When looking to rent your first apartment, it’s soooo easy to get caught up in awesome amenities and the cool look of an apartment and forget about all other important details that should factor into your decision. Trust me, I’m a sucker for historic/vintage style apartments, so when on the search for a new place, I often have to stop and remind myself that things like the neighborhood, the commute distance, etc. are just as (or arguably even more important) than the aesthetic appeal of the apartment itself. So, before you sign the lease and begin your new adventure into independence, let’s talk about the top five most common mistake that first time renters make and how to avoid them.
1. Read the lease and get all promises in writing.
Welcome to the grownup world, where verbal promises are pretty much useless, especially as they relate to real estate transactions. It’s unfortunate, but handshakes or pinky promises are not longer good ways to make your roommates pay their portion of the rent or to get your landlord to actually fix that leaky faucet. Therefore, it’s key to read and understand your lease thoroughly (and make sure you get a signed and dated copy of your own) and get any promises made, whether from roommates or the landlord in writing with signatures and dates. This way, if any issues come up, you have the legal backing to defend yourself. You may shake your head and say, “that won’t happen.” But it does. All the time. So don’t make this first time renter’s mistake. It’s a biggie, and it could cost you dearly if you don’t play it smart from moment one.
2. Budget for all your expenses, not just for rent.
Budgets are pretty annoying to make, especially if you’re not a millionaire. However, they are a necessity if you’re going to learn to live within your means and to avoid going really, really broke. Most first time renters realize they need to make a budget, but, unfortunately, this realization usually comes AFTER they’ve signed a lease and moved into an apartment they can’t afford.
Why do you need to have your finances in check before you rent? Well, first of all, a nice, neat budget forces you to think about all the expenses (utilities, cell phone, commuting, car payments, student loan payments, etc.) you’ll need to cover in addition to your rent. It will show how much you can really afford to spend on your new apartment. When you rent without a budget it mind, it can lead to all sorts of problems and, in the worst case scenario, defaulting on your rent payments. It’s the biggest NO NO you can make as a renter, because it will impact your ability to rent in the future. Plan ahead and you’re chances of getting into some serious financial trouble are a whole lot less likely.
3. Check out the apartment/amenities thoroughly.
When you’re touring an apartment for the first time, you’re more likely to take it all in rather than spend your time snooping around for broken appliances, cracks in the ceiling, bugs hiding out under the counter, etc. On an initial viewing, that’s probably okay. But, if you let a second tour and a lease signing go by without doing some serious inspection, then you could be in for a whole world of trouble.
The same goes for amenities offered on site — check out that “laundry room” and that “outdoor pool” or “gym” and make sure they are something you actually want to pay money for. If half of the equipment is broken in the gym, it’s not gonna do you much good. The same goes for a disgusting pool or a non-functional laundry room. Seriously, don’t sign a lease without doing some serious exploring…you’ll thank us later!
For the lowdown on how to check out a rental, check out this blog from fellow My First Apartment writer, Alissa.
4. Check out the neighborhood vibe and be realistic about your commute.
The area around your apartment may look pretty good at first glance, but that doesn’t mean that the neighborhood is actually safe or even right for you. Before you lease, it’s key to make sure you scout out the area surrounding the apartment (at different hours of the day…a place often doesn’t have the same vibe at 4 a.m. that it does at 4 p.m.) and make sure it’s really what you are looking for in a neighborhood. For example, if you’re young, single, and on the lookout to make new friends, then a family-filled neighborhood probably isn’t right for you. Also, make sure to pull up Google maps at check the distance between your job and the apartment. If it’s more than a 30 minute ride, gas is gonna cost you and you’ll likely end up spending more time in your car than in your new place.
Another, more positive reason, to check out the locale, is to see if necessities are nearby, such as a grocery store, a laundromat if you’re apartment doesn’t have one, etc. Life will be SO much easier if you take some time to explore your surroundings before jumping in and signing on the dotted line.
5. Research the reputation of the landlord/the management company.
Any landlord is gonna throw on a smile and charming personality when they are trying to get you to sign a lease, but don’t be fooled by an initial first impression when it comes to the big boss. In fact, before you really get down to business, it’s oh-so-important to do some research about your potential landlord or management company by reading reviews about them online (apartment ratings.com is a pretty reliable resource) from past and current residents and by checking out their reputation. For real, nothing can ruin your experience in your first apartment faster than a horrible landlord, so do your research and check out this list of ways to investigate your would-be landlord before you make a commitment.
Renters, share your stories! What kind of mistakes did you make your first year of renting?