Whether you are a recent college graduate, former homeowner or are just striking out on your own, renting your first home can be intimidating. Do your homework, and follow these steps to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Determine how much rent you can afford
The rule of thumb is 30 to 40 percent of your take-home pay, but the best way to approach this question is to determine how little you can spend on rent and housing expenses and still have an acceptable living situation.
There are many ways to save on rent. You could double up with friends, rent a less fancy place, live in a less trendy or central area, or try to convince Mom and Dad to let you live at home just one more year — and offer that you’ll even start paying them rent.
These stingy ideas may not sound appealing, but the less you spend on rent, the more you can save for future goals such as retirement and a down payment on a home.
Define your preferences
Consider the distance to work and where you spend time socializing, because long commutes take time, cost money and cause stress. Also determine if you want to live in an urban area where you can walk to stores and restaurants, or if you’d prefer to be away from the noise and traffic out in the suburbs.
Additionally, think through what kind of property you want. Can you live in an older building, or do you want all the modern amenities? Would you be happiest in a single family home, town home, or multi-unit building?
Once you think through those issues, you can start shopping and find an appropriate residence.
Research the extra costs
As you evaluate your options, realize that rent is not the only housing cost you’ll need to account for. You need to consider utility costs, keeping in mind that gas appliances are typically much less expensive than electric. Also, houses with insulation and newer windows have lower utility bills.
Determine any costs for water, trash collection, parking, and cable or Internet service. If the rental you’re considering is a single-family home, find out if lawn service is included, and who pays for the water for the grounds.
Put your best foot forward
Many times landlords have a bevy of potential renters. If you want to secure your top choice residence, show up in your best attire, and politely let the landlord or property manager know about your great credit, stable job and all the other reasons they want you as a tenant.
Fill out the application accurately, truthfully and legibly, and submit any required documents as soon as possible.
Making it official
You may be able to negotiate rent terms and fees with a landlord. Your success will depend on the demand for the unit in your particular area. Be careful if there are lots of people vying for the apartment, as the landlord can take someone else if you are too difficult to work with.
Once you’ve agreed to the rental conditions, make sure you completely read the lease and all documents before you sign them. If you are not comfortable with language or need a clarification, discuss this early in the process so you can walk away if you don’t like what you read.
When you move in, document via pictures and descriptions any issues with the property, such as stained carpets, broken tile, poorly painted areas, or appliances that don’t work. Submit these issues to the owner or property manager to protect yourself when it’s time to move out — and keep records and pictures for yourself, too.
A little preparation and education can go a long way toward making your first renting experience a good one.
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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
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