Renting 101

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.

What are the best tips and lessons you’ve learned when it comes to renting? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because my apartment is not this pretty.)

The big move

So there was no post on Wednesday because I moved! It’s been a long time coming and I’m (mostly) settled in now, which means a new chapter is starting that I’m very excited about. However, the process of moving is always, ahem, interesting.

Moving itself doesn’t scare me — I had moved more than 19 times before I graduated high school. All of that, plus moving most of my stuff twice a year during college, has made me kind of an expert. But this is the first time I have moved all of my stuff to a whole new region, several hours from where I’ve lived most of my life.

Luckily, I’ve been planning and prepping for a while. I started planning for moving out when I was 7 and put dibs on the plaid couch my parents wanted to get rid of (spot it in the picture above), and I haven’t really stopped. Of course, the last couple months have been the bulk of actually making it happen, as opposed to just daydreaming and reserving old furniture.

The good news is I know the area a little and I’ll be living with people who 1) I know, and 2) I like hanging out with. But it’s still real intimidating the first time you move out, or any time you move. To help me process it, and hopefully help someone else in the future, I’ve made a list of my favorite pieces of moving advice:

Plan, plan, and then have six backup plans. This is partly just my nature, but I want to know all my options, rank them in order of preference, and then have contingencies in case things go wrong. This could be in terms of where you live, who you live with, when you move, etc. For example, before this move, I had a list of housing options, rooming setups, and had at least three possible timelines for when all of that would go down.

Do the math. Aka know exactly how much you can afford, and how much you cost. This means household stuff, clothes, food, going out, saving, gas, insurance, phone, and the like need to be part of considering how much you have to spend; it’s not just rent and utilities. If you know how much you’ll be making, start subtracting. (I didn’t, so I did the math backward to figure out what my job needed to pay to make it work.)

On that note, rent isn’t the only thing you’re going to be paying. All places charge for rent and utilities, and no one lives without wifi these days. Make sure you know which utilities you’ll be responsible for (for example, my new place covers water, trash, and sewer, but my roommates and I are responsible for gas and electric). Many rentals — particularly apartment complexes — also charge for parking, pets, and laundry. Some places, mainly houses, have Homeowner’s Association fees, so be sure to be aware of that. And if you are renting, get renter’s insurance. Most places require it, but either way it’s usually an inexpensive way to cover yourself.

Weed out your crap as you pack. I have too much stuff, and I’m willing to bet most of you do too. It’s more to move, and more to unpack. Get rid of anything you don’t have a darn good use for or massive sentimental attachment to — your new living space will thank you. (Pro tip: You can do a second round of this as you unpack, but know that it’s usually less effective on this end.) As proof, I got rid of at least four trash bags full of stuff (some donated, some just trash) when packing, but so far in unpacking have only found four small items I want to ditch.

Ask people for empty boxes. I lucked out in that family and friends offered me a ton of boxes to pack, so I ended up not needing to buy any. But it’s an inexpensive way for a lot of people to pitch in, and then you can save money for bigger purchases.

Pack smart. In other words, organize it as you pack. Actually label things. Know where the most important things are (especially documents and electronics), and keep them safe throughout the process. Fun fact: During one move when I was little, I was instructed to put anything I really didn’t want to lose into one box, and then that box proceeded to be lost for more than 10 years. Don’t let that happen to you. If you have some stuff that is going to keep being stored when you get there, put it in a plastic tub instead of cardboard boxes. Wash all your bedding before so you can just make the bed when you arrive. Wrap breakable items in literally anything soft and then know which boxes to handle carefully. For this move I put the most delicate and important items in my car so they wouldn’t be at risk of damage or loss in the moving truck.

Coordinate supplies with roommates. If you’re moving in with people, talk ahead of time about who has what. Nobody needs three vacuums and two toaster ovens and four coffee tables. This can also be a good way to make sure you aren’t missing a couch for the first two months. My roommates and I had a Google spreadsheet to keep track of it, which was really helpful.

See if people you know are getting rid of furniture. Ikea is cheap, but friends are cheaper. Because my family is tolerant of my penchant for doing this, I moved out with a couch, dining room table and chairs, full dish set, armchair, bed, and a few small bookshelves. Roommates brought a coffee table, dvd player, more chairs, and some other things their families didn’t need anymore, and now we have almost everything we need.

Decorate slowly. Do not go out and blow your budget on decorating right after you move in. First, find a place for everything you have. If it really doesn’t go anywhere, consider getting rid of it. Then, buy anything you really need. For one of my roommates, this meant a bed. Since none of us brought a tv, we also made that an early purchase. But art and accessories should be added slowly, for the sake of your space and your budget. I will admit that I am bad at this, but it’s a reliable way to rein in the budget on what can be an expensive process.

I’m going to do my best to keep posting regular, and am very much looking forward to a new phase of emerging adulthood. If there are any topics that you want to see featured, let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Raining and pouring and such

It has been a very, very big week for me. In the last 7 days: I signed a lease for an apartment, interviewed for and accepted a job I’m actually excited about, and my boyfriend and I are no longer long distance after almost 4.5 years. On top of that, I got to see The Last Jedi on opening night, got a cold, and flew across the country to visit family for a week. So you could say it’s been busy. And while “when it rains, it pours” is a tired cliché, it’s remarkably accurate.

All of the things that have happened in the last week (except for the cold) have been good, but I am definitely still processing all the news. It’s been super surreal, and I have gotten way less sleep than would be recommended — part of the reason for the cold, I’m sure — but overall I’m stoked for the opportunities.

This means that very shortly I’ll be exiting the lives-with-parents-and-works-part-time phase, and entering the independent-and-maybe-bumbling-young-professional phase. Still emerging adulthood, just a new chapter.

This does not mean I have it more figured out, or that I even feel like I’ve got a better grip. (As proof, I got chocolate on my shirt and cream cheese on my pants during my time spent traveling yesterday.) But it does mean I’ll hopefully have some more helpful info to share for the situations that come at this stage.

Of course it looks different for everyone, but as a start, I thought I’d share some of the stats on what it took me to get to this point:

  • 61 job applications over the course of more than 10 months. Applications started out fairly slow because I was purposely biding my time, but 24 were within the last month. Of those 61 applications, I got 9 interviews and 2 offers. That’s about a 15% success rate for getting an interview, and 3% for getting a job offer, or 1 in 7 and 1 in 30, respectively
  • Lots of part-time and piecemeal work. The numbers above don’t count my part-time job as a nanny, freelance work I did, or housesitting and babysitting a few times a month, all within the last 6 months
  • 5 rental spaces toured (having looked at probably 3 times that many online, and I had appointments to tour 2 more when the application was approved for the place I’ll be moving into)
  • 4.5 years of long distance. It’s not a stat, I’m just glad it’s over — and will be putting up a post on how to survive all sorts of long-distance relationships soon!
  • 4 years of college, and 6+ years of experience in my field at 4 different organizations (at one of which I held 5 different positions), plus freelance work
  • About 6 months of saving money to try to have a good financial cushion for moving out
  • Almost 22 years of learning not to give up, and countless people who had my back and helped teach me along the way

There were lots of days when I didn’t think things would work out, or that I might be accidentally going down the wrong path. There were also several times when other people believed I was making the wrong decision despite their well-grounded concerns, and it took time to see how it would play out.

Even still, it’s worth noting that I’m really lucky. The job offer rate I mentioned is just slightly better than what it’s been for most of my friends, I got to not only go to college but graduated in 4 years without significant financial burden, my parents let me live at home rent-free for 8 months after graduating college, I get to splitting living costs with good friends, and landed a well-paying job in my field. I also owe a huge thanks to the people who supported me on the way, so if you’re reading this, thank you.

This is all much more perfect than I had dared to dream possible, let alone anticipate. I know a lot of other people aren’t so fortunate, and want to recognize that just because your path looks different or has had more uphill battles doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong one. But I do hope that wherever you’re at, you’re able to find some contentment both now and in the next steps.

If there’s something you’d like to see more of on the blog in the coming months, let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo credit goes to my incredibly talented friend Vin.)