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7 tips for first-time renters

Rent is just one of the new expenses you'll face when you move out on your own.

By Karen Datko Jul 30, 2010 10:16AM

This post comes from partner blog The Dough Roller.


Renting your first apartment can be an exciting undertaking. Unfortunately, despite all the energy and excitement conjured up visiting new apartments and thinking about furniture and floor plans, potential renters need to keep their heads on straight.


We've compiled seven basic but extremely important things that first-time (and, for that matter, all) renters need to remember before signing on the dotted line.


Know your budget. Sure, you've always wanted the place with the balcony and the swimming pool on the roof, but it's important to keep in mind that the rent should be no more than 25% to 30% of your income, according to the experts. There's nothing worse than living beyond your means. 

Remember that rent is not the only expense you will have now that you are living on your own. Consider food, electricity and other utilities, phone, cable, entertainment, cleaners, car payments, gas, and student loans. Don't assume that anything -- utilities or cable, for instance -- is included in your rent unless it is stipulated in the lease agreement. 


If you sign a one-year lease and come to realize you cannot afford it, the penalty can range from losing your security deposit to being evicted. The latter will do some major long-term damage to your credit and make it extremely difficult to find another rental.

Consider location. Even if you find what you consider to be the perfect apartment, make sure the location is ideal. A large part of having a quality lifestyle is living in close proximity to entertainment centers, public transportation and work. If the apartment you love is in the middle of nowhere or several miles from the closest bus or subway, chances are the novelty of the apartment will become a distant memory as you struggle to make it to work or walk home from the supermarket with your five bags of groceries. 


Although it's critical to stay within your budget, it is acceptable to pay a little more for an apartment that is centrally located.  In the end, it will make your life a heck of a lot easier and the scenery will make you happier.

Think about the deposits. In addition to putting down a security deposit, you will also need deposits for such things as having the electricity turned on, and obtaining the remote control and Internet modem from the cable company. The security deposit is often equal to one month's rent, while other deposits can range from $25 to $100. Remember to plan ahead and consider these additional expenses.


Talk to the neighbors if you get a chance. Talking to your potential neighbors can give you a great insider's view of what it is like living in the apartment building, and more specifically, on the potential floor. Perhaps you'll discover from your discussions with neighbors that there is a terrible smell on the floor, or that you'd have an extremely noisy neighbor living next door. Such problems are sure to affect your quality of life and could end up being the deciding factor between one place and another. Make sure to ask the neighbors about what they think of the building, how the landlord or management operates, or any other general complaints or compliments that they might have.


Inquire about parking. If you have a car, parking will be a critical factor when deciding where to live. Make sure to ask if the apartment comes with a parking spot, and how much extra it will cost you on a monthly basis. Due to high demand, a lot of apartment buildings cannot offer spots to all tenants.


If the building does not have parking, it is important to research whether there are spaces available to rent in the neighborhood or how easy it is to find public parking. It's no fun driving around every evening for an hour after a long day at work to find a parking spot.


Thoroughly check the condition of the apartment. Doing so before signing the lease is vital for two reasons. First, it ensures that you are on the same page with the landlord as it relates to the condition of the apartment and that you will not be held liable for damage you did not cause upon moving out.  Second, it gives you the opportunity to approach the landlord or management and ask for certain things to be fixed prior to signing the lease and moving in.


A thorough check should include looking carefully in each room at both hidden and visible features. For instance:

  • In the bathroom, check the water pressure from the faucets and shower, determine if there is any water damage, whether the toilet flushes, etc. 
  • Take a careful look at all the appliances to ensure they are operating correctly. Turn on the oven, the air conditioner/heater, washer/dryer, microwave, and garbage disposal.
  • Make sure the windows and doors open and close without a problem, and test the smoke alarms.

Keep track of your findings and present them to the landlord or to management, if they have not already done a formal walk-through with you.


Read the lease. Now it's time to sign the lease. As a first-time renter, you should not assume that everything you have discussed with the landlord or management will be included in the lease. The lease should be read and reread and any questions should be written down and presented to management before signing. 


Leases often contain clauses that were not previously disclosed or rules that you were not aware of. Remember that the lease is a legally binding agreement and once you sign it, it will be difficult to contest.


Once you've secured your new place of residence, you'll want to consider renters insurance to make sure your belongings are safe and secure no matter what. 


Hopefully, if we haven't scared you away, you're now more prepared than ever to rent your very first place.  


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