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Yesterday I wrote The Renter’s Handbook: Part 1. Since there was quite a lot to write about, I decided to break the post up in to two parts. Here is Part 2!

6. Figure Out Which Renovations Are Included In “Recently Renovated!” or “Newly Decorated!”

To one person, “renovated” means: We painted the entire house, replaced the carpet and added hardwood flooring, purchased all new appliances and landscaped the front yard. To someone else, “renovated” means: We pulled out the big stump in the back yard and bought a door for the pantry. Save yourself the disappointment and ask what renovations were done before you bother scheduling a walk through.

7. Watch Out For Hidden Fees and Scams.

A standard rental agreement usually includes the first month of rent, a refundable security deposit and possibly an application fee. Application fees are generally charged when a property management company is leasing the home for a land lord, though private landlords are beginning to do it more now too. They want to run a credit check or back ground check and make sure they aren’t renting to psychos or someone who gets evicted on the regular, and I both understand and agree. That is why I don’t mind paying a fee around $25 to $50 for an application fee. I DO however, mind paying outrageous $100 application fees, or $50 fees for both my husband and myself. It just seems like a very easy scam to pull. Charge twenty couples $100 each and don’t approve any of them. Collect $2000 very easily and do it all again tomorrow. Why rent the house if you can use it as bait? I am also leery of a long list of fees and deposits that some landlords tack on. Some homes have pet deposits, key deposits, cleaning fees, additional pet rent, as well as huge security deposits; both refundable and non-refundable. It adds up quickly! While I completely understand the concern surrounding pet damage, I don’t know that additional pet rent and pet fees are fair. If a landlord is concerned that a pet will cause more damage than a standard security deposit can cover, I suggest they not allow tenants to have pets at all.

8. Less Is Not Always More

While no one wants to be beaten to death by excessive fees, you should also be concerned if a landlord is charging very little or nothing at all to move in. If they aren’t charging a security deposit or asking about your history, they may just be trying to collect a few months rent for a home that is being foreclosed, has major structural problems or is not legally theirs to lease out. These things happen more often than you’d think, and for renters there is very little recourse when it does. I’ve had numerous friends move into a house and pay their rent responsibly, only to be forced out a few months later when the house is reclaimed by the bank. The landlord disappears with their money and they have to move with very little notice. It is expensive and very inconvenient. Be careful!

9. Be Realistic.

I know that amazing apartment on the fifteenth floor is everything you’ve ever wanted and has the most gorgeous cathedral ceilings you’ve ever seen…but the building also has no elevator. You have three kids to get out of the door every morning, your husband is plagued by ankle injuries and the closest parking space is four blocks away. Can you honestly live here? Be realistic now so you aren’t miserable later. The kitchen is microscopic, but it is just you and your boyfriend…how much room do you actually need? Well, if you are the couple forever entertaining, this mini-kitchen will be a huge pain in your ass. Everyone likes to congregate in the kitchen. When you can’t open the oven door at the same time as the silverware drawer, and you only have eighteen inches of counter space, how will it feel once you add four of your friends trying to gather around the cheese platter? Be realistic! You have to function in this space, don’t make yourself miserable for the sake of a few great qualities.

10. Write Everything Down.

After you settle on your home, walk through each and every room and document every tiny imperfection. If you don’t write it down now, you better believe you will be charged for it upon move out. This doesn’t only include damage, it includes the condition and cleanliness as well. Does the ceiling fan have dust on it? Write that down. Is there hair in the bathroom drawer? Write it down. Is the grout dirty? Bare spot on the lawn? Trees have dead branches? Write. It. Down. You will feel nit-picky and rude by the time you are done, but it feels much worse to be accused of (and charged for!) something you did not do. It really stinks when $500 of your deposit is kept because the garage wasn’t swept out, never mind that it was cleaner when you moved out than it was when you moved in! Some people are out to make a buck anywhere they can.

There are some really great rental properties out there, and some really great people renting them out. I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with plenty of wonderful landlords over the years, but I’ve also seriously regretted getting involved with a few others. Follow my guidelines and you’ll be in the house of your dreams before you know it. Happy house hunting!