Renting a place and getting out on your own is exciting, but like most things, renting also has its share of pitfalls—unfair contracts, shady landlords and even security concerns.
Here are seven tips to help remove the guesswork of your first renting experience.
Go to the inspection
One of the most important things you can do as a potential renter is to go to the inspection. If you can, try to arrange a private inspection rather than attending a public viewing. You’ll get more time to look around the property and talk to the landlord without a big crowd to distract you. Getting there first could also improve your chances of getting the place —important if the renters’ market is competitive.
Before you go to the inspection, prepare a list of things the new place must have, as well as a few things that would be nice. If you’re looking at an apartment, talk to neighbors or even the tenants moving out to see if there are any not-so-obvious problems.
Check for safety concerns
While most safety concerns are obvious, a lot of people dismiss them when they think they’ve found the perfect place. Unfortunately, the results can range from inconvenient to disastrous.
The first thing to check for is smoke detectors. No matter how big the place is, there should be at least one near the kitchen. If it’s a larger place there should be one near the living room and master bedroom as well. And make sure there’s more than one way to get out if there is a fire.
Don’t forget to look for signs of a potential electric fire. Note how many power points there are in each room, and whether any of them are broken, damaged or have exposed wires. If they need repairing or replacement, tell the landlord.
Look into the owner/manager
Rental property owners can vary from outstanding to really disappointing so try to find out about who you’ll be dealing with. And if you’ll be paying rent and arranging repairs through a rental agency, find out what they’re like as well.
Again, if you can, talk to current or previous tenants, they should be able to tell you how quickly repairs are made, and whether the managers are honest about returning bonds.
Make sure everything works
Whether it’s the first inspection or the final walkthrough before signing the lease, check to make sure everything works. Try all the light switches, and make sure all the power points are working. (A children’s night light is perfect for this.) Turn on the taps to make sure the water is clear, and try out the oven and other appliances.
If the owner seems hesitant about you testing everything, it may be a sign that the place isn’t in good working order.
Buy contents insurance
Like a lot of renters, you may feel your possessions aren’t worth insuring. But when you calculate not what they’re worth but how much they’d cost to replace, you can see why paying for contents insurance is such a good idea. Contents insurance is relatively inexpensive, and gives you peace of mind that you won’t lose everything in a disaster.
Carefully check through the contract
You need to check out the lease as carefully as you did the property. In particular, look for any clause that allows the owner or rental agency change the rent or bond amount for any reason.
The contract should outline that the owner is responsible for making repairs in a timely manner, and should set clear terms for any cleaning fees or stipulations on having pets or guests.
Factor in all the costs
You may think the rent you’ll be paying is a bargain, but don’t forget to factor in all the other costs—gas, electricity, excess water usage and so on, as well as the connection fees for things like a landline phone and/or the internet.
You may find you’ll be paying a lot more than you thought you would. If the place is drafty, the cost of running a heater will quickly add up during the colder months and if your new place has a clothes dryer instead of a clothes line, expect a bit of a shock when the first electricity bill comes in.