I was 19 when I rented my first apartment. Although I was in college, and had already been at a full-time job for 2 years, I wasn’t quite as savvy as I thought I was when it came to renting my first apartment.
I set out, excited and nervous to be on my own, for the first time. I did some due diligence like checking the apartment thoroughly, asking about the neighbors, setting a strict budget, etc. But after I moved in, there were a few things I wished I’d looked at just a little closer. These are the top 10 things I wish I had checked before moving in, maybe these will save you a little time and heartache of your own:
1. UTILITIES: Don’t guess what the utilities MIGHT be! This can actually cost more than your monthly rent if you aren’t careful. Call the local power and gas company and ask for an average monthly rate for the last 12 months as well as a high and a low estimate.
2. APPLIANCES: I learned a painful lesson the hard way here. We went on a trip and were gone for a week. We didn’t know that when we were away that we should turn off the water to the major appliances like the washing machine because there is always pressure to the pipes. Long story short, we came home to our couch on the front lawn and our apartment flooded and the downstairs apartment flooded too.
3. RENTER’S INSURANCE: The washer hook-up lesson, taught me about renter’s insurance! When the apartment flooded, although it was an old, faulty hose with an improperly affixed hose attachment that gave out, the landlord gently reminded me that she would not be covering any damages because it was in my lease and I should call my renter’s insurance. OOPS, we didn’t have any. Needless to say, two college kids on a slim budget, we shampooed the brand new couch and lived with the memory of the stain for the next 10 years, and got renter’s insurance for under $15/month.
4. EMERGENCY CONTACT/KEY: I learned a lot of lessons by not unplugging the washer when I went out of town. No one knew where we were at and no one had access but the owner/landlord. So… when the washer started flooding, the downstairs neighbors couldn’t get in touch with anyone, they had to break into the window to stop it. Lesson learned, tell the landlord where you are at, and give someone you know your plans and an emergency access method.
5. LOCATION: I was new to the area when I looked at the apartment and to me, the houses on the street were fairly well maintained, the gardens were cute and the neighbor downstairs seemed pretty nice, so it must be a good area. BOY WAS I WRONG! The first week that I was there, I had the police pounding on my door demanding that some unknown person to me come out. I was terrified. After realizing I was totally innocent and naieve, the police filled me in on the “history” of the neighborhood. Lesson learned, next time, don’t assume a neighborhood’s “history” by the flower gardens in the front yard.
6. PARKING SECURITY: Know where you should and shouldn’t park your car. I was a poor college student with pretty much nothing but my backpack and dance bag. I parked my car on the street one night and my windows were broken and all that was stolen was my dance bag with my dance shoes. While this may not seem like a big deal, if you are a dancer or know a dancer, you know the pain of buying and breaking in new shoes. I would have paid to have those things back! Lesson learned, this was a notorious place for break-ins, I didn’t know, but had I asked my neighbors, I would have. Ask your neighbors where NOT to park! Break-ins can happen anywhere, but sometimes some areas are more prone than others.
7. FOOD BUDGET: Your food budget will need to include not just food, but other essentials like TP, cleaning supplies, etc. I learned the hard way that not only did I need to eat, but I needed laundry soap to do laundry and that sometimes amounted to half my budget. Lesson learned, budget in for the non-food essentials every month!
8. PET POLICY: When we rented the apartment we didn’t have a pet and didn’t think we would be wanting a pet any time soon. Well, things change and people change and we ended up thinking we wanted a pet. So, we just checked with the owner and found out that unfortunately, no pets were allowed. That was the catalyst to buying our first home. We may have stayed longer if we could have pets. Lesson learned, even if you don’t have a pet, check on the pet policy before you move in so you aren’t stuck with a policy you can’t abide by later.
9. MAINTENANCE: No matter where you live or how new your rental is, there are ALWAYS maintenance things that come up. I wasn’t worried about maintenance until we had issues, and then either they didn’t get fixed, or someone would just come unannounced at random times to fix it, no call, no notice. Lesson learned: Ask about how maintenance is handled and how prompt they are BEFORE you move in.
10. LEASE BREAK TERM: When signing a lease, very few people think that during that time, things might change, so most people glaze over those seemingly frivolous details. When we found out we couldn’t have a pet, we gave our notice and were kindly reminded that if we didn’t stay through the end of the lease, there was a pretty stiff penalty. We stayed the 2 extra months to fulfill our term. Lesson learned: Know your term and lease break details because you never know where life might lead you!
Hopefully this will get you going and will be at least a few less things you won’t have to experience the hard way like I did!