Renting 101- tips on getting your first apartment
So you're getting your first apartment! whoohoo! The ultimate joy of freedom, independence and full control excites your soul! No more waiting in line for the bathroom (hopefully), no more listening to mom and dad, you are now the King or Queen of your mini castle! But how does one start? In a nation full of homes, deciding where to live can be very overwhelming especially for new renters. Although the internet world makes it easy to instantly find apartments around the world, innocence can quickly be claimed if you're not careful. Last year I had my own unique experience of renting for the first and second time within a span of 3 weeks. CRAZY, I know but although it was a stressful moment, it was also a great life lesson. Farenheight TV had the wonderful opportunity to sit with Nick, a Property Manager in Cambridge, Massachusetts to get informative advice on what renters should do when it comes to finding their first apartment.
Nick has worked in Property Management for the last five years and has definitely seen his share of tenant mistakes when it comes to renting. From forged leases, to illegal occupants living in the unit or even cat fights between roommates, Nick conveyed that “the biggest mistake tenants make is rushing into it” when it comes to finding an apartment. “RESEARCH is key when it comes to finding a home but unfortunately many renters overlook this step.” Some common mistakes renters make is:
Not doing enough research on the neighborhood they’re moving into
Submitting payments without signing a lease
Failing to communicate with the landlord or owner directly
Moving in with roommates that one may not be compatible with
Renting an apartment that stretches their budget
Sounds like a headache huh? Well taking the time to research will definitely stir you away from dealing with common mistakes like these.
So how does one begin?
1.)Evaluate your Budget
As mentioned above, one of the common mistakes tenants make is renting an apartment that stretches their budget. “A typical rule of thumb is to spend 30% of your gross income.” If you’re a recent grad, a new employee or no longer receiving your parent’s allowance, factoring rent into your daily budget can be a big adjustment BUT it’s definitely possible. Nick recommends taking the time to sit and realistically come up with a budget plan. Please be sure to factor in utility costs (gas/electric/heat), personal expenses (laundry, household items, clothes, etc.) and bills (students loans, car payments, cable & internet, etc.). I would also recommend setting up an emergency fund. Having one’s month rent saved in your savings account is always a good idea and could be very helpful for rainy days!
To determine what your maximum rent should be based upon your gross income, please visit www. Naked Apartments.com
2.)Research apartment listings
“The first thing I would do is begin researching areas online by looking at different websites that have apartment listings. Any trusted website that aggregates different listings in the area would be ideal. That way you can search by zip code, price range, amenities, public transportation, parking, etc. and narrow down what you’re looking for in an apartment.” Below are some of Nick’s top suggestions.
“If I was a student, I would check with off campus housing contacts at your college or university and see if they have any resources that could help with your search.” Nick also suggested getting in contact with local students in the area or other people you might know to get more information about the area you’re moving into. Thanks to technology, many schools have online communities designated specifically to new students to give them informative advice about housing and more. Find out more by visiting your school’s student union.
Another option for finding an apartment is asking people within your inner circle. Word of mouth can also be a good resource!
3.)Make yourself a desirable tenant
“As a property manager the qualities I look for in a tenant are;"
Employment: How reliable is the applicant’s employment history?
Credit History: Does the applicant have good credit?
Criminal Background Check: Does the applicant have a criminal history?
From a landlord’s perspective, it’s important to check your employment history to not only ensure that you have a stable job but that you’ll be able to afford monthly payments for the term of the lease. Some landlords may even require bank statements to determine if potential tenants have sufficient savings that can also be applied to paying the rent.
A credit history is important in various investments. For landlords, a credit history shows your history with paying bills on time, current credit lines, outstanding balances and collection information such as foreclosures or judgments. Have bad credit or no credit at all? Some landlords would be willing to work with you. “We’ll ask for a lease co-signer and that co-signer would guarantee the lease but they must have good credit and a reliable income.”
Personally when I started searching for an apartment, I also got my first credit card. To ensure that I would have a good credit score and history, I only used my credit card for purchases I needed for the month such as my weekly train pass. I make sure to pay my credit in full each month to avoid any issues.
Running a criminal background check is also essential for landlords. It allows them to not only view your criminal history but to also predict if those factors can be a liability issue for the current tenants at the building and the property in general. HOWEVER, there can be exceptions. As Nick explains, “It’s not a hard & fast rule, but generally a criminal record will make it much more difficult for a landlord to accept the applicant.”
If you’ve already lived in an apartment, you’ll want to stay on good terms with your former landlord. Ask your former landlord for a letter of reference stating you paid your rent on time, that there were no issues when you lived at that landlord’s property and you left the apartment in good standing.”
All in all, the landlord wants to ensure that the applicant has a reputable credit history and an income that can fulfill the financial obligations of the lease.
4.) Visit Property before Moving In
This is a big one! With the power of photo shop nowadays, one can make anything dull look extraordinary. In addition to scams, inaccurate information or a lack of information, small important details can easily be hidden.
Taking a trip to look at the apartment before you sign the lease is your best bet that you will be satisfied with your investment. For a second opinion, you can always bring a trusted relative or friend to accompany you.
What to do when you arrive? “I would look at the property, walk around the building and get a feel for the neighborhood before moving in.” Live out of state or unable to visit the property? Nick suggested looking at the walkability score of every listing you’re interested in. The walkability score is a ranking that different cities use to determine how close the apartment is to public transportation, schools, local businesses and more. “Larger apartment buildings should have a sign on the front with the management’s contact information. It never hurts to call them directly to ask questions about the property and neighborhood.”
In addition, if you’re also planning to live with roommates or renting from a landlord*, take the time to contact them to ask their opinions about the area, property and more. Using the walkability score, your social references and your own judgement will allow you to comfortably and decisively make your new apartment feel like home.
“I would do as much research as you possibly can! Once you sign onto the lease, you’re typically responsible for 12 months of payment. It’s a BIG financial decision in your life so it’s something I would take very seriously.”
5.)What to look for when inspecting the apartment?
In terms of physically inspecting the apartment, you’ll want to look at few important factors.
Heat: If utilities are included as part of the rent, you will want to know what type heat is used. If its forced air, you want to take a look to see if you’ll have a furnace either in your unit or if it’s a building controlled thermostat that isn’t located in your apartment.
Appliances: “Take a look at the appliances and determine what kind of condition they are in. If they look dirty or unusable, you want to contact the landlord directly to see if they will be cleaned and if they are fully operational.”
Windows: Examine the windows to see if there are any drafts that you can feel. That might be a big issue that could impact your heating bill and comfort in the winter.
Cleanliness of the Common Areas: Looking at the overall cleanliness of the common area will give you a good idea of the amount of attention-to-detail the management office or landlord pays for. “Clean common areas would give me more confidence that the company is on top of things. If you’ve got maintenance issues in your unit, the management team or landlord should respond quickly.”
Pests: “You should ask the landlord or management office if there’s a plan for pest control for the building.” For Larger buildings, the management company should have a monthly service for the building common areas. You should also ask if there’s been any pest control problems reported in the apartment and if you run into one what is their protocol. “If you’re looking at an apartment that is currently occupied, you might be able to easily tell the cleanliness of the apartment.” One of the common issues normally associated with pests are cleanliness issues. “You’ll probably know off the bat by taking a look at the refrigerator, under the sink or holes in the walls, open containers or food leftovers can attract pests. Be on the lookout for pest droppings, it’s something you want to pay close attention to.”
Should you test things out when doing a walk-through? ABSOLUTELY!
When I went to go see my first apartment, I tested everything. From the light switches, to the water pressure in the bathroom/kitchen, the cabinets, the hinges on the door, making sure there was a fire alarm carbon monoxide detector, EVERYTHING! It never hurts to make sure that appliances and hardware in the apartment is functional and if it’s not to quickly make the landlord or property manager aware of it.
Note: Before you move in, please be sure to fill out a Move-In Inspection Form with your landlord. This is a written agreement on the condition of the apartment amongst you and your landlord. The inspection form also allows your landlord to inspect the apartment once you move out. If there are any discrepancies, it will relate to how much of your security deposit you will receive back.
6.)What is required to move in?
So you’ve seen the apartment and ready to make it yours? Here’s what’s required.
First month’s rent is due
You also may be required to pay a security deposit and/or last month’s rent.
Some landlords and property management companies even require you to pay an application fee.*
Broker Fee:* If you choose to work with a broker, normally a broker fee is equal to one month’s rent.
Before you submit any payments, make sure you have an official Rental Agreement
“It is a big financial commitment that’s why you want to do your research and find the right spot that you know you’re going to want to be living in and spending your money on for at least 12 months.”
Lease Agreements: A lease agreement is a type of contract that regulates the relationship between tenants and landlords. It specifies the payment terms, length of occupancy (short or long term lease), the rules/regulations of the building and unit, emergency contacts and more. In addition, the lease agreement explains the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the occupant. While the contract is active, both the tenant and landlord must abide to the terms. No alterations can be made to the contract while it is active unless agreed upon by both parties. This is why it is important to read through every term and condition of the lease and contact the landlord should you have any questions or concerns BEFORE submitting payments.
Tenant-at-will: Is a tenant without a lease but pays rent periodically (usually month-to-month). There can be beneficial factors and disadvantages to this. For instance, say you found your dream job and need to move out ASAP. As a tenant-at-will, you can notify your landlord (by submitting a 30 day written notice to him/her) and you would not be breaking any terms or conditions. However, one example of a disadvantage is that your landlord can also give you 30 days to vacate the property or increase your rent.
It all depends on what you’re looking for. Nonetheless please be sure READ THE LEASE and ask questions.
To learn more about your tenant rights and responsibilities in Massachusetts, please visit the mass.gov website.
7.)Not sure if you should use a Broker?
There are many benefits to using a broker. One benefit is that it saves you the time and the hustle on finding an apartment that fits your budget and qualifications. “One of the benefits of working with a broker is that they have access to the MLS Listings (Multiple Listings Service). It’s an area where brokers post different apartment listings that the general public may not have access to. So brokers might be able to offer you more inventory than what you have seen.”
However, although brokers can be great at their job, it can come with a high price tag (normally equal to one month’s rent). So if you’re really on a strict budget, put your detective skills to work. “Most websites now typically pull their listings from the MLS website so you can find a lot of the same information by visiting websites like Zillow, Trulia or simply go through a google search.”
Nick also suggested contacting the management office of the property you’re interested in looking at. “By directly contacting the management office, you can inquire about open vacancies at the building and convey to them that you are not working with a broker. Typically this is one way of avoiding a broker fee.”
8.)Wire Transfers? International Students?
If you live out of the state or in a foreign country, wire transfers can sound very familiar to you. Nick recommend that before you send any form of payment, make sure to always do your research on the property that you’re interested in and to make sure you have a rental agreement first before conducting any wire transfers. “After you sign the lease, you’ll want to confirm with the management office or landlord of whom you will be sending the payment to. If I was an international student, I would want to go through an off-campus housing listings or reputable company that you trust.”
9.)What is renters insurance?
So you got the keys, you’re all moved in and now the journey begins but what about coverage in case of an emergency? Insurance was designed to provide coverage in case of accidents or emergencies. Renters insurance insures your personal belongings in your apartment from fire, theft, water damage and also include personal liability (in case someone injured themselves on your property, etc.). “Renters insurance quotes can start as little as $10 a month.” Now that’s something definitely worth investing in! Some insurance companies even offer you a discount rate if you’re affiliated with a company or university. Get a quote today by contacting your local insurance companies.
AND NOW……YOU’RE OFFICIALLY A GROWN UP! Yayyyy!!
The only thing left for you to do is to make a personal music video to rightfully celebrate your hard work and new home!
Thank you so much to Cambridge Property Manager, Nick, for taking the time to give us these useful tips! I hope this article was very helpful in guiding you through the steps of becoming a renter and I hope your new home will be filled with beautiful memories!
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