Steps Every Smart Renter Should Take

Moving into a new place can be an exciting and a rewarding experience for the millions of people who move each year – many on their own for the first time. But renting a place to live, moving, and changing mailing addresses and utility services can also be an expensive, time-consuming, and stressful event in your life. Luckily, there are a few smart actions you can take to make the process better and reduce your anxiety and costs during the move.

The most important thing you should do is give yourself adequate time to shop around the market to see what is available for rent. Start shopping two months before you plan to move and, hopefully, you will have signed a lease about 20 to 30 days before your occupancy date. This will allow you time to schedule movers or friends to help you pack and transport your belongings, changeover utilities, and everything else related to your move.

Another tip you should follow is to try to find a place that you would like to live in for a few years or longer. This will eliminate the chance of annual moving issues and costs – not to mention that most landlords will jump through hoops to take on renters who even mention that they plan to stay for multiple years. This is because multiple-year tenants relieve the landlord of having to clean, paint, etc., and go through the time-consuming renting process again each year for new occupants. In addition, this also greatly increases your chances of securing your top choice too, and maybe gives you a little negotiating power for a slightly lower rent!

Time Is on Your Side

Since you are going to provide yourself with enough time to do your research, shop, and make a great choice, here are some additional tips to help you secure the best place to live:

  1. Know the Neighborhood – If you know the area you would like to live in, you are already ahead of the curve. If not, talk to others and think about what would be a good fit for you. Walking distance to retail? Off the beaten path? In the city, suburbs, or in the country? Near the freeway, near your office, near the fun? Think through what characteristics you'd like from your optimal home so that you can concentrate your efforts there. If you find something close to what you want that is also within your price range, you'll be glad you invested the time to find that great place!
  2. Shop for Your Place – Craigslist.org is a helpful tool, but also look at other online sites, like Zillow.com or local websites. Drive around the areas you like too, as many landlords put up signs advertising available places for rental and apartment complexes have leasing offices on site so you can view available units right then and there. Remember to shop, shop, and shop some more so that you know what the market has to offer and at what price.
  3. Check for Property Features and Condition – When you view the unit, a few things to consider are: Does it have lots of windows and light? How about a backyard and/or patio? Does it come with a dishwasher, washer/dryer in the unit, or newer flooring? Does it feature an updated bathroom or kitchen, adequate parking, or newer windows to get lower heating and A/C bills? The key is to know what you would like from your new home. The maintenance condition is also important because if the property isn't in good shape when you are looking at it, that means the landlord probably isn't going to be good about fixing items for you. Try to find a property that is well maintained. Also, ask the landlord about estimates of monthly utility costs like water, trash, electricity, and gas, as well as if they pay for any of them. Or are there any other charges? Utility costs can be outrageous in some very hot and very cold weather climates, so make sure you are aware of those costs and that they are factored into what you determine you can afford on a monthly basis.
  4. Take Action Once You've Found a Place – Once you find a place that meets your expectations, move quickly. Talk to the landlord and express your interest. Discuss any credit issues and income openly with them so you know whether or not they will accept you. Fill out an application right there if you can, which means that you should have all the important information that is on a typical application with you as you hunt for a place to rent, such as income, credit, references, and bank numbers, as well as your check book. Or, you can take the application and let them know when you will return it with the credit check fee. Fill out the application completely, legibly, and truthfully, noting any credit issues. Honesty goes a long way with most landlords.

    Make sure to alert your references that you listed them on your application so they will know to quickly respond to any landlord calls regarding your application. Also, if you have great credit, income, and rental history, it never hurts to let the landlord know that and ask if they would take a slightly lower rent for a solid tenant.

    Note: There are some scams where people pretending to be landlords show vacant units and trick people to write them deposit checks for a lease. If you suspect something is wrong, be wary because you may not get your money back if this happens.

  5. Look Over the Lease – Once the landlord accepts you as a tenant and forwards the prepared lease, the biggest issue is that many renters fail to read the lease! Schedule with your soon-to-be landlord to meet and have them walk you through the lease agreement terms before you sign it. This is your last chance to request changes to any terms if they are not acceptable to you.
  6. Consider Renter's Insurance – Many landlords require renter's insurance these days. Even if they do not, it is always a smart idea to consider this option because renter's insurance protects you from damages caused to the property, theft of your possessions, flooding, and many other covered issues – regardless of who is at fault. It also provides some liability protection in case your dog bites someone or if someone is injured on your property. Its typically a $15-$25/month cost and brings peace of mind and help when you need it.
  7. Meet With Your Landlord on Move-in Day – It's best to have the landlord meet you at move-in day and walk you through the house, writing down any issues that you believe must be resolved or at least documented. Things like holes in the walls, water issues, or dirty carpets should be addressed in writing to your landlord. Most landlords will work to clear these items to make their tenants happy. You might want to take pictures too, so that when you move out, you have proof of the condition of the unit from when you moved in. Most leases give the tenant 3-5 days to alert the landlord of other issues, like non-working appliances – make sure to let the landlord know.

Overall, renting usually is a good overall experience and the more time you take to plan and prepare, the better the chances are that it will go well. Always work with your landlord to take care of their property and be a good tenant. Often, you will find that responsible and reasonable tenants get treated well by their landlords, so do your part and your tenancy should be a win-win situation for everyone.