Fore Rent: Renting a Place to Live
If purchasing a home is not practical or desirable, renting an apartment or house is the obvious alternative. If you haven't already targeted a neighborhood, ask friends or coworkers for suggestions. If you're moving because of a job change, the human resources department of your company may be able to provide some information. Visit potential neighborhoods and check out the features that are important to you (e.g., access to public transportation, shopping, etc.).
How easy it will be for you to find and rent an apartment depends primarily on the area where you choose to live. For example, in some major metropolitan areas (e.g., Los Angeles, New York), the price of real estate is high, so competition is fierce for reasonably priced rentals in clean, safe neighborhoods. In those areas, it could take time, legwork, and a little help from friends to find an acceptable rental. In high price/high competition areas, you could consider moving a little way out from the city-you're likely to have more choice at more affordable prices.
Use newspaper "For Rent" ads to get a sense of the market (e.g., availability, price) in your targeted neighborhood(s). These ads are a useful resource, but you may need to learn to read between the lines. For example, "cute" may mean small, "charming" may mean old, and" prestigious" may be code for expensive. If you use ads, call or show up early. Remember, a lot of other people are reading them, too.
Other resources include real estate agents and apartment-locating services. The usual charge for a real estate agent's service is the equivalent of one month's rent, which is sometimes, but not always, paid by the property owner. Find out who is responsible before making a commitment, and get it in writing.
If incentives are being offered to potential renters (e.g., one month's free rent) it's an indication that the rental market is soft; that is, property owners are in competition for renters. If you find this in your area, you may be able to bargain, either on the rent, or on extras like new paint, appliances, or carpet.
There are many Internet sites devoted to linking renters with property owners. Some of these sites are free - they're paid for by the advertising they promote; some may require you to "subscribe" - usually a small fee; and others may be sponsored by real estate agencies. If you have access to a computer, it may be worth a few hours of your time to see if there are Internet sites that target the geographic area you're interested in.
Affordability and Location
Exactly how much you have to spend to rent an acceptable apartment will depend on the rental market in your area. In general, try to spend no more than 25 percent of your monthly gross income on rent. For example, if you earn $30,000 per year, or $2,500 per month, you set your limit at $625 per month. If you spend a higher proportion of your salary on rent, you may find your budget comes up short in other important areas, like savings and entertainment.
Consider the following when checking out a neighborhood:
Protect Your Interests
Before you sign a lease, inspect the rental unit for physical damage and/or safety violations. Take photos (or make a videotape) of existing damage, date them, and get the landlord to sign them. Insist that safety violations be corrected before you move in, and ask that agreed-upon repairs be noted in the lease.
Some items to investigate/evaluate:
In apartment buildings, look at these additional items:
Find out about your prospective neighbors. Do they have children? Animals? Do you hear a lot of noise from other units? Do you hear loud music? If you think a neighbor's lifestyle may impact yours, now is the time to consider other options.
The Dotted Line
Once you've chosen a house or apartment, your landlord will ask you to sign a lease - a legally binding contract between a landlord and tenant. The lease must contain your name, the landlord's name, the address of the apartment, the amount of rent and the payment schedule. In addition, a lease may spell out the following:
Read your lease carefully before you sign it. Find out exactly what you can expect from your landlord (e.g., regarding repairs) and get it in writing. Laws governing landlord/tenant requirements and relationships vary from state to state. If you have a dispute with your landlord, contact your state rental or housing agency to find out what remedies may be available to you. Never sign a lease if you are uncomfortable with any part of it.
The landlord will probably require a security deposit, usually the equivalent of one or two months' rent. A security deposit is intended to pay for damages to the apartment that occur while you are a tenant. A landlord may also be allowed to keep the security deposit if you fail to pay rent or leave before the end of your lease. Security deposits are refundable if you fulfill your lease agreement and leave your apartment in good repair.
Insurance protection. The owner will insure the building. To protect your personal property, though, you will need to buy a renter's policy. Your rental insurance policy will typically protect you against losses from:
differ from state to state and among insurance companies. Consult an
insurance representative to determine the type of policy appropriate
for your situation.