Renting a Home or Apartment

Are you deciding between buying a home and renting an apartment? Both options have advantages and  drawbacks. Cost is always a key issue --- what can you realistically afford? For homeowners, there is pride of ownership and the freedom that comes with customizing your living space. But there are many advantages to signing a lease instead of a mortgage. 


Benefits of Renting

  • One key benefit of renting is flexibility. This flexibility helps if you’re in a career that might require you to change locations, as is often true for people just starting out. Even if you have to move before your lease is up, you’ll probably lose less money than you would trying to quickly sell a house.
  • Renting does not bring many unexpected costs.  New homeowners may be prepared to pay a mortgage, but they frequently get surprised by additional costs such as homeowner’s insurance, lawn and snow equipment, new furniture, new appliances and routine home repairs. When you’re renting, your monthly costs should be limited to rent, utilities and possibly renter’s insurance.
  • You can rent a more modern space.  First-time homebuyers frequently have to look at older houses that may need updating or lack modern fixtures. If you prefer a more updated space with updated appliances, you’re probably better off renting than trying to furnish a house or paying for a house where the kitchen and bathrooms have already been renovated.
  • You don’t have to fix it yourself when you rent.  Broken dishwasher? Furnace not working? One major benefit to renting is that calling your landlord to get these things taken care of can be much more convenient and inexpensive  than fixing them yourself. 
  • You can take advantage of apartment amenities such as a fitness center, swimming pool, covered parking and a club room to host parties.


Do Your Research

  • Is there a garage or carport for your car?
  • Is there any extra storage available?
  • Are there any extras, like a swimming pool, fitness center, or walking trails?
  • What is nearby? Shopping? Churches? Schools? Bars and Restaurants? Expressways?
  • How much is rent?
  • Are utilities included?
  • How much is the security deposit?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Are other residents mostly young families? Older families? College students? Senior citizens?


Walk Through the Property 

  • Do all the lights, faucets and appliances work? Clarify with the landlord who is responsible for them.
  • How much closet/storage space is there? Don’t underestimate how much space you will need.
  • Are the rooms big enough to fit your furniture? Take a tape measure with to be sure.
  • Will the living space be cleaned and will the paint be touched up before you move in?
  • How are the rooms heated and cooled? Check the units to see what shape they are in.
  • What repairs are included in the rent? 
  • Is the neighborhood safe? Walk the neighborhood at night (with a friend) and observe your surroundings. Also check online to see if crime reports are available for the area.
  • What does the parking situation look like?
  • Is there any noticeable damage such as a cracked window or stained carpet?


Examine the Lease Agreement

The rental agreement is a legally binding contract between you and the landlord. It specifies your rights, the landlord's obligations and the rules you must live by while you live in the rental property. The agreement will probably be lengthy and contain some legal-sounding language. However, don’t make the mistake of not reading it. Carefully read the contract, ask questions, and take it home with you to read if necessary.

The contract will likely be enforced by a court.  So if you agree to something like early termination or lease-breaking penalties, you will have to pay for them if you decide to break the lease. You should also be aware of late rent penalties, pet policies, repair policies and the protocol for reporting damage or requesting repairs. If those policies aren't clear, ask for clarification so there are no issues later.

Find out what happens at the end of the lease. Most leases are for one year, after which the rental agreement will shift to a month-to-month agreement unless the contract is renewed. In a month-to-month lease, you may move at any time as long as you give a 30-day notice. Your landlord can typically require you to move at any time also, as long as he gives the same notice.

Also understand the policies concerning the security deposit. A security deposit is money, beyond your first month’s rent, that you have to pay your landlord when you move in. A security deposit is like an insurance policy for the landlord. It will be used to pay the landlord if you move out owing rent or utilities, or damage the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear.  When you move out, if you have paid all your rent and utility bills and you have not damaged the place, the landlord will return your deposit.

Pay close attention to the contract provisions for reporting damage and requesting repairs. The agreement may require you to repair small items. However, the landlord is typically responsible for making large repairs. Most agreements require written notice of damage. If the landlord refuses to make the repair, your options may include withholding rent, paying partial rent, breaking your lease or contacting local building inspectors or city offices.