Today’s post is a little later than I prefer because this week has genuinely been so busy I wasn’t able to start drafting it until this afternoon. But as fall and winter are popular seasons for renting/rental leases to start, so I didn’t want to push this topic back any further.
If you currently own a house, good for you. You get to choose whether to keep reading or not, but know that you may be renting again in the future and even if you don’t, people close to you likely will. For emerging adults — especially Millennials and likely the upcoming Gen Z folks — renting is a fact of life. Many of us won’t be able to afford to buy a home until many years in the future, if ever.
There are pros and cons to renting vs. owning, of course. When you own a home, all that responsibility falls on you. But renting means it’s only temporarily yours, and that the money you’re spending on housing isn’t going towards anything that will pay off in the future (the way a mortgage does). It’s not like you’re throwing money away, because a roof over your head is important, but you’ll never get anything back out of it.
On that cheery note, let’s jump in. Full disclosure: I had never had to rent before I moved into the apartment I’m currently living in. I got a lot of advice from friends and family (and the internet), and I’m still figuring things out. But I have been thoroughly acquainted with the process, and it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it may feel at first.
Looking for a place to rent
I’m gonna be honest, this is a crappy process. When my roommates and I were looking for our place, we scoured websites, had massive email chains, and spent a lot of time looking at various options. But there are a few things that can make it easier:
- Know your budget — and stick to it. We set a range based on research of average rent in the area, knowing that anything below our range was probably sketchy, and anything above it (which was still a lot of places) was more than we were comfortable paying.
- Know your “musts” versus “nice-to-haves.” Number of bedrooms and bathrooms, laundry facilities, parking, pet policies, included utilities, kitchen and living room setup, stairs, flooring, etc. There’s a ton of options and you need to know what you are and aren’t willing to be flexible on (do note that more “musts” might up your cost).
- Don’t consider places that don’t meet your musts. You’re just wasting your time looking at a place you wouldn’t be happy in.
- Determine how long you want the lease to be. A year is pretty standard, but some places do 3, 6, or 9-month leases, and others are willing to do month-to-month or more flexible arrangements. Make sure you’re willing to commit to the amount of time they’re asking you to sign on for.
- Search all the websites. com (my favorite), Zillow, Craigslist, etc. Also check out Facebook rentals which can sometimes have gems that aren’t posted on the bigger sites.
- Be careful. Make sure areas aren’t sketchy and that listings aren’t fake before you go out to see a place. If you aren’t sure, do some more digging, and if you end up going, bring a friend with you (and make sure another person knows where you’re going).
- Know what documents you’ll need. For most people, this is proof of rental history, a few forms of ID, pay stubs to prove you meet the income requirements (often anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times the rent total), and credit score. Be aware that you shouldn’t be required to show any of this info (besides ID and some contact info) until you’re actually applying to rent — aka not when touring.
- On that note, make sure you have decent credit. If you have not great credit, you may still be able to rent, but your deposit will likely be a lot higher. I always recommend extreme caution with any kind of debt, but encourage having one credit card that you pay off in full every month to establish a good credit history.
- Rental history matters. A lot of places won’t rent to you without it. (Though property ownership can count!) For a first place, this may mean your parents need to also put their names on the lease.
- Try to schedule tours in chunks. Especially if they’re close by, then you have to take less time out of your day (and potentially off of work). Birds, stones, etc.
- Keep notes on the places you tour. After a while, they will start to blur together. No way around it. I found it helpful to give each place a letter grade (B-, A+, etc.) as well as to take notes on details and things I did or didn’t like about it.
- Location, location, location. Be absolutely sure to check out how far a potential place is from your work, school, or whatever not just distance-wise, but how long that will actually take you in traffic. Think about how far you’re willing to drive or take public transportation, and how accessible your place is from where you’ll frequently be traveling.
Being a good renter
Woohoo, you found a place to rent! Assuming you got all the finances and paperwork squared away, you should be ready to move in. Here are my biggest tips:
- Clean everything before you move all your crap in. Honestly, your new space will feel so much better. Trust. (It will also give you a mental picture of what your place should look like when you let too long pass between cleanings.)
- Take pictures of any damage, also before you move all your crap in. This will help ensure you get your full deposit back and keep any liability off of you. It’s often part of a move-in checklist, but if it isn’t make sure you still do it.
- Follow the rules, and if you’re not sure if something is allowed, just ask. Some places let you paint, others don’t. Some places let you have pets, others don’t (or charge an additional fee). If you’re not sure about anything — from installing shelving to HOA policies — just reach out to your landlord and check before moving forward.
- Be nice to your neighbors. I brought cookies to the neighbors we share walls with when we moved in. I’ll probably also bring cookies or cards around the holidays. You don’t have to do that specifically, but simply being respectful in terms of noise/any shared areas and saying hi when you see each other can go a long way.
- Mail your rent check on time. Or pay it electronically, or whatever. I usually make sure mine is sent a few days before the end of the month (it’s due on the first) to ensure it has plenty of time to arrive. Pro tip: Take a picture of the check and/or you mailing it as proof in case the landlord tries to dispute payment. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but better to be covered.
- Clean every few weeks at minimum. Human beings are gross. But our living spaces don’t have to be. You’ll feel a lot more relaxed if half the surfaces aren’t sticky.
- When something breaks, let someone know. My apartment has a property manager who has helped us fix a number of random issues, and ensured that we get reimbursed for parts related to any we fixed ourselves. Stuff breaks. Better to get it fixed in a timely manner than not say anything until you’re moving out and 1) have it come out of your deposit, or 2) be a nuisance for the next renter.
- Change your mailing address. This goes for both when you move in and when you move out. It’s good to get your own mail, and annoying when randos in your old place get it instead of you. Be sure to change it on all your accounts and let loved ones know in case they send you anything.
- When it’s finally time to move out, clean everything even more thoroughly than when you moved in. Some people hire a professional cleaning service for this; if you don’t want to do it yourself and that’s in your budget, go for it. If it’s out of the price range, buy a friend or two pizza, blast the music, and get to it.
(Photo is a free stock photo because my apartment is not this pretty.)