Getting your own apartment for the first time can be a great experience. But while it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of apartment hunting, you must be practical.
Signing a lease is a big commitment, and protecting yourself financially is imperative. To make sure your experience as a new tenant is a positive one, here are five things you must do.
1. Find out your total upfront and monthly costs
When you shop for an apartment, it’s important to know the total amount you’ll have to pay to move in as well as your monthly costs after you’ve become a tenant.
“Upfront cash required for your first apartment can be steep,” warned Scott Bierbryer, co-founder and chief operating officer of VeryApt, an apartment search and review website.
Bierbryer explained that it’s common for a landlord to require both first month’s rent and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit before you move in. Security deposit amounts vary but could equal one month’s rent or be set according to state laws.
You’ll also need to know what your ongoing costs will be, including rent and utilities you’re responsible for paying, such as electric, gas, water, internet, and garbage.
“Make sure that the monthly payment you’re going to take on is affordable,” advised Glen Henderson, a Realtor with Alliance Group Real Estate. “Many times, people don’t have a budget and don’t understand how much all of their monthly expenses add up.”
2. Read your lease agreement carefully and follow the rules
Your lease provides details on more than your rent and security deposit. The lease also will specify things such as:
- How long your rental term is. “When a tenant signs a lease, they’re locking themselves into that obligation for the length of the lease, and there may be stiff financial penalties for breaking it early,” said Kevin Deselms, a Realtor with Re/Max Alliance. Most residential leases last a year, but if you aren’t sure you’ll stay put that long, ask potential landlords if they’d agree to a shorter term. “Many places will offer six-month leases, and some will allow tenants to pay rent on a month-to-month basis, which is ideal for people who aren’t sure how long they will want to stay there,” Deselms said.
- What the rules are for pets. Find out if pets are allowed and if an additional monthly cost or deposit is required. There also might be restrictions on what kinds of pets you can have, such as weight limits for dogs.
- What’s included with your apartment. Read the lease carefully to find out if parking or other amenities are included. You don’t want to be surprised to discover the gym is only for tenants who pay for a membership.
- Who else can live there. Are you allowed to sublet your apartment? Are there restrictions on guests or roommates? Read every detail of your lease carefully because you’ll be bound by the contract terms and could be evicted for violating them.
If you and your landlord agree to anything else, such as the landlord painting the walls before you move in, make sure you put it in writing. Otherwise, you have no leverage if the landlord doesn’t do what was promised.
3. Document damage to protect your security deposit
When you move into your apartment, you’ll almost always be required to put down a security deposit. This is to protect the landlord in case you cause damage, but you don’t want to lose the money without cause after you move out.
Bierbryer recommends doing a detailed walk-through with the landlord on move-in day.
“The walk-through is one of the best ways for renters to document the condition of each part of the unit. Nothing needs to be contentious, but a renter should note, with the landlord’s sign-off, that certain items may be a bit older or suboptimal,” Bierbryer said.
Photographic evidence also can go a long way toward resolving disputes. “Take out your smartphone and take pictures of the unit,” advised Aaron Bowman, a Realtor with Mazz Real Estate. “Take pictures of things that are broken, missing, or worn out so when you leave the apartment you can show it was in that condition when you took it over.”
4. Budget for essentials before move-in
Move-in day is exciting, but it quickly will become less fun if you discover you don’t have forks, a bed, or a place to sit.
“Most new renters are not prepared for how much they’ll need to buy when they move in,” Deselms said. “It can be costly getting set up in your new pad, so I’d advise making sure you’ve saved money for furniture and supplies. There’s a lot people take for granted when living with others, especially parents, and the amount of stuff they end up needing can be a surprise.”
If you’ve never had your own apartment, do a thorough inventory of what you’ll need to buy. If you can’t afford the essentials, a personal loan could help you start your new life. But don’t borrow more than you can afford for necessary items and pay off the loan as quickly as possible.
5. Buy renters insurance to protect your possessions
There’s one more thing you need to do as a new renter: Get covered under a renters insurance policy.
“Don’t forget the renters insurance,” Deselms advised. “Many property managers and landlords require it, but not all. Whether they do or not, I strongly recommend the modest monthly cost of a renters policy to protect your belongings.”
“Renters insurance will protect you in case there is ever a fire, flood, or theft,” Henderson said. “It’s a relatively inexpensive protection in case anything ever does happen. In many instances, the landlord is not responsible if a pipe were to break and flood the residence, which in turn would ruin your items.”
Being properly insured will give you peace of mind. Along with taking the other steps on this list, getting covered helps you ensure moving into a new apartment won’t damage your finances. You can enjoy your new home worry-free because you’ve been responsible about becoming a tenant.
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