On the road that leads to homeownership, there are a lot of steps. However, just as the old proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. In this series of articles, we will walk you through several of the crucial steps that many homeowners before you have taken. Along the way, we will give you some tips and advice on how to navigate this journey so that, someday, you will step over the threshold of your very own home.
Step 1: Renting for the First Time?
Moving into your first rental is a very freeing experience, but it does come with a lot of responsibility as well. There can be a lot of unexpected logistics to keeping up with your own place, which can be daunting at times. However, in this article, we’ll go over a few things that will help you make this big transition in your life. If you follow this guide, you’ll be unpacking boxes and settling into your new place in no time.
Before You Start Looking
Here are some of the most important things you need to do before you even start looking. Planning in this area will save you quite a bit of effort in the longrun.
Determine Your Rent Budget
A vital part of beginning this journey is to sit down and calculate your budget. Knowing what you can and cannot afford to pay each month in rent is critical. You might be tempted to select a place that has cutting-edge trends in interior design or is situated in the most glamorous part of town, but you need to be truthful about your situation. Avoid putting yourself in a position that will result in financial woes. Use one of the many online rent calculators to give yourself a good idea of what you can realistically afford.
Take a good look at your income, what you have in savings, and any existing debt you currently carry (like car payments, credit cards, insurance, student loans, etc.). Generally speaking, no more than 30% of your monthly income should go toward your rent. Make certain that you have enough money in the budget for living expenses like food, transportation, and utilities. Being honest about your financial situation and whether or not you can truly afford to rent a specific place will save you a lot of time. If you know you cannot afford a place, do yourself a favor and skip the tour.
Figure Out Your Credit Score
What even is a credit score you ask? Put simply, it is a three-digit number that is determined by your personal credit history. The higher that number is, the less of a risk you appear to be to the auto loan issuers, banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, and landlords that use credit scores to determine whether or not to sign a contract with you. Knowing your credit score before you begin filling out applications will remove some of the possible surprises with the approval process.
Even if you have a low credit score, or have yet to build enough credit history, you may be able to sign a rental lease with a co-signer or guarantor. This is typically a close friend, family member, or parent willing to become legally responsible if you default on your monthly payments. Though this person will likely not live with you and you will be paying your rent on your own, this is still a major commitment on their part. Before asking someone to take on this responsibility, you should make certain that you can honor your financial agreement. Otherwise, it could cause an issue with the relationship that extends beyond the loss of your rental.
The Difference Between Needs and Wants
As you will be calling this place home, at least for a while, it is well worth figuring out what you need to recharge and feel rested once the day is done. Make a list of the top priorities for your lifestyle and sort them between what you need and what you want. Here are a few questions worth asking yourself:
- Do you want a pet? How much more will that cost in fees and expenses?
- Do you need a dedicated space for a home office?
- How much storage and closet space do you need?
- What floor would you like to be located on?
- Where will you do your laundry?
- Do you need a second bathroom?
- Do you want a fireplace?
- Is covered parking necessary? Do you want a dedicated garage?
- What access do you need to public transportation? How far away is it?
- What location would you prefer to live in? Can you afford the cost of living there?
- What other amenities do you want? Clubhouse? Fitness center? Outdoor grills? Swimming pool?
What About a Roommate?
Just as difficult as deciding which place might be, you need to carefully consider whether or not taking on a roommate is the right call for you. If you are worried about being able to meet all of the financial commitments on your own, it might be a good decision. However, before you determine that you want to share your home with someone else, you need to consider the ups and downs of living with somebody else. After all, you are signing a lease for probably six months to a year, and you need to be absolutely certain that you are going to be comfortable and happy with your living arrangements.
Think carefully about what compatibilities you need from a roommate and what behaviors you could not stand to live with. You might want to think about drafting a formal roommate agreement. Here are a few points that you and any potential roommate should come to terms with:
- How comfortable are you sharing things like food in the fridge or freezer?
- Are parties allowable? If so, how large can they be and how late can they go on?
- Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
- Who is going to supply or purchase the furniture in shared spaces like the living room?
- Do you prefer to get take out or delivery, or will you be cooking?
- How often can guests stay and how late? Is it alright if they stay overnight?
- What are your usual activities on the weekends?
- Do you have pets? Are you both alright living with them?
- What are each of your daily schedules? Are you a night person or a morning person?
- What is your preferred level of cleanliness?
- Do you have any allergies? Do they?
- Whose name will the utilities be under and how will you share those bills?
- Is smoking okay? Do you have any other pet peeves?
While You Are Looking
Here are some of the things that you can actively work on once you begin looking for your new rental. You can save yourself quite a bit of headache and hassle with just a little planning.
Scouting Out Properties
When you do eventually start to tour potential rental properties, be certain that you are taking a thorough look at the places and that you ask any questions you may have. Now is not the time to be shy or reserved. The more specific you are at this point, the more potential issues you might be able to avoid later on down the road. Here are some potential questions that you might want to ask:
- How many break-ins have occurred within the past year? Car break-ins?
- What is the cost of rent? Is auto-pay a possibility? Application fees? Security deposits?
- Are painting and other small modifications allowable?
- How cold does it get in the winter? How hot in the summer?
- Which party pays for the small maintenance issues with the rental?
- What is the situation with parking? Are there dedicated spots per unit?
- Are the other tenants mainly married couples with families? Older people? Younger students?
- Who is responsible for paying the utility bills?
- What are the available amenities? Are there extra fees associated with using these?
When you are looking at actual units (such as the apartment you would be renting), here are some things to be mindful of. If you are attending a showing virtually, make sure to ask the agent or landlord to check these things for you. They should be more than happy to do so and, if they aren’t, consider that a red flag.
- Check carpets for wear and tear.
- Pay attention to the general level of noise while you are there.
- Flush every toilet.
- Look for damaged fixtures, broken tiles, holes in the walls, etc.
- Check that there is ample daylight coming in where you will need it.
- Look for mildew, mold, or signs of possible insect or rodent infestations.
- Check the drainage, temperature, and water pressure of all the sinks and tubs/showers.
- How close will you be able to park on moving day?
- Look in every space of the unit. Open every cabinet and closet, look behind each door, check out every window, turn on each light, and test all of the appliances, faucets, and locks.
- Where are the elevators and stairs located in relation to the unit?
- Check the outside spaces of the home as well – building exterior, gyms, laundry rooms, parking lot or garages, outdoor spaces, and any other shared spaces.
- Make sure that you feel comfortable with the security of the building. Check to see if there is enough lighting in places where you will be at night.
Speak with the Neighbors Alone
If you can manage to talk to some of the other tenants without the manager or landlord around, you should ask them about their experiences while living here. Here are a few questions you should consider asking them:
- Is the management easy to work with?
- Are they prompt when there is a request to perform repairs?
- Are the other tenants quiet and friendly?
- Do you feel safe living here?
When You Find One
Once you find a place that seems to meet your criteria of needs and wants and you begin picturing yourself making it your home, it might be time to move on to the next part of your journey. Before you start measuring walls for furniture placement, however, there are still a few more things that need to be taken care of first.
Generally speaking, a security deposit can cost as much as two months’ rent. Some places also charge rent for both the first and last month of a rental lease. And all of this would be due before you would be allowed to actually move in. It is for this exact reason that you need to be sure to have at least three months’ worth of rent saved up before you schedule a meeting with the leasing agent. It should also be noted that this amount of savings should be in addition to any possible moving expenses.
Along with your rental lease application, you will probably be asked to submit additional information. What follows is a list of the types of documents most commonly requested by leasing agents. Save yourself some time and have these prepared ahead of time, just in case.
- Proof of vehicle insurance and registration
- Completed rental lease application (have your application fee ready too)
- Personal identification (driver’s license, passport, state ID, etc.)
- Rental references
- Proof of income (pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, etc.)
If your application gets approved, the leasing agent will ask for you to come into the office to sign the lease agreement. During this part of the process, your vigilance and focus will be vital. Once you sign that contract, you are legally bound by the terms contained within. So before you put your name on the dotted line, make sure to consider a few more pieces of advice. Read on, dear reader.
Know Thy Lease
It is imperative that you do not sign anything unless you understand exactly what it is that you are about to legally agree to. And this is no more true throughout this entire process than it is when you are handed your lease agreement. Once you receive that stack of paperwork, read it all the way through. And then read it again, line by line.
If there are terms that you don’t fully understand the meaning of – ask. If there are any questions that you have, at all – ask. If you want more information about anything – ask.
This contract contains all of the details of the agreement that you both are about to become legally responsible for. It is important to note that no verbal promise is legally binding. So make sure that you have any oral promise made by the property manager or landlord reflected here, in this document, in writing. This could include information such as who is responsible for paying for repairs and maintenance or whether renters’ insurance is required or not.
The terms represented in this lease are absolutely negotiable, and you are within your rights to do so. If there are terms that you do not agree with, you can ask for them to be changed or entirely removed. This can include the amount of monthly rent or even the security deposit. They may refuse your request, but you can also walk away before signing.
It is a good idea to do some research on what similar rental units are going for in the area where you are looking. This way, you have an understanding of fair pricing and can possibly use this to negotiate a better deal. If your lease begins on the first of the month but you are not able to move in until later, you can request to list a later date on the lease, which should pro-rate your rent and save you some money.
Be sure to determine whether the document you are signing is a rental agreement or a lease. While these are similar, they differ in the amount of time that they encompass. A lease covers a lengthier period of time, usually from six months to a year. A rental agreement typically covers only month-to-month, which means that the landlord can raise the cost of rent each and every time that you renew for another month. If you plan on living in this new place for a longer period of time, try to sign a longer lease to keep your rate as low as possible.
When, and only when, you are comfortable with the terms outlined in your lease and the amount that you will be spending each month, then you are ready to sign.
Make it Your Home
Before you even sign the lease, if possible, get the unit professionally inspected. If you cannot do so before you sign, then do so immediately afterward. Acquire a Landlord-Tenant Checklist from the property manager or landlord that lists all of the appliances, fixtures, and rooms that are included with your new rental unit. Perform another walk around the property and make detailed notes about the condition of everything on the list. Take pictures of any damages and bring them to the attention of the property manager or landlord. Being thorough at this juncture may protect you in the future from having unreported damages blamed on you.
The unit should have been deep cleaned before it was signed over to you, but you may want to perform one yourself once you take possession. If you would prefer, you could hire a cleaning company to do so for you. Doing a deep cleaning before you start moving boxes and furniture into the unit is much easier.
The process of moving in can be overwhelming if you are not prepared. And it may take longer than you think to get it all done. Making a checklist to help with the move can keep you organized and may make packing and unpacking a lot simpler. When moving day comes, make sure that you have enough help, whether you hire professionals or simply bribe your friends and family with a pizza dinner in your new place.
When it is all said and done, make certain to take some time for yourself. Get settled in and spend some time simply enjoying your new home.