On the hunt for a new apartment? A move can be an exciting opportunity to explore a new area or meet new people. However, competitive rental markets can make it difficult to find a desirable place on a budget.
Keep these ten tips in mind to manage the process like a pro. They'll help you stand out from the crowd, get a good deal, enjoy the neighborhood and manage your rights and responsibilities as a renter.
1. Talk to Other Tenants. Speak with current or past renters to get a sense for the building and landlord. Ask about the neighborhood, noise, timeliness with repairs and any other pressing questions. Consider looking for online reviews of the landlord as well, and research the neighborhood.
2. Upgrade Your Application. Go beyond the basic application requirements and include pictures, references, credit reports and a short bio about yourself and whoever else may be moving in. Try to catch the landlord's eye and show that you'll take care of the property. You can order a free credit report from each bureau (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.
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3. Understand Your Lease. The lease may list the rent amount, terms of the security deposit, guest polices and other crucial details. Read it carefully and ask questions if you don't understand something. State laws regarding rent control or other regulations can impact your situation as well. If you can afford one, you could hire a lawyer to review and explain the lease.
4. Negotiate the Terms. You can't always negotiate lower rent (it's worth trying), but there may be flexibility when it comes to the security deposit, parking spaces, administrative fees, or the lease's length.
5. Learn Your Rights. Protect yourself by learning about your rights as a renter. They can vary by state, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a directory with links to tenants' rights websites for each state.
6. Do a Walkthrough. Walk through the apartment with the landlord, look for damages and document anything you find. You'll thank yourself later when you move out and ask for your full security deposit back.
7. Consider Renters Insurance. Renters insurance costs about $15 to $30 a month for a policy that covers $50,000 worth of losses. It reimburses you if your belongings are stolen, damaged or destroyed by a covered cause, such as a fire. The insurance also helps pay for legal fees if, for instance, someone sues after getting injured at your home.
8. Make Your Own Repairs. Prior to signing the lease, ask if you can take on some of the maintenance responsibilities in exchange for reduced rent. You could offer to handle and pay for basic upkeep, such as replacing lights or smoke detectors, and making minor repairs.
9. Pay Attention to Bills. Evaluate which bills you'll pay in addition to the rent, such as gas, heat, water, electricity, trash, Wi-Fi or parking. A more expensive apartment that includes these can save you money overall.
10. Talk to Your Landlord. Hiding financial trouble helps no one. Talk to your landlord and ask for an extension if you can't make rent. Good tenants can be hard to come by, and your landlord will likely prefer open communication and a late check to being left in the dark.
Bottom Line: Being an informed renter is especially important in a competitive rental market. Take simple steps to improve your rental and money management skills and you'll benefit for years to come.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/