Doing Your Homework Before You Rent Or Lease A New Home

Before You Rent

Doing Your Homework Before You Rent Or Lease A New Home

1
DUE DILLIGENCE BEFORE RENTING

As you set out into the world, looking for a new place to live, you will be tempted to just start viewing properties. You may find yourself looking at properties that have beautiful features located in just the right area. The problem is that the properties you may be looking at are unlikely to have the features that you need.

There is a big difference between needing and wanting when it comes to shopping for apartments or homes to rent. Before you dive into the market to check out what is available, take the time to process what you need first. This eBook will provide you with a look at what it takes to rent an apartment, condo or home from start to finish. Do not skip the all-important step of knowing what you need versus what you want.

SIZE AND LOCATION

The first two things to take into consideration when selecting an apartment or a house to rent, is the size of it and the location. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many bedrooms do you need?
  • Is it important to have an extra room for guests?
  • Do you want an eat in kitchen or a dining room?
  • How many bathrooms should the home have?
  • Is there a need for a property that has an area for children to play?
  • Do you need an area for pets?
  • What other size requirements do you have?
  • What about parking needs, does the property offer enough, secure parking for your needs?

It is important to distinguish between needs and wants here. Specifically, to need to ensure the property is big enough for your particular needs but not so big that it blows your budget out of the water. In most areas, size is directly related to cost.

The location of the property is also important. Most people realize that they would like to live in a specific area. Others are hoping to find a location that fits their needs.

If you are unfamiliar with an area, before renting a property there, ask your agent (if you are using one) to drive around the location. You can learn information about the city’s safety levels, accommodations, and even which businesses are located within it by simply looking at the city’s Chamber of Commerce website. If they do not have one, stop by the office to ask questions, pick up a map and to learn more.

Even if you are familiar with the area, there are a few things to keep in mind about it before you rent.

  1. Does the location allow a quick commute to and from work? If not, factor this into higher gas costs as well as more time spent driving back and forth.
  2. Does the location have easy to access to highways or freeways?
  3. Does the area offer the shops, grocery stores and restaurants you need to have close enough to you?
  4. More so, are you located so close to the busiest area of the city that you have to deal with loud noise and traffic?
  5. Is the location in an area that you like? Being happy where you are living is an important aspect of finding the right place to live.

Location and property size is important. As you can tell, there are details in both areas that could be called desires rather than needs. Finding a balance is important. The key is to know your budget before shopping.

UNCOVERING YOUR BUDGET

How much money do you have to spend every month on your rented house or apartment? This is more than just selecting a property that you like. It is also to look for one that you can afford. But, how much can you afford?

Before you even start looking at properties too closely, it is important to look at the numbers. Consider your current income and expenses to determine what amount of money you can put into an apartment.

Take a look at the following questions. Tally up the costs you are likely to have in your apartment or house. This can help you to determine the amount of money you can spend on the property you end up renting.

  1. Tally up your income. List all sources of income that will be put towards paying any expenses related to the property.
  1. Determine your non-housing related expenses. This includes paying credit card bills, personal loans, and car loans. Any expenses you are currently paying that will carry over should be included here.
  1. Consider common utility costs. If you are unsure of any of these costs, speak with someone who is renting a similar sized property in your area or you can later ask the landlord about the estimated costs of these.
  1. Electric costs
  2. Gas costs
  3. Cable and Internet, if you play to get
  4. Phone service
  5. Service costs such as refuse and sewers
  6. Other utility costs 
  7. Taxes associated with the property, if any
  1. Determine costs that are not constant each month. To get an estimate here, be sure you consider your current spending and the goals you may have.
  1. Food costs
  2. Fuel costs for vehicles
  3. Entertainment money
  4. Funds you are putting into savings
  5. Money used for clothing or other purchases
  1. Factor in costs associated with setting up the property such as the cost of furniture and appliances you may need.

Now that you have these details, subtract all of your costs associated with expenses for renting and maintaining the property from the total income you have. This provides you with a budget for shopping for a property to rent. Keep in mind that you may need to adjust these numbers somewhat later on, both up and down, as costs change and you get a more realistic view of the costs. You may not want to cut it too close.

FACTORING IN DESIRES

Now that you have some idea of what types of properties you need in terms of size and location, and you know what your budget is, the next step is to determine the actual desires you have for the property. There is no limit here; except for your budget and what is available. 

Most people may wish to hold off on looking at additions that could be beneficial to you simple because they are unsure of what the market actually offers. In either case, ask yourself a few more questions before making the decision to invest.

  1. Do you need specific types of appliances, such as a gas or an electric oven/stove?
  2. Are you looking for a property that features a large living space?
  3. Do you need a backyard?
  4. Are you looking for a property that is on a specific floor or has a specific view?
  5. Do you want a property that has a specific layout?

Again, these are just the extras that would be nice to have. You can let your agent know about these if you would like to. But it is very important that you keep a realistic eye on what is actually available within your budget range first.

With all of this information in hand, you can start to look for a property that suits your needs and desires. Before you jump in, take the time to at least work out the details listed above. This will help you to find the right property, within your budget.

2
FINDING YOUR NEW HOME

Now that you have a good idea of what you are looking for, it is time to start the looking process. 

Where should you look to find homes or apartments that meet your particular needs? Before you can make a decision about this process, you do need to take into consideration just a few more things.

One of the most important things you can do is to understand how property owners work. In some situations, such as large complexes, there are numerous apartments available for rent at any one time. This may mean that you can find several available units in the same building (be sure to ask if the unit they are showing you is the only one they have open!)

These larger complexes often advertise heavily. Keep in mind that the more property they have filled, and rented, the higher their returns are. Often, these companies use what is called a property management system. This company will manage the property owner’s investment, keeping as many of the units filled as possible. So, where do these larger companies list the units they have available?

  • Look for the apartment complex’s website where they may provide you with a list of available units to browse through online.
  • Check out the local ads for apartments. For example, many of these companies are part of a larger group or will buy advertising booklets with other units. You can often find these available through the local Chamber of Commerce or your city hall.
  • They may take out larger ads online, too.
  • Many work through advertising agencies, especially if the complex is part of a larger company. Several apartment complexes may be linked together, for example.

What about the smaller landlord? These properties may be just as valuable for the individual looking for a place to live too. They may be owners who are working as landlords or they may be properties owned by one person and managed by a property manager. These smaller organizations still need to advertise to get the word out that they have units available. They often do not have the high budget that other, larger companies, have, though.

They may advertise:

  • In local newspapers (local and regional)
  • They may have a website, but they likely use some forms of online advertising
  • They may use word of mouth advertising, such as in churches, libraries and in other local publications

As you consider which property is the right one for you, keep an eye on both of these options. Landlords of smaller companies, and those property managers of larger companies are both well worth investigating. You may find more for less with one company than you would with another.

ONLINE METHODS

Most people are happy to start doing some research online for the house or apartment they plan to purchase. This is an excellent place to start since it allows you not only to see what is available, but also to know what the price ranges are. You can learn what to expect for your investment in this way.

There are a number of websites you can use to help you to find properties that are available. It is always best to start out with the organization’s website if possible. For example, if you are hoping to move into a specific condo complex, then use their website to learn about condos available for rent there. This is the simplest, most straightforward method of getting more information.

Then, there are third party websites you can use to track down more information on the units available in your area. These usually require the apartment or home owner to pay a fee to list their property online. They do not cost you anything to use, though. There is rarely a reason to pay a fee to look at an available house or apartment to rent!

Check out the following websites:

  • Apartment Guide: http://www.apartmentguide.com/ Is a fantastic resource for those who are looking for a property to rent. It offers nationwide help for those looking for properties. One of the best features is its search criteria. You can specify just what you are looking for and it will find properties in the area you select that match what you are looking for.
  • Apartment.com: http://www.apartments.com/ This website is very similar to Apartment Guide in its structure. This does not mean that both websites will have the same properties for rent. This too is a countrywide tool to use for locating both apartments and homes for rent.
  • Rentals.com: http://www.rentals.com/ Yet another website you can use to track down property for rent. Those looking for homes, condos and other properties aside from just traditional apartments will benefit the most from using this particular website to locate a property to invest in.
  • Move.com: http://www.move.com/  As simple as the name sounds, it accurately depicts what you can expect at this website. This is another website ideal for those who are looking for a property other than an apartment, though apartments are also listed here. 

These four websites will provide you with a good overview of what is available in your area. They are easy to use and they can answer most of the questions you have. Remember that the ads for each property are written by the advertiser, or the landlord/property manager for the location. Therefore, you still need to verify this information since it is not third party verified.

OTHER SOURCES FOR APARTMENT LOCATING

While using the web offers its advantages, it is not the only source for finding properties to invest in. In fact, you may find a number of great properties located throughout your area that are not listed online at all.

Remember, landlords of small complexes and single family homes do not have a lot of advertising budget to spend. Therefore, they are unlikely to advertise online, especially on websites where they have to pay for doing so.

The following are a few more ways to find properties available for sale in your local area:

  • Your local classified ads: These are one of the best places to look since it allows you to read what is currently happening. For example, if an apartment manager has a property open up, he might have to wait a month to get it out through other advertising, but just days to get it into the classifieds.
  • Local online classified ads: They work just like the other classifieds but they are online, which makes them even easier to use. Your newspaper may have the ads available to you. You do not have to pay for these advertisements!
  • Check in with the apartments you would like to live in and ask about any units that are currently available. You can also ask the property manager to alert you of any changes over time, so that you constantly know when units are readily available.
  • If you are new to an area, use local churches and other nonprofit groups to ask questions and get to know what is available. Often, they may know the good and the bad about a particular area. For example, you may be considering a local apartment complex with well priced units. Sounds good! That is, it sounds good until you find out that the area is a crime riddled location. Getting to know the neighborhood first is always a good idea.

As you can see, there are a multitude of locations to find that great piece of property to rent and call your own. As you consider all of your options, keep in mind the importance of using several of them. While you may find enough options right out the door by looking online, it is still quite important to get more information and more options. There may be a gem waiting for you in the ads you have not looked at.

TIPS AND TOOLS TO USE

While checking out ads is great, there are a few more things to take into consideration when searching for ads online. Once you look at an ad, there are several questions to ask yourself. The more descriptive the ad is, the more information it will be able to tell you. You do not want to waste your time looking at apartments that are not what you are looking for. Unfortunately, it is quite common for ads to leave out the important details. 

Before scheduling an appointment to see the apartment, find out some additional information. You can do this by using any tools provided to you including:

  • Any photos provided in the ads
  • Any written descriptions provided in the ads
  • Any videos found of the property online (this is common in more affluent complexes)
  • And, by calling the apartment owner or rental manager and requesting the information that is missing.

Now, with the tools you have, there are several questions you need to ask:

  1. Does this property fit the needs that I currently have in size and location?
  2. Are any of the costs associated with the property, including rent, available? If so, do they fit within your estimated budget?
  3. Carefully consider the property. Pictures can tell you much more than you think. Look at ceilings for water damage. Check the carpeting for stains. What is the layout like? 
  4. Is the unit readily able to be seen?
  5. What are other properties in the area being rented at? You can compare other ads you see to this property. If it is lower, why? If it is higher in price, question why.

Learn to be a bit more investigative when looking at the properties that are on the market to rent. The more you can get out of the landlords or property rental companies the better, before you make the time to see the facility.

KEEP IN MIND

As you consider all of the properties on the market to rent, you are likely to have to make a few calls to really learn how well the apartment or the home fits your needs. In doing so, there is one thing to keep in mind. How well does the property manager or landlord treat you? If they are rude, obnoxious or you feel like you are bothering them, chances are good they are not the right people to work with!

The way they treat you now is a good indication of how they will treat you later, when it counts!

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN LANDLORDS

As you look at the properties available in your area to rent, keep in mind that you also need to trust those who are showing you the property. As mentioned, some situations involve a landlord who will handle the showing of the property themselves. They could be owners. 

In most situations where the complex is larger, you will work through a property manager. This person works for the owner of the property or with a property management firm contracted by the owner. In either of these cases, this is a person whose job it is to get the facilities rented. Therefore, it is always in your best interest to learn as much as you can about the location and those working there before deciding to move in.

One thing to look for is the company’s history. You can learn more about the company by doing some basic research online or you can get more information from your local Better Business Bureau (which you can access online at www.BBB.org.) If there are complaints about a company or its employees, it is important to note if the problem has been resolved. This will give you the best indication of whether or not the company is trustworthy.

If you get the opportunity to see the facility, visit a few of your potential neighbors. Find out from them what the company is like. 

What are you looking for specifically? There are several things to ask about or try to get a feeling for, even if it comes directly from the person showing you the property.

  • What are the facility’s rules and are they adhered to? For example, if there is a noise rule, but it is consistently broken, that could be an indication of a week management team.
  • How well does the company handle problems or situations that arise. You want to know if they deal with problems, how and how soon they handle them. For example, if you end up with a furnace that is not working properly, do they handle this and if so, how long will you wait for them to do so?
  • Does the facility offer on call help? If you get locked out of the complex, is there a way to get in? Is there someone on duty late at night for emergency problems?
  • How strict is the company when it comes to decorating and painting?
  • Does the property manager work regular hours so you can ask questions or get help when it is needed?
  • Does the facility do background checks on those who will live at the location? You want to ensure that those who you are living with are people you want to be living with.

Besides knowing this about the company you plan to rent an apartment or home from, it is also important to know the financial stability of the company. Again, do some research on the company itself. If you have any questions, it is best to speak with the company directly and ask for more information. This can help you to feel secure about the company and living there.

Doing all of this research may seem overwhelming but in fact it will help you ensure you are renting a property that is top of the line in fitting your needs as well as a top company you can trust. After all, these people will have keys to your home and they will control a lot of what you can and cannot do.

3
RENTAL APPLICATION

When you apply for a job, you take with you a resume. This detailed document provides all the information that a prospective employer needs to know to make a decision about you. You want the employer to see that you are a good fit for their company. The same is true when renting an apartment or home. You need to show the prospective landlord that you are a good fit for their particular needs.

Once you have checked out the property and you have done some homework on the landlord or property management company, it is now up to you to present a good case of why this company should work with you. It is not an easy process and yet, it is one of the most important things you can do for your rental needs.

In some areas, competition for top of the line and affordable properties is likely to be a big factor in your search. The fact is, most landlords will look at several applications for the unit to determine which prospective tenant is the right fit for them. This is rarely done instantly. For example, if you have scheduled an appointment to see the location, you want to be ready to make a decision on it within a few hours or up to a few days after seeing it. Some properties will not be available for that long!

Still, there is no reason to rush into renting a property. In fact, the first step is to ensure the property fits your needs. The second step is to ensure the company is worth working with. Then, and only then, it is up to you to present yourself in such a way as the rental property manager wants you to live at the facility.

To do this, you will need to present a case for why you are a good fit. There are several things to include here! In this chapter, we look at the various ways that you can make the property manager think, “What can I do to get this person to sign a lease?”

APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS

When you do find a great property, be ready to provide all of the information required to fill out an application. When renting, most companies will require that you provide your personal information so they can do a thorough background check on you. They are looking to verify that you are someone who they would like to have live in their apartment or home.

Specifically, you will need to provide your personal identification information. This includes your legal name, current address and your Social Security Number. This information is then used by the company to accomplish several things:

  1. The company needs to ensure you are who you say you are. It is imperative that they have an accurate identification on you so that if there are any problems, they can report them properly. An error in providing authentic information here could result in the cancelation of any contract you do sign, without getting your deposit back.
  1. The company may perform a background check on you. Depending on your state’s laws, the company may or may not have to tell you they are doing this before doing so. A background check checks out your criminal background. Some facilities are more lenient on the number and type of convictions you can have to live at their residence. Again, the laws on discrimination of criminal history is based on state laws.
  1. The landlord may want to verify your old address. If you lived in another apartment, for example, they may wish to verify any data they can through that company. The laws on what can be told about you are specific to your state as well. Some states allow a landlord to ask questions regarding the type of tenant you were and how well you paid.

Personal identification information is usually verified through more than one form of identification. 

The rest of the application will center around details including your past and current circumstances:

  • Where do you work? This information is likely to be verified later.
  • Who will live in the apartment with you? Their information and identification may need to be verified as well, depending on the specifics of the location.
  • Past employers and other references may be requested

Fill out the application thoroughly and neatly. You may ask to take the application home with you, but filling it out on the spot may be better especially if you are hoping to get an apartment or home that is in high demand. Remember that an application is just that: you are applying to rent the location. As such, you are agreeing to be considered for the property knowing that the company does not have to rent it to you. Once you sign a contract, then you can consider yourself to be secured.

REFERENCES 

References are an important part of getting any property, especially if this is your first property. Rental property managers will contact your references in most cases. 

These are designed to allow the manager to get a good idea of what type of person you are. They are not interested in renting an apartment to someone who is unorganized, unprofessional, or has trouble staying employed. To the landlord, you are a risk they are taking on. They are financially dependent on keeping the apartment or house in good condition and on the tenant’s making payments on time. Therefore, the more information they can gather about the type of person you are, the more secure they will feel about renting to you.

You should provide at least three references. Good people to use include:

  • A family member outside of your immediate family (such as an aunt, uncle or cousin rather than a mother, father or sibling) since they are often a more reliable source.
  • A past employer who will give you a favorable review. 
  • A long time friend, who is older; if you are just 21 and trying to rent an apartment, choose a family friend rather than your 20 year old buddy. This will look more respectable to the company.

Be sure that you alert your references ahead of time to ensure they are okay with allowing this information to be provided about them. You also may want to speak to them about what they may say. For example, you may want to tell your uncle that a property manager may be calling and that you would like him to tell the manager that you are a responsible person. 

There is no telling what people will say about you, especially if they are caught off guard. Therefore, be sure you select those who you trust the most!

References may be called, or may not be called. In either case, you need to have them available to place on your application. Therefore, take their names, addresses and their phone numbers with you when filling out the application. Be prepared!

THE IMPORTANCE OF CREDIT ON RENTING

One thing you may not realize is that a landlord or property manager is likely to request your Social Security Number so they can pull a credit report on you. Again, your state may have rules about this process. The company may have to ask your permission and retrieve your signature on a form agreeing to allow them to access your credit report.

This inquiry is not to give you credit nor does it allow the company to make any notations on your credit report. Rather, it is for the property manager to use to determine what your credit history is. Some companies will not use credit scores while others will. In both cases, ensure your credit is as high as possible.

Many larger property management companies do have credit score minimums in place. If your credit score or your credit history does not meet their specific goals, they may not be willing to rent to you. Most companies consider past credit performance to be an indication of future credit use. If you have a history of overspending or not making payments on time, this will lead the company to believe that you are likely to do so again.

TIPS FOR CLEANING UP YOUR CREDIT

As long as four to six months prior to your search for an apartment, you should consider working on your credit score. It has become an integral part of the process of renting a home or an apartment in most areas. There are a few things you can do to give your credit score a boost to ensure it is as high as possible.

  1. Pay down any debt you can. The lower amount of debt you have, the better this will look. At the same time, do not close off older accounts, even if you do not use them. These accounts establish a long term credit history for you which is invaluable.
  1. Do not open any new lines of credit, unless you do not have any or many. You do not want to have your credit score drop because you are opening several new lines of credit close to each other. If you have very limited credit, you may wish to get a new line of credit, such as a credit card, to help establish your credit history. Use it one or two times a month and pay off the balance in full at the end of the month.
  1. Make on time payments. The largest factor affecting credit scores is your ability to make payments on time. If you have been late in the past, establish more consistent payments going forward. This will provide you with the strongest evidence of your overall ability to pay your landlord on time every month!
  1. Check your credit report. You can do this by visiting each of the three national credit reporting agencies and requesting a free copy. To do that, visit FreeAnnualCreditReport.com, the only service associated with getting this free, no obligation credit reports for those in the United States. There, request a copy of each report, including one from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Look through the report for errors or information that is not correct. Then, contact the credit reporting agencies through their website to report any discrepancies. These are usually removed within 30 to 45 days and can give you a nice boost in terms of your credit score if they are significant information.
  1. Use credit but do so wisely. Whenever possible, pay off your full balance each month. This shows that you are capable of using credit but that you do so within reasonable limits. 

Note that your credit report is an integral part of your application for renting a home or an apartment. Therefore, do not skip this step of cleaning up your credit if possible. You want to put your best food forward especially if you hope to get into a highly competitive unit. 

If you are unsure if you will qualify for an apartment based on your specific credit score, you may ask the property manager about their requirements. Outright ask if the company if they verify credit scores and use credit histories and what their minimal requirements are. This is an important step since you do not want to waste your time applying for a loan you may not qualify for.

Note that even individual owner landlords do still do credit checks. Most of these companies will only use a credit history (not necessarily the score) to check out what is happening with you.

They are looking for:

  • Your ability to make your committed monthly payments on time.
  • The number and amount of debts you have to pay (do you really have enough money to pay these obligations plus the new rental payment?)
  • How long you have had credit
  • How much money you owe (If you owe a great deal, you may be on the verge of bankruptcy, which is likely to be a deal breaker for most companies.)
  • They also use these reports to ensure that you are who you say you are.

All of this credit information is just one part of the application process. Some companies make it a more important part of the process than others do. As you consider the various methods to improving your credit and your chances to rent, remember that there are other factors that have to align properly as well before you can get into the property you are hoping to!

EMPLOYERS AND INCOME

Another part of your rental resume needs to be your income and employer information. Most rental applications will request this information from you since it allows the company to learn what qualifications you have for actually affordable the property you are renting. Consider it: would any business allow you to buy a place to live without you demonstrating your ability to pay the bills?

Your employment information is gathered on the rental application. You will need to provide information on your current employer, including the employer’s name, manager’s name, the address and contact information for your supervisor. This information helps the employer to contact the company and ask for additional information.

In some areas of the country, your employer will not be allowed to provide many details about your employment. They may be able to state your dates of employment and provide basic feedback on you. In other situations, they can verify income, your position and your work history but only if you have provide written approval for such a request. Of course, if a rental company asks for this information, it is best to provide it to ensure that you are able to qualify for the property.

It is important that the information that you provide with your application is accurate. There is no benefit to lying about how much you make here! Also, most rental managers will ask for several weeks or even up to two months of paycheck stubs to verify the income you are making. You should bring these with you when you are viewing properties and filling out an application. This may help to keep the property manger from having to speak with your employer, too.

What about income? How much do you need to have?

The amount of income you have will factor into the amount of rent payment you can make. Every property management company and landlord is looking for a different number. In short, they want to ensure you have enough income to make the payments you need to make (remember the budget listed in Chapter 1) and still have money left over to pay the rent.

They know that if you do not make enough money you will struggle to make the monthly payments for the property. They will not allow you to rent a property if they do not think you can afford to do so. While this may seem limiting, since you may have a good idea of what you can afford, it is still likely a qualification for moving in.

The amount of money you must make is dependent on various factors. Some property managers will request to see a budget outlining all of your other debts. They may simply want to know what other financial obligations you have. Again, there is no benefit in not being thorough and upfront about this information since it does have to be verified. They can see which loans and debts you have on your credit report, for example.

In addition, you may find that limitations on how much you can pay in rental income is a good thing. If this is your first time renting a house or an apartment, you may be somewhat unfamiliar with the costs associated with the process. This can be difficult for many people to predict. Therefore, see these limitations as a good thing.

Most property managers of larger companies will require that your house payment to income ratio be under 40 percent. It is best if it is under 30 percent, but that may be difficult in some areas. This would leave between 70 and 60 percent of your income to pay other bills other than your rent. 

TIP:

If you believe that you have enough income to pay your bills, but your property manager’s ratio is too high, you may wish to work out an actual budget to show to the manager. For example, if you have very few other debts and would like to qualify for a property but you do not have a high income, show them a list of all of your debts. This budget demonstrates your ability to pay.

With all of this information in hand, you can provide your potential landlord with all of the information they need to make decisions about renting to you. You want to assure the property manage that you are a good credit risk and a good tenant. Doing so will help you to get the property you want to own!

4
HOUSE HUNTING

Part of the process of locating an apartment or a house to rent is visiting several locations. It is not a good idea to simply agree to rent a property if it is the first one you have seen. While you may love the location, it is still a good idea to have a few other properties to compare to it. 

Checking out an apartment is rarely enough, though. You should know how to spot potential problems with the property and what factors make it a good investment. In short, you need to know how to look under the surface to make sure this is a good place for you to live.

Once you find a few apartments or houses you are interested in, the next step is to set up an appointment to view them. Take your application resume with you with all the details described. You may also wish to bring a digital camera with you. This allows you to take a few photos so that when you come home, you will remember what you have seen. Most landlords have no problem allowing you to do this.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN APARTMENT OR HOUSE

The first thing to do when you visit an apartment or a house you may potentially rent is to get a look at the area around you. Did it take you long to get here? Is it hard to find? What is the outside like (clean, safe, with ample parking?) Get a feeling for what the lobby and the overall cleanliness of the building is. All of this can be done before you actually walk into the apartment itself.

Once you do, there are several things to consider.

  1. Size and Layout:
    Do you like the layout? Walk through the home to see how it feels. Imagine your furniture in the space. This information is a first step. After all, if the apartment does not meet your specific requirements in size and layout, then it may not work at all.
  1. Damage:
    Take some time to notice any damage to the apartment or home. Water damage on the ceiling, walls or floorboards needs to be taken care of before you visit. Look inside cabinets for mold. Check the bathroom fixtures for any signs of dirt, broken fixtures or other areas of concern. Since you are likely to be walking around with the property manager, you can ask questions about what the problems are and if they will be repaired before you move in.
  1. History of Apartment or House:
    Next, ask about the history of the apartment or house. You are specifically looking for information regarding the overall maintenance of the property. For example, did the owner’s live in the house before renting it? Where there any major disasters affecting the property? This information can help you to feel more comfortable living there.
  1. Rules:
    Virtually every apartment complex will have some rules that must be followed. This may include trash, mail, and noise rules. There may also be stipulations on pets, visitors, houseguests, and the number of children living in the apartment. Ask the property manager about any stipulations they have. Getting this out of the way right now will help ensure that there are no surprises later.
  1. Neighbors:
    Neighbors are an important part in selecting the right place to live. If you are looking for a quiet neighborhood to live in, you may not be willing to live next door to a family with several small kids and pets. On the other hand, you may be hoping for such a family so that your children will have someone to play with. Keep an eye out on who is moving in around while you are viewing the property. This will give you a good indication of what to expect in neighbors.
  1. Past Costs:
    Ask the property manager to give you a run down on the costs associated with the upkeep of the property. Often, they have a good idea of what your average costs for electricity, gas, and other utilities will be. They can give you a good idea of what you can expect. This can help you to ensure these costs are in line with what you have budgeted for.
  1. What’s Included:
    Many apartment complexes come with included amenities or costs. Even in some basic apartments, the water, electricity, sewer, heat, gas, and other utilities may be paid for through your rental payment or may be a part of that cost. This affects your budget. Also ask about any additional facilities and amenities such as playgrounds for the kids, swimming pools, and even high end benefits such as concierge services.

Walking around the apartment and house is an important step in finding a property that fits your needs. Take your time. Look out the windows. Get to know the neighborhood. The more questions you ask, the better you will feel when it comes to actually moving in. 

As mentioned, you should not simply dive into the first property you see, even if you think it is the best option for you. You should have a few properties to compare and contrast against this one.

You should request information on the property that you do not have. Also, ask the rental manager if there are other units within the same (or other) buildings to look at. There may be a significant difference from one unit to the next. If they state that you are viewing an apartment that is simply set up and not the one you will officially rent, never sign or agree to anything until you have done a thorough walk through of the actual apartment first. 

In addition, if you feel the need to do so, you can have pest and home inspections done of the premises. These would be paid for by you, not the property owner. They can help you to spot any type of problem that may be unseen such as pest problems, water damage and electric problems. This is rarely necessary in most situations.

The walk through is often best done with more than one person. That way both of you can point out any concerns! 

Once you have found the property that is right for you, it is nearly time to sign on the dotted line.

5
CONTRACTS

Once you find an apartment or a home you wish to rent, the next step is filling out and agreeing to a contract. Note the name of this chapter, though, “Contract Talks.” In other words, a contract is not something to just simply agree to and sign on the dotted line. It is an opportunity for you to work through any concerns you may have and a time for you to negotiate any terms that are not going to work.

Even larger property managers will use contracts that can be changed from one tenant to the next, to accommodate specific concerns. In most cases, you will not be able to use your own since it is the discretion of the landlord and property owner to state his or her stipulations on what terms the contract has. If you do not agree to them, they will not rent to you in some cases. That does not mean there is no room for movement!

Have all application details been submitted? Have you been approved for renting the apartment? If this has not happened yet, it is important for you to ensure that is done prior to signing the contract. It can protect you in some situations. For example, you may find that the contract adds on to the cost in the form of an insurance if your credit score falls below a set amount. You do not want to agree to this. Be sure you have been approved to live in the complex before you sign the contract.

WHAT’S APPROPRIATE?

As mentioned, the property owner has the right to dictate which contract is used, but he or she can make changes to the terms of that contract. It is your right to read through the contract at length before agreeing to the stipulations within it. You also should have the right to walk away from the contract, assuming that you do not agree to the terms and they cannot be changed. Once you sign a contract, though, you are agreeing to follow the agreement’s terms and a landlord can take you to court for not doing so.

You should expect the following to be found in a contract. Take a few minutes to consider the terms in each of these areas.

DEPOSIT REQUIREMENTS

Nearly all apartment complexes and most house rentals will require the use of a deposit. A Deposit is paid to the property manager and these funds are to be held in escrow (though some smaller companies may not actually do so.) The deposit is likely to be at least one month’s rent. These funds do not count as rent though. Rather, the funds are used only when needed. The stipulations of the deposit’s use should be included in the contract. They generally include:

  • The deposit may be used to repair significant damage to the apartment caused by the tenant
  • To pay rent on final rental payments if the client does not make payment
  • To cover any damage incurred to the property after the tenant moves out. The final walk through inspection is noted here.

The deposit has to be used according to the terms of the contract, but be sure the wording clearly outlines how. Do not assume the company will have your best intentions here.

PAYMENT TERMS

The amount of rent paid each month must be listed in the contract. It must specifically state the amount to be paid, the date the funds are to be paid, how the funds must be submitted to the company and the late charges, if applicable on funds not sent by a specific date. These details will help ensure the company receives the rent they way they would like to.

Generally, the payment terms will be fully described in a significant portion of the contract. If they are misleading or unclear, clarify them and ensure they accurately documented in the contract before you sign the contract. 

RENTAL FEES

There may be upfront fees that you need to pay prior to getting the rental agreement. For example, many companies require that you pay a fee for submitting an application. There may be a fee associated with pulling your credit report. If you are to sign an application or a contract, note any other fees that may be listed. You should know all of the details associated with the renting of this property!

RIGHT TO TERMINATE

Every contract needs to have information on its termination. The contract should have a start and end date listed. This will likely be for six months or one year, though some contracts may be monthly while others are longer. Besides this, the contract needs to stipulate which other methods the contract may be terminated in.

  • What right does the tenant have to terminate the contract? This may include instances when the property is no longer safe or the landlord failed to meet specific obligations.
  • What right does the landlord have to terminate? Here, as the applicant, you need to be more careful about wording. You do not want the landlord to have the right to terminate at any time. Rather, they may be able to do so if you fail to pay the rent, cause significant problems in the complex or you cause significant damage to the property.

Learn what these termination stipulations are before you agree to any contract terms. After all, you do not want the landlord to have the right to throw you out so that they can rent the property to someone else at a higher rate.

MOVING NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

Another area that should be mentioned in the contract is the stipulation of moving. This is not part of breaking the contract. Rather, if the end of the contract is approaching, you may need to give a specific length of time before you move.

For example, if your lease expires in December, but you plan to move in January rather than renewing the lease, you may need to notify the landlord that you plan to do so by the end of November. Some contracts do not include these details. 

BREAKING THE CONTRACT

There are times when you do have to break the contract. There are situations in which the landlord may want to break the contract to get the tenant out. There should be some rules listed as to what happens if this occurs.


For example, let’s assume you need to move due to your job transferring you. Obviously, you cannot stay at the same location and continue to pay the rent. Since you signed a contract, the company may in fact hold you to doing just that. Legally, they have the right to do so. But, this is one area where you may want to negotiate with the landlord if you think there may be a time during your contract where you may need to move.

Be sure to ask the landlord to include a stipulation that states that the landlord will try to find another tenant for the apartment, using reasonable methods, to get the apartment or home rented should you move out. This may allow you to keep paying for the apartment just until the apartment is rented out. At that time, you will be able to stop paying for the rental.

READ THE FINE PRINT

Nearly all contracts have some type of fine print. It is necessary for you to thoroughly read those details to ensure you understand what you are signing. 

  • When will your deposit be used?
  • What obligations does the landlord agree to provide?
  • Can your deposit be used as your last month’s rent?
  • What are the requirements for turning in your keys?

There are many other elements that could be included in a contract. Some may not be what you want. Be thorough when reading through it to ensure you know what is included.

DO YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY?

Do you need an attorney to look through your rental agreement? In most cases, the answer to that is no. If this is your first rental agreement, or it is quite complex, it may be best to hire an attorney to just take a look at it for you. This is important if there are any areas you are not sure of. It is best to get your attorney involved now, to work out the details of the contract, rather than have to fight any type of problem later on.’

Most larger property management companies have fairly straightforward contracts. They train property managers to fully explain the contract to you. Again, there is never a time when you should leave questions unanswered, so if you have any doubts, it is best to hire an attorney to help you through the process.

KEY TIP:

It is quite important to ensure every detail that you discuss with the property manager is written into the contract. Everything should be in writing!

Just because they say they will agree to a lower rent payment or that you do not have to pay specific fees, do not trust that they will. It is one of the worst mistakes you can make, in fact.

Most contracts allow for details to be written in. Ensure they are and that they are signed and dated next to those written in portions.

You should have a copy of the contract that is signed by the property manager or the landlord. Keep it in a safe place to ensure you can refer back to it if there is a reason to do so at some point.

TIPS FOR NEGOTIATING 

Did you know that you can haggle with the landlord and try to get the costs down? Unlike going into a store and purchasing something off the shelf, you can polish up your negotiating skills and try and get the costs lowered. To help you to do this, consider the following tips.

  1. Check out the competition. The best way to approach a landlord to ask for a reduced price is to show him that other units, of similar size and location, are going for less. Find out what other units are out there.
  1. Have a good credit score. Being less of a risk is a great way to protect yourself from paying too much. Show the landlord you are a good risk with your stellar credit. Tell them you are no risk to them and therefore you deserve a discount.
  1. Ask for a discount for paying all of your rent up front in a lump sum payment. You may save 10 percent or more by paying for 12 months rent upfront.

There are no guarantees that the property manager or landlord will be willing to reduce your costs, but in many cases, they will work with you. The more they know about you and the less risk they see you as, the better your chances are.

Remember, when it comes time to renew your contract, state the benefits that the landlord has in keeping you where you are. They do not have to renew!

DON’T FORGET THE INSPECTIONS

Earlier in this book, we mentioned the option you have for a formal inspection. That type of inspection is designed to check out the structure of the unit or home. There is a secondary inspection that you should consider: one with your property manager.

Most of the time, the property manager will want to walk around the property with you, to get a good look at what the property looks like before you get the keys. It is important that any problems associated with the property be written down into the contract, before you sign it.

For example, you do a walk through with the property manager and notice a hole in the wall. This is noted in the contract (and hopefully scheduled to be fixed.) If you did not do this, but instead just move in, the landlord may claim the hole is new, made by you, and therefore you are responsible for the repair.

Look for:

  • Repairs needed in the ceiling, walls and flooring
  • Cracked glass
  • Broken fixtures in the kitchen, bathroom or otherwise
  • Missing appliances
  • Damage to any of the furniture supplied by the owner
  • Missing clothing rungs or doors

Anything that is not there that would be assumed should be there, or anything that has excessive wear and tear (or is broken) should be noted in the contract. You can make it a stipulation that the owner replace or repair these items before you move in.

With your contract fully outlined and signed, you can start to move in! It is always important to consider the benefit of taking your time with the contract. It will pay off.

6
AGENCYS FOR HIRE

Your area may have what is called a rental agency. These are people who work for you, or on your behalf, to find a property for you to move into. They are similar to a real estate agent in that their job is to help you to locate a place to live. In some cases, they can be very helpful to you, especially if you are living far away from the place you will be living.

There are several things to keep in mind when using a rental agency to help you to locate a property:

  1. Who pays them? If you are paying them, you need to know how much it will cost ahead of time. This is actually the better route to take. If a property management company is paying the agent, then it is likely they will try and encourage you to choose a property within the company’s units. That may not be best for you.
  1. What services specifically do they offer? If you are paying the company, get a contract that outlines everything they will do for you (and anything they will not do as well.)
  1. What experience does the agent have? Are they affiliated with any companies around the city? Ask them why you should specifically work with them over someone else or doing your own research. 
  1. Learn if the company does a history report on the properties. Do they do comparisons of local properties to ensure you are getting the best price?
  1. Find out if they will negotiate the contract for you. This added service is nearly always a nice benefit.

Hiring a professional agent does not mean you can forget about doing any of the work it takes to find a place to live. The fact is, only you know what you like and it is always a good idea to see the property before you sign a contract for it. This is especially true if it is a high-end property, which agents are commonly used for.

CONCLUSION

Finding an apartment or a house to rent is a big step. It is often a very rewarding process, too. Give yourself between three and six months to work through this process. That is the best timeframe for being able to get your rental resume in check and for getting into a variety of properties to see them. Of course, this timeframe may not be possible in all situations. In all situations, it is critical that you give yourself enough time to compare all of your options.

Checklist:

  1. Have you checked out your credit history to ensure that you look as good as possible? Remember, you could qualify for a discount if you do!
  1. Have you found at least three references who will give you stellar reviews?
  1. Have you worked out a budget that is affordable and fits your lifestyle?
  1. Do you need to hire a rental agency? If so, check them out first.
  1. Shop for properties, view them, compare them and only sign a contract when you know the property is the best one for you.

When you follow these tips, the apartment or house rental process will be successful.