Moving into your first apartment is an exciting and potentially stressful time. While the freedom of finally having your own space is fantastic, it also means taking on new responsibilities. Leasing an apartment involves legally binding contracts, inspections, and a large financial commitment. Therefore, first-time renters need to do their homework and thoroughly understand the step they are taking. To start your new adventure off right, check out our top tips for first-time renters below.
10 Tips for First-Time Renters
Renting an apartment involves many steps, all of which are important to making a solid decision. Due to the legal and financial implications of living on your own, we suggest thinking through all factors beforehand. So, follow along with this list of tips for first-time renters below –
- Define Your Needs
- Budget Realistically
- Narrow Down the Neighborhood
- Timing is Everything
- Tour Rental Units in Person
- Watch Out for Rental Scams
- Plan for the Application Process
- Read the Lease
- Invest in Insurance
- Complete a Move-In Inspection
Define Your Needs
Every individual will have different needs and desires when it comes to their first rental property. With so many listings available, the search can easily become overwhelming and diluted without proper focus. Therefore, the first step is to narrow down what features are important to you. This includes careful consideration of what is a need, a want, and a dealbreaker. The key here is to narrow your search based on need and rejoice in any available extra amenities.
Financial matters can make or break someone’s success when living on their own. Therefore, it is vital to evaluate your finances and create a budget to determine how much you can afford. Check out some of the helpful online rent affordability calculators but be sure to plan for unexpected expenses as well. Some of the monthly costs or apartment related expenses a renter faces are as follows –
Common Expenses for Renters
- Moving Expenses – Costs can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. However, first-time renters typically pay between $300 to $600, depending on location. Also, even if you move yourself, consider the cost of packing materials to be at least $150 or more.
- Monthly Rent – Nationally, the average rent price for a studio to 1 bedroom apartment is $1,584 – which continues to climb year over year.
- Utilities – In some cases, utilities may be included in the rental rate. If not, first-time renters must budget for gas, electricity, water, and heat, which quickly adds up.
- Cable, Internet, and Streaming – Cable and internet price varies based on provider and location, ranging from $60 to $200. In addition, popular streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Disney+, or HBO are an extra fee.
- Loan Payments – This varies by individual but includes car loans, personal loans, student loans, credit card debt, or other repayment obligations.
- Parking and Transport – Sometimes parking is included; however, if it is not, and this is something you need, the cost is a factor. In some larger cities, monthly parking can range from $100 to $300, so research carefully. That said if you do not need to park a vehicle, consider other transport costs such as metro or bus fees.
- Groceries, Entertainment, and Miscellaneous Expenses – Budgeting for living expenses is complex, and there are many other needs besides those listed below. For example, first-time renters creating a budget should account for groceries, entertainment, insurance costs, phone plans, and any unexpected financial needs that may arise.
Narrow Down the Neighborhood
How much it costs and what the apartment offers are vital factors. However, the first rule of real estate is location, location, location. Therefore, a lot is riding on finding the perfect neighborhood to call home. Below are a few questions to consider when narrowing down potential locations –
- How far am I willing to commute to work?
- Am I looking for exciting city life or a quiet place in the suburbs?
- Will I need access to public transit?
- Am I willing to consider looking at surrounding areas if my target neighborhood is too expensive?
- Do I want to be close to restaurants, nightlife, and cultural attractions?
- What are the area statistics? (Example: crime rates, school grades, and walkability scores)
Timing is Everything
The rental industry is cyclical – meaning that depending on the time of year, both price and demand will fluctuate. Therefore, if you are flexible, research the local market and strategically narrow your search to the most advantageous time of year. While this will vary by location, winter is typically when first-time renters can score the best deals.
Pro Tip: Finding the right apartment for your needs and budget can be a challenge. Therefore, give yourself ample time to find the perfect fit, on average, 60 to 90 days.
Tour Rental Units in Person
Once first-time renters make a shortlist of listings that match their needs, it is time to visit in person. Touring the actual unit you plan to rent is very different than viewing photos online. This is the opportunity to check out the neighborhood’s vibe, see the overall condition, and ask any questions you may have.
Questions to Ask Landlords During a Property Tour
- What are the monthly rent, deposits, and average cost of utilities?
- Are any of the deposits non-refundable?
- What forms of payment do you accept? Do you have online payment options?
- Is the lease term one year, or are you looking for a shorter/longer lease?
- What are the basic screening criteria to qualify?
- How soon could I move in?
- Is parking or any utilities included in the monthly rate?
- Do you accept pets? If so, is there an additional fee or deposit?
- Are appliances included? How about any basic furniture pieces?
While these are not all of the questions that may arise during a property tour, they are some basics that any renter needs to know.
Watch Out for Rental Scams
Unfortunately, as long as individuals are looking to rent, dishonest people will look to take advantage. Thus, being able to recognize the warning signs of a rental scam is critical. Some common things to watch out for are deals that are too good to be true, landlords that demand cash, or shady contacts that avoid showing you the unit in person. Keep in mind, do not ever provide money or sign any contracts until you have seen the unit and gone through an application process. Any legitimate landlord will be unwilling to bypass these essential steps.
Plan for the Application Process
New renters may not be ready for the competitive and fast-paced application process that accompany most rental units. So, preparation is key to being ready to jump on the perfect unit when you find it. Therefore, gather the necessary documents to apply and have them ready to go, including –
- Government Issued ID such as a Driver’s License
- Social Security Number for Credit and Background Checks
- Proof of Income via your 3 most recent paystubs and/or W-2
- Contact Information for Professional or Work References
- Money Set Aside for Application Fees
Next, make sure you ask questions and understand the individual landlord’s application process and processing times. This will allow first-time renters to move quickly and not lose out due to an incomplete application.
Read the Lease
We cannot stress enough the importance of thoroughly reading and understanding the lease agreement before signing. This is a legally binding contract and is not one to take lightly. Depending on the wording, backing out or changing your mind could mean you are still liable for the full lease amount! So, read every section, but pay close attention to lease clauses regarding –
- Late Fees
- Early Termination
- Guest Policies
- Right of Entry
- Notice Requirements
Invest in Insurance
Renters insurance is often required nowadays, but even if not, it is a worthwhile investment. A renter’s policy covers a tenant’s personal property in the residence along with liability coverage in the event of a loss, damage, or accident. Also, this coverage is quite affordable and averages between $8 and $22 per month. Moreover, most well-known insurance providers offer convenient renter’s policies that can be bundled with existing car insurance to provide added savings.
Complete a Move-In Inspection
An important last step before move-in is the move-in inspection. Most often, tenants complete this detailed walk-through with their landlord, and it requires your full attention. A move-in inspection documents the unit condition to compare with a move-out inspection to determine any tenant damage. If damage occurs, the landlord can hold funds from your security deposit. So, follow along closely, take your own condition photos, sign the checklist with your landlord and get a copy.
Common First-time Renter Mistakes to Avoid
Even with the necessary preparation, it is easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of finding your first place. Thus, it is then that mistakes can happen. Let’s review some of the most common mistakes first-time renters make below so you can steer clear of trouble.
Ignoring Signs of Neglect
Typically, landlords will post only the best photos that showcase their property’s potential. However, these photos may be retouched, outdated, or altogether fake. So, note the condition of the actual unit when you see it. If the place is in disrepair, it could signal a landlord that only does the bare minimum to get by, which is a red flag.
Skipping the Tour Altogether
Desperate or shady landlords may prey on first-time renter’s inexperience by making them feel pressured to move quickly. For example, they may use the tactic of another interested party being ready to sign. To get the unit secured, you need to sign and pay immediately – without seeing the unit. This is a bad sign and can lead to issues or even fraudulent activity. Under no circumstances should tenants rent a unit site unseen. That said, if you are moving out of state or from too far away to do an in-person tour, request a live video tour, and most reputable landlords will be willing to accommodate.
Renting property is a contract, and therefore, nothing should be assumed by either party. Therefore, if you are unsure if the rent includes utilities, parking, or other terms, get clarification before you sign.
Not Reading the Lease
As we mentioned above, the lease is a vital and informative document. Not only should renters read the lease initially before signing, keep it somewhere safe so you can refer back to it as needed. First-time renters should never feel pressured to rush through this process, so take all of the time you need to read and thoroughly understand your contractual obligations.
Failing to Save
Moving is expensive for many reasons, and first-time renters need to prepare for these one-time and reoccurring costs. Most often, renters get into trouble with the deposit. In addition to having a security deposit of 1 to 2 months’ rent, many landlords require the first months’ rent upfront. So, if the rent is $1,000 per month and the deposit is 2 months rent, a tenant may actually need $3,000 plus moving expenses to get their keys. Therefore, if they only planned for $1,000 – there would be a problem.
Rent with Confidence from Bay Property Management Group
Apartment hunting as a first-time renter can be a daunting process. However, working with a reputable property management firm that can offer the latest listings in your area with helpful and dedicated leasing staff is a great place to start. At Bay Property Management Group, we understand the stress that moving can bring on and work with renters every step of the way to find them the perfect rental home.
After move-in, our experienced property managers use the latest technology to make rent collection, maintenance requests, and receiving documents a breeze. Visit us online to check out the newest rental listings in your target location today.