For many, moving out and renting a home for the first time is an exciting rite of passage. But it’s also a major decision that requires careful consideration. Because the process is new and unfamiliar, it’s easy to make mistakes or overlook critical details. Awareness of these mistakes and knowing how to avoid them can save time, money and headaches.
Let’s look at the top five mistakes first-time renters make and how to avoid them.
1. Skimming the lease without carefully reading it
We’ve all done it — clicked “I agree” and signed our name to a “terms and conditions” agreement that we didn’t read. In our digital world, it is easier than ever to be tempted to just skim these documents. But an apartment lease is not the kind of agreement you want to skim and sign without careful review.
Your lease should cover everything, whether it’s payment schedules and late fees, painting and decorating, or even pets. It will also outline visitor protocols, community guidelines, and the process for maintenance, repairs and damage.
The document should also address contractual issues such as what to do if you need to break your lease, or if your roommate moves out unexpectedly and you need to add someone else to the lease. In most cases, there will be additional fees and a required notice period. Maintaining an open dialogue with your property manager about these circumstances is critical — most communities have policies against subletting, and it’s important that you keep them apprised of any changes.
2. Forgoing renters insurance
According to the Insurance Information Institute, while obtaining insurance is standard for homeowners — 95 percent of them have a homeowners insurance policy — only 41 percent of renters have renters insurance.
Many apartment communities require renters insurance, but there are some operators that don’t. Whether or not your property manager requires insurance, you should get it. It is not a big expense and well worth the investment. (Think of your laptop alone.)
Although policies differ, most renters insurance will cover loss or damage to your personal belongings in the event of a flood, fire, theft or other emergencies. Property owners also have insurance, but it typically covers only the unit and surrounding property, not your belongings.
When purchasing renters insurance, be sure to review the liability coverage requirements and provisions. Your property manager might recommend an agent, but it’s a good idea to research and compare cost and coverage options. Whatever you decide, be sure to talk to your property manager to ensure the policy you’ve selected meets their standard for coverage.
3. Rushing through the process without asking important questions
It’s easy to get excited about an apartment when you see it for the first time, especially when it lines up with your vision for size, location and amenities. That’s why it’s helpful to bring a list of questions to review with the leasing agent. This will help ensure you’ve accounted for all the details, big and small, that could impact your living experience.
Questions may include: Is there ongoing construction, renovation or projects on the property? What floor will I be on? What security measures are in place? How is the Internet connectivity and what utilities are available? What are the hours and guidelines around use of amenities such as the fitness center, pool and co-working spaces? How is package delivery handled?
You should also verify that the apartment you’re touring is the same model as the apartment you’re planning to rent. If there is limited stock of a particular apartment type, there may not be any vacant ones to show. If that’s the case, tour the other open apartments and try to get a sense of what features are similar to the model you’re looking to lease.
4. Underestimating costs
Rent isn’t necessarily an all-encompassing number. There may be additional costs associated with utilities, trash pickup, parking, community amenities, concierge services, WiFi and pets. Make sure to review your lease and ask the property manager about any additional fees.
You should also verify the payment structure and platform. Some operators may collect a monthly rent check. Others may have an online resident portal where you can set up a recurring deposit from your checking account, and some have even introduced credit card payment options. Make sure you’re comfortable with the setup and know when and where to pay on time. One of the other common mistakes first-time renters make is paying late. Most operators will charge a fee if your rent is late because they have bills of their own to pay to maintain the property.
5. Forgetting the long game
Just like past job experience can affect your career opportunities for years to come, the kind of resident you are now can impact future living opportunities.
Most property managers will ask for a list of prior residences and will even call your previous manager to see if you were a responsible resident. And if you want to buy a home in the future, the bank may contact a former property manager to verify that you paid your rent on time.
It’s as if you’re building a resident résumé — you want to position yourself as a reliable candidate who pays rent on time, gets along with your neighbors and the leasing staff, and respects community policies. That way, when you go to rent your next apartment or buy a house, you will have a strong reference in your former housing provider.
No matter who you rent from — a small mom-and-pop owner or a major residential management company — open, consistent communication is the key to success. Start by setting clear expectations and asking specific questions during the leasing process and continue in that vein once you’ve signed on the dotted line. Whether it’s communicating about a maintenance request, a new pet you’ve adopted or your plans for renewal, stay proactive. Working with the community staff members and seeing them as a respected resource can go a long way to improve your living experience — both now and in the future.
Robert Pinnegar is president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, based in Arlington, Va.
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