Apartment hunting can be a daunting process, especially when you’re new at the game.
Nobody wants to start a new stage of their life on the wrong foot. The fear of getting taken advantage of, choosing the wrong location, or getting stuck with an ill-fitting landlord, are very real concerns. Sometimes, with all the hustle and bustle of picking a place to call your own, you forget to ask the right questions to ensure a happy living experience.
Global real estate advisor Herb Entwistle, of Cityscapes International Realty Group, says there are five areas of concern a would-be apartment owner should ask about before they make their choice. The broker’s fee, your credit score, cosigning, utilities, and (of course) the rent.
First off, the broker’s fee which is a portion (usually 15%) of the annual rent that must be paid to the broker or real estate agent when the lease is signed. Of course, there is no rule that says you need to get a broker in the first place, you could just cut out the middleman and do the apartment hunting yourself. It would save you a lot of money for sure, but it also makes the process a lot more strenuous and time consuming. Depending on the area, finding an apartment on your own can be manageable to downright impossible, that’s why it’s important to ask yourself if you want to hire a broker and figure out how much are they asking for.
Knowing one’s credit score, is another pivotal part of apartment hunting. Your credit score is a number that denotes your ability to pay off debt, and can be affected by previous missed payments, past credit history, etc. If your credit score is low or poor (around 500-619) then it will be much harder for you to successfully find an apartment.
The next area of apartment hunting you should be questioning is the cosigning. You only need to have a cosigner if you suspect your credit score is not high enough to get approved. A cosign essentially ensures that a second party of your choosing will bail you out if you are not able to pay the rent.
It is also important to question the utilities, or the features of the apartment like electricity, water, gas, cable, etc. Utility payments, depending on the building, can really break the bank, so it is important to ask your realtor up front how much you will be paying. Additional repairs is also something you should keep in mind when you move in.
Do the utilities seem like they’re in good shape, or are they in need of inspection?
The final area of concern is the rent for the apartment, and this will, more than likely, take up the majority of the conversation. Something that will be important to clarify is the difference between first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and the security deposit. The first month’s rent is self explanatory, it’s the same as every other payment you will make to the landlord throughout your residency. The last month’s rent however, requires a bit more of an explanation. A security deposit/last month’s rent is the landlord’s protection against any damages you cause while staying in the apartment. But what is the difference between last month’s rent and a security deposit? According to FindLaw.com, “if the deposit is considered last month's rent… that money cannot be used to pay for damages caused by the tenant or to clean the apartment after the tenant moves out. If the landlord only requires a deposit of "last month's rent", then that landlord has taken away from himself financial flexibility to pay for repairs and services typically required by normal wear and tear. Any such action will now have to be paid for out of the landlord's pocket."
Clearly there is a lot to consider when searching for an apartment, but by asking the right questions and voicing the right concerns one can make the rental hunting process just a little more manageable.