It’s exciting to find a new apartment! You’ve searched high and low to find a spot that fits your personality and lifestyle needs. You’ve got the cash, envisioned the places where you’re going to put furniture in your new space, and you’re ready to sign on the dotted line. But wait! Before you sign your life away on your next lease, there are a few things you should know, especially if you’re a first-time renter.
When you’re a first-time apartment renter, it’s easy to get lost in the excitement, but don’t forget that there’s a lot of responsibility that comes alongside the signing of a lease agreement. It’s essential that you read everything in your lease, even if it seems dry and boring. Everything in that document is critically important, and there are a few details you’ll want to make sure you pay specific attention to.
To help you out, we decided to create a first-time renter checklist.
1. Understanding How Much You’ll Have to Pay
At first glance, most apartments seem to tell you exactly how much you’ll need to pay if you live there. You’ve budgeted XYZ dollars, and the apartment only costs XY dollars, so you’re saving Z. Yay, right?
Not so fast.
Have you asked about utilities? How much will your electric bill be? Do you have to pay extra if you have pets?
The list price of many apartments is only face value. You have to do a little investigating to see what you’ll really be paying.
- Call the electric company. Ask what the average monthly electric bill has been for your address in the past three years. This will give you a good idea of the extra amount of money you’ll need to pay above and beyond your monthly rent to stay warm and cozy or cool and comfortable, depending on the season. You might find a spot that includes utilities in the price of your rent, but if that’s the case, it’s still best to know upfront so you’re not caught by surprise later on.
- Ask about upfront costs. Rent is just the beginning. When you’re first signing onto a place, you’ll be faced with more expenses than your monthly payment. It’s best to have a couple months’ rent saved up to cover the upfront costs of renting, which may include first and last months’ rent, security deposits, application fees, and other miscellaneous costs. It’s important to understand the total cost of your application before signing day so you’re not caught off guard with unexpected expenditures.
- Find out about other expenses. You’ll probably want internet access, so you should factor that cost into the price of your new rental. What about renter’s insurance? You’ll need that, too. As you figure out your budget, don’t forget that you have normal expenses like food, car insurance, and gas, which aren’t going to go away. You need to make sure your budget accommodates the stuff you’re already used to—like eating.
2. Looking Over the Lease
It’s imperative that you understand everything that’s in your lease. Don’t feel rushed or like you need to know what everything in your paperwork means when it’s set in front of you. Ask your landlord questions anytime you’re unsure about what something means. It’s their job to explain things to you if you’re not certain about the agreement. Be sure to ask your landlord to point out any charges you’ll be incurring above your normal rent. Your lease should clearly spell out additional expenses, such as:
- Pet fees
- Trash fees
- Water bill fees
- Amenity fees
By talking with your landlord about your lease from the beginning, you’ll have a better understanding of the fees (and potential fines) you’ll be facing after you move in. This is also a great opportunity to open discussions, so you fully understand what’s expected of you when your lease is finished, particularly if you won’t be renewing when the term is complete.
3. Getting Acquainted with the Lease-Break Fee
Stuff happens in life, and, sometimes, we find ourselves needing to move on from our current situations. Perhaps you find yourself with a roommate who’s not a good fit for your personality. Maybe you get a job across the country that requires relocation. Even if you don’t anticipate leaving your new apartment before the lease is up, it’s important to understand how much you’ll have to shell out in the event you do need to break your lease early.
Here are a few things to ask your landlord before you commit to your rental clause:
- How much notice will I have to give you before the lease automatically renews? This is important because, even if you’re staying in the same city, you might choose to find a different apartment when your lease is up, for any number of reasons. If you don’t give notice within the timeframe specified on your lease, you could be subject to expensive penalties when your lease rolls over if you choose to go elsewhere. You might even have to pay a whole year’s rent if you intend to move out after the end of your initial term.
- What happens if I get a job somewhere else? Some landlords will allow you to sub-lease your apartment, which means someone else takes over the term of your lease. Others will not. Some landlords may even allow you to break your lease if you can prove you’re doing so because of occupational requirements. This is an important distinction to understand upfront because you could wind up in an expensive situation if you choose to sublet your apartment outside of the boundaries of your lease agreement.
Even if you don’t plan to leave, know what your options are. A lot can change in a year or two, and you want to be armed with all available options, should something alter your current plans.
4. Finding New Reasons for Photos
Selfies in your new apartment are probably second nature in this day and age, but there’s a better reason to put that shutter to work. Make sure you take tons of pictures of any damage or distress to the property as soon as you move in. Your landlord will likely charge you for those damages if he or she doesn’t know they existed when you got there. Put that camera on your phone to use and document anything you might be charged for when you move out. Send those photos to your landlord as soon as you can and keep them in a time-stamped folder for your safe-keeping, in case you ever need them.
Here are a few examples of things you should look for:
- Stains on the carpet
- Marks or scratches on the floor
- Marks on the wall
- Damaged blinds
Many landlords will have you fill out a move-in report where you can outline these types of damages on official letterhead, but it’s important to be prepared if a checklist isn’t provided to you.
5. Knowing What the Lease Actually Means
First-time renters sometimes have buyers’ regret (or renters’ regret, as the case may be) because they didn’t truly understand the rules of the decisions they’ve made. You don’t want to sign up for something, only to find out too late it’s not what you bargained for. It’s absolutely imperative to read the entire lease and understand exactly what each section is telling you before you sign it. Otherwise, you could cost yourself thousands of dollars throughout the duration of your lease.
6. Finding Furniture That Fits
There are a few things many first-time renters don’t realize they need to put on their apartment-hunting checklists until they find out the hard way. Of course, you’ll need furniture, but how will you get it? Will the furniture you currently own fit into your space? Don’t just think about the area where it will ultimately reside (although, that’s certainly an important factor). You also need to take entryways, elevators, stairwells, and hallways into consideration. If you’re sofa’s too big for the move, your entire aesthetic could go bust very quickly.
It’s important to take measurements before moving day to ensure your furniture actually fits inside your apartment.
7. Asking About Move-In and Move-Out Policies
A lot of first-time renters don’t realize there are usually rules around move-in and move-out. You might only be permitted to move on certain days of the month or week, and the times are usually restricted to specific hours during the day. Make sure you know this information in advance, so you can properly plan when the moving truck should be there. Otherwise, you could incur penalties if you move outside of a permitted window, or you may find yourself sitting around for extended periods of time as you wait for the approved time period to roll around.
The same goes for move-outs. Make sure you’re all set up and ready to go when your move-out day arrives. Being unprepared in an apartment full of boxes is no fun, especially if you find yourself in a rushed situation.
8. Knowing About the Parking Situation
If you rely on public transportation to get around, you can skip this one, but if you drive a vehicle, it’s important to find out about the parking situation before you find yourself endlessly circling the block for a spot. A lot of people who have relied on their parents’ driveways find a rude awakening when they realize that luxury doesn’t exist everywhere. Will you have an assigned spot? If so, will you have to pay for it? If street parking is the only option, how difficult will it be to find a spot on a regular basis?
It’s also important to know what the street parking rules are so you avoid expensive parking and street sweeping tickets.
If you’re ready to sign your first least—whether you’ll be a first-time home renter or signing on the line for your first apartment—it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you make a commitment. Bay Management Group has everything you need to be sure you’re safe and secure as a first-time renter. If you have first-time renter questions, we’re here to help. If you’re looking for a place to rent, we’ve got you covered. Simply head to our website, browse our available rental properties, peruse our helpful FAQs, or contact us today.