could precede the sudden need to move out. Arm yourself with information and find out what your building management’s policy is subletting your place and how much they’ll charge you to break your lease if need be.
11. Read the fine print.
The best way to protect yourself from stress during the rental process is to be your own advocate. Know your state-specific rights as a renter, read the fine print on your lease, and negotiate terms you’re not happy with on the spot. Don’t give yourself any reason to say, “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
12 .Consider a cosigner.
If your credit score has taken a hit due to the burden of student loans, credit card debt or a recent identity theft, a cosigner can help you get past the rental-application gatekeepers. A cosigner helps the landlord feel secure that rent will be paid even if you don’t make a ton of money. Should you not meet the minimum lease requirements, consider asking a parent to cosign your lease.
If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.
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