The Apartment-Renting Survival Guide

Author: Alecia Pirulis

lease signing

1. Know Your Budget!

Sure, that trendy luxury high-rise in the heart of the city is gorgeous. Yes, they have so many perks and amenities it’s enough to make you never want to leave your apartment building, but can you really afford it? Be sure you stay within your budget – and avoid temptation by not even looking at places outside of your budget. If you aren’t sure what you can afford, the general rule for rent is no more than 30 percent of your monthly income. That’s the limit – don’t go over 30 percent of your monthly income, or you could find yourself struggling.

In addition to knowing your budget – know your credit! Get a copy of your credit report and be prepared to answer any questions the apartment manager may have when reviewing your credit during the application process.

2. You’re On Your Own

When buying property, most people have a real estate agent to walk them through the process and answer questions. When renting an apartment, you’ll probably be flying solo – that means you have to be your own advocate. Ask the right questions and READ THE LEASE. Yes, it’s complicated and a little boring. And yes, it’s long. And you have that softball game to get to. Slow down and read the lease. Don’t skim over it and pretend to read it and don’t just sign where the apartment manager points – read the lease. You may even want to have a lawyer read the lease – this is a binding legal document that will hold up in court. You don’t want to be caught off-guard by a rent increase, or finding out your lease agreement was much longer than you thought, or that it will cost you an exorbitant amount of money if you break your lease, or failing to get your deposit back because you violated some part of the lease you weren’t aware of. Read it carefully – and ask questions about anything that doesn’t make sense to you.

3. Ask (More) Questions!

Here are a few things you might want to know:

*How much money you’ll need to move in. Ask about the application fee, the deposit, pet fees, pet rent, etc. Be sure to ask if they require first/last month’s rent up front.

*Ask about your responsibilities – such as whether you are responsible for routine repairs and apartment maintenance (air filters, pest control, lawn care, etc.).

*Ask about utilities — how to arrange for service, and what (if any) services the apartment community provides.

*Ask about the apartment association’s rules. For example, there may be a policy regarding what can and cannot be displayed in windows, whether or not you can have a satellite dish, what can be placed on your patio or balcony, restrictions on hanging things outside, etc.

*Know exactly what is required of you to get your security deposit back.

*Know when the rent is due, how much it will be, and if there’s a grace period and/or a late fee.

*Ask about rent increases – and how often you should expect them.

*Ask about extra fees for parking, garage space, garbage collection, etc.

*Ask if you can have a roommate or sub-lease your apartment.

*Ask about crime in the area. Have they had burglaries, and are car break-ins an issue?

*Know the apartment community’s policy about home-based businesses.

*Ask about their pet policy.

*Know if you are allowed to have garage sales.

*Ask about the apartment community’s pest control routine and decorating restrictions.

*Know what the turnover rate is. There could be a reason for a high turnover (the apartment community is near a college, for example), but a high turnover rate could also be a red flag.

4. Do Your Research!

With online review sites, getting the scoop on apartment communities has never been easier. Read the reviews and consider the information posted there – but also rely on your own judgment. Visit the apartment community more than once! If you feel awkward scheduling so many tours, just use the excuse that you want your friend’s (or mom’s, or brother’s, or cousin’s) opinion on the apartment. And then take your friend/mom/brother/cousin – and anyone else who might see something you may have overlooked. Schedule your tours at different times during the day and evening; this way, you’ll get a sense of what goes on during the day, after work, and on weekends. (And you’ll know if that loud music in the apartment next door was just a fluke or an everyday occurrence!)

While you are there, introduce yourself to any residents you may see out and about. Tell them you are considering moving in and ask them what it’s like to live there. Not only will you discover all of those things the apartment manager didn’t tell you, you could make potential new friends for that afternoon billiards game in the community clubhouse.

5. Pack a Flashlight and White Gloves – and Maybe Even a Screwdriver

Find your inner Felix Unger when you go to look at an apartment. Open the cabinet doors (if there’s a pest issue, the cabinets are the best place to find evidence), look in the oven, behind the appliances, around the shower, behind the toilet, and any place that might have been overlooked in the clean-up process. And if you can’t see in that back corner or behind the fridge – use the flashlight. Be thorough – you don’t want to sign the lease, get moved in, and then discover you have a major “water bug” problem in the bathroom. In the bedroom, look along the floor boards, examine the carpet, and look behind wall plates or paintings for signs of bed bugs, bed bug eggs, or other evidence of these pests. (Be sure to check this website to make sure bed bugs haven’t been reported before you visit the apartment complex.)

While you are at it, look for signs of other potential problems – strange odors, water stains around sinks or the tub, evidence of mold, etc.

6. Get Everything in Writing

Don’t “shake on it.” Avoid misunderstandings later by getting it in writing now. And while you are getting any agreements in writing from the landlord, there’s something else you need to document – any issues you see in the apartment. Before you move in, schedule a walk-through with your apartment manager and document every broken latch, spot on the carpet, ding on the wall, broken window blind, etc. Doing this now will protect you later when it is time to move out and you are trying to get your security deposit back. You only want to be held responsible for any wear and tear you cause – not something left behind by a previous resident.

7. Make a Good Impression

Remember — the apartment staff is evaluating you as much as you are evaluating them! They want to know that you are trustworthy, friendly, and considerate. They want residents who will take care of their apartment and pay their rent on time. They want to make sure you won’t be “that resident” the neighbors constantly complain about. Treat meeting the apartment manager as you would a job interview – dress nicely (no, not your interview suit, but not your ripped jeans and stained T-shirt, either), be on time, shake hands and thank them for meeting with you, be friendly and polite during the tour, and (if possible) stay off your cell phone while talking with the apartment manager.

Ready to start your search for your next apartment? Check out today!