8 Tips to Prepare First-Time Renters

Finding the perfect apartment or townhouse can be a challenge for anyone, but especially for those who are new to renting.  First time renters can become discouraged in competitive markets.  Beginners may overlook some basic apartment features since they haven’t experienced the struggles of searching for parking or visiting the laundromat.  Most renters have been wooed at least once by an impressively staged apartment only to realize disadvantages as they move forward with the contract details.  If potential renters follow a few basic guidelines they’ll find a comfortable space and be satisfied throughout the length of their lease.

1. Limit Locations

One of the most difficult things about renting for the first time is the sheer number of options.  Although availability varies by location, most renters become inundated by the numerous possibilities on HotPads, Zillow and Craigslist.  Try to focus the search by narrowing the number of locations.  Choose one or two primary locations to search for properties.  Cost is usually a good determining factor.  Select areas that are affordable, safe and accessible.  Make sure the commute to work, friends and family will be feasible. When potential renters narrow down their ideal locations, their apartment search becomes more productive.

2. Prioritize Must-Haves

Make a list of must-have features prior to viewing any properties.  Contemplate day-to-day lifestyle; how vital is a dishwasher, bathtub, deck, lawn, quart yard, natural light or in-unit washer and dryer? Renters need to prioritize pet-friendly locations if they have animals and properties with parking spaces if they own a car.  Consider the minimum room dimensions to comfortably fit the size of bed being moved.  Some renters who are downsizing may require onsite storage.  Lastly, perspective renters should prioritize the maximum rent they are willing to pay to get all of their ideal features.  This list will help renters keep perspective and easily compare their favorite properties to make a final decision.

3. Be Competitive

Now that the search is narrowed down and the list of priorities is in writing, potential renters should begin viewing spaces.  It’s important to be available when landlords are willing to show the property.  The renting process is generally first come first serve, pending background, credit and reference checks.  The sooner the potential renter can view the property, the sooner he can claim it with a deposit.  The longer the renter waits, the more opportunity competitors have to get the unit.  If renters plan to live with roommates, they should all view the spaces together for immediate group decision-making.  Renters should be prepared to pay a non-refundable deposit at the viewing to hold the space.  Locate printable applications on the landlord’s website, fill them out ahead of time and show up prepared to pay the deposit.  If renters need co-signers, make sure the applications are prepared and consider bringing the cosigner to the viewing.

4. Research Transportation

When visiting the property, ask the landlord about transportation and traffic.  For renters who use public transportation, investigate the available options around the property.  If there aren’t accessible buses, light rail, trains, park and rides or trolleys then the property may not be ideal.  Difficult commutes can be a deal breaker.  Make sure to get as much information from the landlord while viewing the property.  If parking is not available on site, then potential tenants should look into local parking permits.  Once renters have experienced walking several blocks on a rainy night with bags of groceries they understand the value of onsite parking.  Consider these transportation restrictions before paying a deposit.

5. Check for Pets

Renters should be informed of the pet rules on the property before paying a deposit.  Renters without pets should consider the drawbacks of living in a pet-friendly building.  Some pets can be very loud, they track moisture and mud indoors and they soil the lawn with feces.  If renters are pet owners, then it’s important to disclose their animals to the landlord.  Each landlord will have separate fees and regulations for pets.  Renters should be prepared to pay pet damage deposits, pet fees and sometimes even pet rent.  Oftentimes, there are size or breed restrictions for dogs.  All of these rules are important to be aware of before paying the non-refundable deposit.

6. Clarify Rent Itemization

Renters should find out if any utilities are included in the cost of rent.  Some apartments seem like a good deal until it’s discovered that water, sewer and garbage are not included.  It’s discouraging to sit down to sign a lease and find out the monthly charges are going to cost an additional $200.  Be sure to discuss all of the charges before paying a deposit on the property.  Ask the landlord directly about water, sewer, garbage, electricity, parking, storage units, pet fees and insurance.  All of these additional living costs add up quickly and it’s best to be prepared for the true monthly cost of living.

7. Negotiate Concessions

Negotiate deals prior to signing the lease.  If the property is already reasonably priced and the market is highly competitive, then set the expectation low.  However, in many cases renters can negotiate a reduced rent or deposit, a second parking space or even a free storage unit.  Landlords are more willing to negotiate with renters who have good credit, as it reduces the landlord’s risk.  As long as renters set an appropriate expectation that negotiations may not be successful and are willing to pay full price, then it doesn’t hurt to ask.

8. Walk Through Thoroughly

Once the lease is signed, the tenant and landlord will often walk through the property together to note all of the damages.  This part of the renting process protects the renter and should be taken seriously.  Any small damages present prior to moving in should be written out in detail on the walk-through form.  If the small damages are not noted, the tenant may be charged for them upon moving out.  Some landlords pay close attention to the minute details, while others overlook them.  There is no harm in being overly nitpicky about these details.  New renters should look closely for carpet stains or tears, bent blinds, dents in the walls or ceiling and chips in the countertops or flooring.  Tenants should be descriptive about the specific location and size of such damages.  Being meticulous at this stage will prevent stipulations upon moving out and should save the tenant money.    

If new renters are hesitant or overwhelmed by the process of finding an apartment, simply follow these eight tips and settle into a comfortable living space. 


Author's Bio: Tali Wee currently lives in Seattle and blogs about life in the northwest.  She owns WeePicketFences.com where she writes about being a bargain hunter, foodie and DIY enthusiast.  Tali enjoys family, food, travel, writing and spending time on projects around the house.