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Apartment checklist: 10 issues to get right

Peter Miller
The Mortgage Reports contributor

In this article:

When looking for a rental, it’s critical to have a checklist. Key items to consider when you’re looking at a potential apartment include:

  • How much can you afford, and what is the real cost of the rental (for example, are utilities included)?
  • How big is the apartment, and what are the building’s amenities (for example, will you have access to dedicated parking, gym facilities, and pet areas?)
  • Are you prepared to rent? Do you have pay stubs, good credit, and necessary deposits ready?

Looking for a rental? A checklist makes it easier

When it’s time to get a new rental it’s smart to have an apartment checklist. Whether you’re looking for a first apartment or moving up to something better everyone should have a list to protect their interests. Here are the 10 issues every apartment seeker needs to consider.

Verify your new rate (Dec 14th, 2018)

Apartment checklist

1. What can you afford? Rental prices in many metro areas have risen significantly in recent years. If you pay too much, you will become “apartment poor” and not really able to enjoy your new digs. Set a budget that fairly reflects marketplace realities and your ability to make comfortable monthly payments.

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2. What is the real cost of leasing? In some cases, the comparisons are distorted. As an example, two units priced at $1,200 per month may have very different economics. In one case, the $1,200 rental includes utilities, while in the other, utilities are separate and extra. In another case, you may get free cable and Internet with one property but not the other.

3. How much space is in the unit? It’s often possible to roughly compare units on the basis of square footage, but you have to walk through them to see how much space is fully usable. For instance, does the model unit have the same layout as the unit that you want to rent? Also, model units can have deceptively small furniture to make them look larger.

Location

4. Location is crucially important for your apartment checklist. How long does it take to get to work? Can you walk to restaurants and shopping areas? Is there public transportation available? Within the apartment complex will you have the unit that’s near the dumpster, the one where there is a Saturday pickup at 6 AM?

5. Is there parking? Even if you take public transportation to work, in many cases you still want the option of car ownership. Is parking is available, are spaces assigned, and is there an additional charge? Also, is there a reasonable amount of space set aside for visitor parking?

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6. Are there social facilities? Many larger apartment properties include social facilities such as gyms, pools, tennis courts, and meeting rooms. Are such amenities important to you? Are they widely used by other tenants? Can your visitors use such facilities? Are there additional charges and fees?

7. How long is the lease? In some jurisdictions, property managers must offer a minimum lease term, perhaps two years. This can work to your advantage if you’re worried about annual rate increases. If you might move because of a job change or for personal reasons, you may prefer a shorter arrangement or even rent month-to-month.

Rent control & the apartment checklist

8. Are you looking in an area with rent control? A number of major cities and counties have rent control programs designed to protect tenants. Rent control can give tenants a lot of leverage; however, such programs may also limit investor interest — reducing the number of units for rent and increasing apartment rates.

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9. How will renting affect your credit standing? Some landlords report rental payment information to credit bureaus,– while others do not. Unlike mortgage payments, which are reported in virtually all cases, the situation with rental units is foggy. Of particular concern are landlords who report late or missed rental payments but not timely payments.

Be Prepared

10. Are you prepared to get a lease? In most areas of the country rental rates are rising because a relatively limited number of new rental units are being produced while populations are growing. The result is that landlords have a lot of leverage in the marketplace. They plainly do not want tenants who don’t make their payments or damage properties.

One way to get a better deal is to have paperwork that will make landlords happy such as recent pay stubs and a letter of recommendation from your current landlord. Before apartment hunting be sure to check your credit report to make sure it’s clean and that it does not contain any errors or out-of-date information which can lower your credit score. You can do this by getting a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Verify your new rate (Dec 14th, 2018)