15 Things to Consider While Shopping For an Apartment
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My mamma told me, I'd better shop around... And she was right! The housing market is a growing business, so it's in your best interest to shop around all of the prospective rental properties you'd like to call home as it's probably the most important investment you'll make on a monthly basis besides your vehicle and food.
Price and Affordability
Whether or not you're a first-time renter, finding affordable housing will always be challenging. One of the most important factors that should play into your decision to move into a certain house, apartment, condo, etc., is the price and whether or not you'll be able to pay your rent. The last thing you'd want to do is put yourself into a situation where you may fall behind or even possibly be evicted due to a failure to pay on time.
There are plenty of affordability calculators out there online for free use. The best calculator that I've found is the housingconnections.org calculator and gives you a pretty accurate model of your housing affordability given your monthly/annual budget. Even simpler is the rent affordability equation of dividing the entire family's annual income by 40. 40 being the general percentage that renting takes up of the total household budget.
Annual Income of $30,000.00 / 40 = $750.00 (Maximum Rent Affordability)
We're in the digital transaction age and it would be nice to find a rental property that accepted easy to use online or digital transactions to pay your rent faster and more secure. Some properties will only accept cash checks and money orders, while others will have their own fee-free online terminal where you can pay your rent at your leisure. Money orders and check writing are not as cost effective as online payments when you add time spent writing checks and fees associated with cash withdrawal and money orders.
It would be great if water, electric, gas, trash and sewer were all included in the total rent, however, that will seldom be an option when renting. Although there's no negotiating on the pricing of your monthly utilities, it'd be a good idea to ask about how much the bills will be per unit so you can account for that while you're budgeting.
Credit and Background Checks
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Although filling out an application is only a 15-20 minute ordeal, a vast amount if information will be collected about you and your rental history. Sometimes your full background check will be requested depending on the property and that extent will vary between each other. It is very important to read any of the terms provided to you during the application process before signing and granting them permission to your person information.
The types of things leasers or property owners will look for on an application and background checks is any information that paints a picture of what kind of tenant you will be. They will check to make sure you do not have any evictions on record or unpaid amounts still due to previous properties. Sometimes, this may even be a deciding factor in the amount necessary for a security deposit, if any is needed.
In America, housing is generally easy to obtain as long as you're able to pay for the expenses. Some renters require proof of employment to be offered a lease agreement. Be sure to address all of your concerns with the leasing agent prior to any credit pulls and background checks, as this will some times result in a "hard pull" on your credit report. Hard pulls on your credit report may have a negative effect on your credit score and "credit worthiness" and is can prove harmful to your future financial endeavors.
Since renting out housing is quite a risk to their investment, leasers will reserve the right to protect their property from damages and missed payments by asking for a security deposit from you. This amount will usually be the amount of one months rent, but can be more or less depending on he leaser. You could almost consider renting as prepaying as you've already paid a months worth in rent before you've actually moved in, however, at the end of your lease term you should be able to recover that deposit (conveniently for use towards your next rental if that's the case) as long as you haven't damaged the unit and don't have any outstanding amount due for rent.
For the most part, your lease term will be annually. Some properties can be rented on a 2 year basis and some on a month to month basis. There are also hybrids- one year leases with month to month after that. From personal experience, this is a great option if available.
30 days before your lease is up, the property owner will ask if you'd like to renew the lease or if you'll be moving out by the end of the month. It's at that point you might be able to negotiate a month to month or see about getting your security deposit back and start looking for your next home.
Rent to Own
With single family homes like houses and mobile homes, you may be able to negotiate a rent-to-own agreement where a part of your monthly rent will go towards a down payment towards actually owning the home once the lease is over. Typically you'll pay a higher rate in rent and that a portion is set aside or put into escrow for you until a contract can be created for the purchase of the home.
Tenant Age and Citizenship Policy
For new/young families to the country, citizenship and the ages of the main household may become a factor when being considered for tenancy. Be sure to check that the lease and statutes allow you and your family to move in if you're not a citizen of the country, or you're under the age of 18 or 21.
The Property and Amenities
There's nothing like coming home to a safe environment. Check the internet for the crime rates, of the area you're looking at and make a drive through during the day as well as the night to get a good sense of the community of the prospective rental. As forthcoming as the agent may be with you, they'll never admit the property is in a dangerous area and you should see for yourself.
How far is the prospective rental from the police station? Fire station? Hospital? Grocery store? Work? Family and friends? When minutes make the difference in keeping you and your family safe and healthy, it's a good idea to know how long it will take get to the places of interest as well as necessity.
A good portion of apartments will have a washer and dryer in-unit, meaning it's provided and maintenance by the property owners. However, it's not a given amenity and it'd be a good idea to know if there's an onsite facility where you can wash your clothes (as well as the hours and how much it costs). Additionally, washer and dryer hook-ups might be available inside the unit in the event you decide to bring in your own.
Have you got a furry family friend that you simply must take with you no matter where you live? So do I. Be sure to read into the pet policy for weight and breed restrictions as well as if there is a fee to have them there. It just might be the deciding factor in whether or not to go with a place or not. Be weary of properties claiming to have dog parks and designated poo spots. Go take a tour of the place and make sure it's not only suitable for you to live, but also for your beloved pet.
On the other hand, if you're mildly or even severely allergic to pets, find out whether or not pets are allowed in your living space, for health reasons.
Photo by Mr_Incognito
Ah, the beauty of the quiet crisp winter night. Ugh, the demotivating scraping of ice from your windshield in the morning. Unless your so lucky to live in a snow-less, above 30 degree climate year round, winter can be very hard on your car. Does the property have a covered parking lot? Maybe even garages? What are the costs?
In the same vein, are the parking spots assigned, far from your front door? Carrying groceries, musical instruments, babies, and inebriated bar-mates is a great way to get a good full body exercise, but sometimes, it's just not worth the effort having your car being so far from your home.
Dishwasher broken? Toilet clogged beyond the help of a plunger? Super high-up light bulb finally burn out? Looks like a job for the maintenance man! Make sure you know their availability and whether or not they've got permission to enter your apartment when you're gone. Nothing is more spookier than finding a "while you were out" notice on your dining room table. Also, see if there's any sneaky charges associated with maintenance house calls, especially with apartment living.
Keep in mind that sometimes, even on a monthly basis in some places, the property will do smoke and carbon monoxide detector tests from inside your unit to make sure the building is up to code and not at high risk of fire damage and/or gas related injuries.
Lastly, are you required to do all the yard work outside your home? Perhaps you'll be so lucky to hear the rumble of a riding mower at 7 AM every other Saturday morning. If not, be prepared to mow your own lawn, whack your own weeds, and trim your own hedges.
It's fascinating what painting one wall of a room inside a house or apartment can do for the feng shui. Just make sure its allowed by the property owner. Are live Christmas trees okay? What are the limitations on the decorations you can display in and outside your home?
Take your time!
With all things that require such large commitment of money, time, and personal sacrifice such as housing, take your time and don't be pressured into moving into a place you might not like after the first month. Getting out of a lease is not easy or even sometimes possible. You and your family, as well as the property owners, will be glad that you did!
These are just a handful of important things to consider while you're shopping for an apartment. What is most important to you that I may not have mentioned?