The real estate market continues to evolve into a seller’s market. Prices are up, inventory is down, and buyers outnumber sellers. However, if you would rather rent than buy right now, here are some tips on how to be a savvy renter.
- Find a property that fits your needs. You can find places for rent listed in your local newspaper, via an online search, or call a professional property management company.
- Make sure you’re dealing with a reputable landlord, and that the person you’re dealing with is, in fact, the owner or legitimate property manager. A recent scam involves “landlords” advertising properties for rent. They accept your application and your deposit, but get “called away” and cannot meet with you. They abscond with your money and personal information and never send you the keys. If possible, it’s best to deal with people you can meet with face to face.
- Pay attention to the condition of the property. This is the honeymoon phase. If the place doesn’t look nice now when the landlord is trying to rent it, it’s unlikely the landlord will put in more time and money to fix things once you’ve moved in.
- Tell the truth. Complete the rental application thoroughly and in good faith. You should assume the landlord will verify the information.
- Read your lease agreement, and pay attention to your obligations. You don’t have much negotiating power after you’ve signed your name. If you have questions, ask them.
- Use a move-in checklist and take pictures. If the landlord doesn’t offer a move-in checklist, make one for yourself. Take inventory of what’s broken or missing, as well as the condition of appliances and other features. Pictures are a great way to catalog the property.
- Confirm that the locks have been re-keyed.
- Prepare for an emergency. Find out where the breaker box is, along with the emergency shut off for water and gas. Also inspect the property for a smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Landlords are legally required to provide them.
- Communicate with your landlord. Renters sometimes fear that sharing bad news with landlords about needed repairs will result in a bigger rent payment. However, a good landlord will appreciate being informed about problems when they’re small and easy to take care of. A little leak is usually cheap to fix; massive dry rot is not. Replacing an electrical outlet is relatively easy; losing your property to fire is not.
- Move out well. When you leave a property, give appropriate notice (check your lease agreement) and really clean the place. Use your move-in checklist as you move out. Ask the landlord for a pre-move out inspection, so they can tell you what they believe requires attention. This gives you an opportunity to fix things yourself rather than to be charged for them later.
If you’re wondering how much to pay for rent, look at what similar homes in the area are renting for. If the one you’re interested in is really high or really low, pay attention. Be aware that the security deposit cannot legally be more than twice the monthly rent for an unfurnished property. Be informed.