Searching for an Apartment: A guide for Tenants

for rent

Whether you’re an expert at locating the right apartment for you and your family or you’re a newbie, the search for the perfect apartment can be long, stressful, and often filled with hidden headaches and loopholes. Thankfully, the search for your apartment isn’t as hard as it seems, especially if you go over this handy guide before you start looking for your own perfect apartment

I.               Know What You Want

By starting your apartment search without really knowing how many rooms you want, which neighborhood you want in, or even if you want a condo or townhome, finding something will be an even more difficult job. Make out a list of everything you do—and don’t—want in your ideal apartment, then take that with you to your real estate agents, apartment managers, brokers, or owner, or keep close at hand when you search online for an apartment. Such questions to keep in mind:

  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you want? Or more to the point, how many do you need?
  • What closet space do you need? (Keep in mind that many apartments don’t have as many closets as most homes do. It’s also easier to invest in a few shelves and closet organizers than to pay a monthly premium on extra closet space.)
  • What area or neighborhood are you looking at? Is this a big issue for you?
  • What other features are important to you (crown molding, nice cabinets, carpeting or tile floors, large kitchen, etc.)?
  • Do you need parking space within a garage or are you ok parking on the street? How many cars do you have? Will you need to have the parking paid for by the landlord?
  • What kinds of amenities are essential to you? Many large apartment complexes have luxuries like swimming pools, exercise rooms, spas, in-building laundry facilities, or even sports rooms (for basketball, etc.).
  • If you have pets, you will most definitely need to be looking at apartments that allow pets, whether it’s a cat, a dog, or even a reptile like a snake.

Figure Out a Budget

Deciding on a budget can be just as difficult as searching for the apartment itself. You need to figure out a price that you can afford, and that includes monthly utilities, including water, lawn maintenance, laundry fees, cable TV, renter’s insurance, and more. Many landlords want their tenants to make three times the amount of the rent; for example, if the rent is $1,200, then they want the potential tenant to make at least $3,600, in order to include other bills as mentioned above. If possible, include as many small bills and utilities as possible in the budget in order to ensure you have everything covered before you even go out to look at an apartment. Once you have a budget in mind, DO NOT look at any apartment that goes over this amount. It will only disappoint you since you won’t be able to afford it. Or it may tempt you into making bad choices like getting an apartment that you can’t afford and going into debt over it.

III.           Where to Look

There are various places for you to search for an apartment; it’s really up to you and what works best for your family and/or schedule. Many people like to look online first, then contact the landlord or broker and schedule a time to go out and take a tour of the space. Many prefer to contact an apartment brokerage firm or real estate agent who specializes in apartments/townhomes/condos and go from there.

Other places to look for vacancies include local newspapers (check out the Classified or Homes sections), rental signs in front of duplexes or apartment complexes, online bulletin boards like Craigslist or, and other online websites that list apartments that are for rent, or going to be for rent in the near future. Also, be sure to ask friends and family to keep you in mind if they hear of any upcoming apartments that will be for rent soon.

IV.           How to Stay Organized During Your Search

Because you probably have so many things to keep track of (budget, how many bedrooms/bathrooms you need, parking space info, etc.), it’s essential to be organized when you begin calling agents and looking at different apartments. Before starting your search, write out your wants and needs, your budget, how much you have to put down as a deposit, how many pets (if any), what amenities you want, etc.

Once you begin your search, you will need to maintain a new list to keep track of the apartments you look at and notes about each property. Here are some things you should write down after talking to an agent or touring a property:

  • The apartment’s address
  • Name of the landlord, owner, broker or real estate agent and their contact information
  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms the apartment has, as well as the total number of square footage
  • Any pros and cons you see right away
  • Any additional notes you want to remember (such as promises the landlord made, what amenities the property has, specific things about the neighborhood, etc.)

Understanding apartment lease and rent agreements

Finally found the perfect apartment that fits both your budget and your needs? Great! Now it’s time to start reading the notorious lease agreement and try to make heads or tails of it. Fortunately, it is not as difficult as some may think it is. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • The lease. First off, you should understand what a lease is. This document is defined as a legally binding contract of the renting of land, buildings, etc., to another. Before signing any lease, make sure you understand all the terms in the document (and if you don’t, please ask!). Generally, the lease is usually written in simple language that can be easily understood.
  • The security deposit. This will most likely be touched upon both verbally by the landlord/agent/broker and also in the lease. This deposit is the money that is given to the landlord when first renting the property and is supposed to cover any damages that might incur over the course of renting the apartment. The amount of the security deposit is subject to many things, including what state the apartment is located in and what the landlord wants. Generally, it is equivalent to one month’s rent.
  • Terms of the lease. If the terms of the lease do not match what you and the landlord/agent/broker have already gone over (i.e. people named on the lease, date the rent is due, amount of the rent or security deposit, etc.), immediately bring it to their attention so it can be fixed before you sign it. Once the contract is signed, it is binding, so it may not do you any good to argue about incorrect facts then.

Questions a tenant should ask before signing a lease

Signing a Lease? Ask These Questions Before You Move In

Are you the type of person who enjoys reading lengthy contracts? I’m willing to bet the answer to that question is “NO”. Agreeing to a serious contract without first reading the fine print, however, could put you in a sticky situation. There are many factors at play when deciding on leasing a property. When you’re responsible for maintaining physical property that’s not yours, you better know what’s at stake. Besides, just because your landlord is running a background check on you doesn’t mean you can’t ask him or her a few questions in return. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind before signing your name on the dotted line.

Understanding lease length

Before you begin looking for a new rental, it’s important to know how long you plan to live in the desired location.  There are two types of leases, fixed-term or month-to-month. Fixed-term leases require the tenant to fulfill the contract for a specified amount of time. Sometimes it’s as low as 3-months and other times it’s as high as 18-months or 2 years. Some condo and apartment complexes encourage renters to sign longer fixed-term contracts by offering reduced monthly rent.  Furthermore, if the renters intend to leave before the contract’s end, they’ll likely incur a hefty fee to break the lease.

Where fixed-term contracts lock in renters, month-to-month contracts offer better flexibility. However, where month-to-month rentals require less commitment, they typically cost more to maintain and landlords may choose to incrementally increase rent over consecutive months.

Does the landlord allow renters to sublease?

Let’s say, for instance, you moved into an apartment with a one-year fixed-term lease and during that first year you receive a job offer of a lifetime in a different city that is too far away for commuting. Let’s also assume that the company that has hired you doesn’t offer you a relocation package, forcing you to pay the fee to break your lease. It’s a bittersweet position to find yourself in, but don’t lose hope quite yet. Some landlords will allow you to essentially “replace” yourself, but that responsibility is yours, not theirs. Subleasing is fantastic because sometimes it can get you out of a bind and save you from having to pay the fee to break the lease.

Ask about pro-rating

This question is rather simple, but if asked and agreed upon, can save you a good chunk of change. Pro-rating involves only charging a percentage of the monthly rent relative to the amount of time you actually lived in the place for that same month. So, if you moved in on the 15th, you should only be charged about 50% of that month’s rent.

How are maintenance requests handled?

Many major apartment and condo complexes have procedures in place on how maintenance requests of renters will be handled. Many of those complexes even have full time personnel on their staff who take care of all maintenance and emergency issues. As a tenant of a standalone unit or home it is very important to ask the landlord how maintenance and repair issues will be handled and in what time frame. Sometimes the landlord will expect you as a tenant to contact a repair service directly. In other cases, the landlord will contact the repair company themselves. Either way, find out ahead of time how maintenance requests will be handled.

Another question you might want to ask your landlord is if and when regular inspections will be conducted? Personal privacy is a sensitive matter and you probably don’t want someone barging in unexpectedly.

Utilities: who pays what? What about deposits?

Utilities are expensive. Gas, electricity, cable, water and garbage disposal costs all add up. Ask your landlord about the diffusion of payment responsibilities. Besides utilities, association fees are quite common. Buildings with pools, workout facilities and business centers all come with added costs. Are these fees included in your rent or do you have to pay them as part of your monthly association fees?

When signing a lease you are usually required to put down a deposit. Deposits serve as upfront insurance policies for property managers and will usually be returned to you after you move out and you have left the rental unit in good condition. Unless you have a dishonest landlord or absolutely obliterated the property, getting this deposit money back shouldn’t be an issue. Assumptions aside, always find out the deposit return policy.

Inquire about move-in details

Before hiring Boston’s best moving company to move you into your new home, know what you need to take care of before walking in the front door with all your gear in tow. Many landlords require insurance policies but can sometimes skim over whether or not you’ve submitted or transferred yours. Some large complexes have rules on what time of the day moving in and out is actually allowed. Another important thing to find out before moving day arrives is to make sure that all the utilities have been transferred and turned on. The last thing you want to find out while you are moving is that the electricity has not been turned on!

Renting a new apartment or house can be a very exciting time in someone’s life, but before signing the lease, please make sure you know what responsibilities you have as a tenant and what you can expect from your landlord. This will prevent many common “renter problems” in the future.

Author Bio: Mark Healey writes about moving, home improvement and DIY projects. Sometimes he writes about other things, too.