10 Tips First-Time Apartment Renters Can’t Afford To Overlook

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Renting your first apartment is a huge milestone – a moment to celebrate for sure. However, as a first-time renter, finding the perfect rental for your situation can be an ordeal. How do you make sure the rental process goes smoothly and with minimal (or no) obstacles in the way?

The good news is that there are many resources available to guide you through the apartment rental process. To get you started, here are some tips to keep in mind as a first-time renter.

1. Determine how much rent you can afford

One very important first step to finding the right apartment is deciding how much you can comfortably spend, based on your income.

According to Manisha Thakor, director of women’s wealth strategies at BAM Alliance, a rule of thumb is that rent should be no more than a quarter of your take-home pay. If you follow this method and earn $4,000 a month, you’ll want to find rentals that charge no more than $1,000 a month.

Another formula for determining affordable rent is to divide your annual household salary by 40. This calculation stems from landlords who want to screen out tenants who can comfortably pay their rent. So if your gross annual income (i.e., before taxes) is $60,000, you’ll want to look for rentals that charge no more than $1,500.

2. Give yourself time to find rentals that meet your criteria

Finding an apartment can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on the level of competition in the local rental market. To avoid “panic renting” or settling for any apartment, it’s best to give yourself enough time to check out different rentals and find the best option.

Once you’re ready to start your search, use apps and websites like Realtor® to view rentals near you – all filtered by location, price, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, property type, and more. You can also filter out listings that are no longer accepting applications to avoid inquiring about unavailable apartments.

3. Compile the necessary paperwork for your rental application

In addition to a rental application, other documentation may be required to prove your income and reliability. Examples of these documents include:

  • One form of identification
  • Two recent pay stubs
  • A recent bank statement
  • Credit, landlord, or personal references
  • A job-offer letter, if recently hired
  • University acceptance letter
  • 1099 tax form, if freelancing or self-employed
  • Pet resume with your pet’s breed, size, and vaccination history

You may only need to submit some of these documents, but you can save time during the application process by preparing them in advance.

4. Consider creating a renter profile

Creating a renter profile can be a great way to apply for multiple rentals without having to answer the same application questions over and over again. platforms such as Avail (part of Realtor) allow you to enter your rental history and employment and attach a credit or background check for a one-time fee.

Since your information can include relevant screening reports that landlords often request, this will help you avoid duplicating fees with different landlords. It can also help limit credit checks. Laws vary from state to state regarding whether landlords are required to accept renter profiles. Therefore, please refer to your local landlord-tenant laws to confirm your state’s requirements before creating a file.

5. Research your rights as a renter

There are rules and regulations in place to protect landlords and tenants during the lease term. If this is your first time renting an apartment, research your local tenant rights to know what your landlord can and can’t do.

For example, some states have security-deposit laws that require landlords to provide a receipt outlining where the payment is held. States also require landlords to provide reasonable notice of at least 24 hours before entering the property. For all renters—and particularly for first-timers—understanding rights is important. It can help minimize the chances of a landlord violating them.

6. Compile a list of questions to ask at property showings

Property showings offer a chance to ask questions and learn more about the rental property and landlord. Before attending virtual or in-person showings, write down five to 10 questions you’d like to discuss with the landlord. Some examples of common questions include:

  • How much is the rent?
  • Are utilities included in the rent?
  • How do you prefer to collect rent payments?
  • How are regular and emergency maintenance issues handled?
  • How secure is the property?
  • Is on-site parking available? For free or for a fee?
  • What screening reports are required with the application?

Additionally, showings afford an opportunity to talk through any negative remarks on your credit report. It’s also a good time to share what you’ve been doing to improve your credit score. If you cannot authorize screening reports with a social security number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), communicate this with the landlord or property manager. They will be able to explain what your alternative options may still be for applying. And by making a good impression, you can also increase your chances of getting approved for the rental.

According to a survey by Lemonade and OnePoll, landlords view good tenants as people who pay rent on time, keep the place clean, follow house rules, and are employed. If you’re able to prove a track record that demonstrates these behaviors, landlords will be likelier to approve your application.

7. Read the entire lease agreement before signing

A lease agreement is a legally binding contract that outlines the rules that the landlord and tenant need to follow. To ensure that no terms infringe on your rights and that you understand the requirements, read the entire lease agreement before signing.

It is important to also verify that the lease says the correct information that the landlord communicated to you throughout the screening process. Check that your name is spelled correctly, that the correct rental price is listed, and that the term of the lease you agreed to is clear.

If you find any errors, communicate with your landlord and ask them to send a revised version of the agreement. If you find problems, avoid signing the lease. If the landlord countersigns the document, this may become legally binding, which makes it more difficult to amend.

8. Invest in renters insurance

States do not require renters to purchase renters insurance, but some landlords may require it for their rental properties. The good news is that renters insurance helps protect you and your belongings when you rent a home. The average cost of renters insurance is $18 per month; however, pricing varies by provider, depending on the level of coverage.

Some landlords may require your renters insurance to cover pets as well. When purchasing your insurance, ask about pet insurance options.

9. Get visual proof of the rental’s condition before moving in

Landlords generally perform rental-property inspections before new tenants move in, to identify existing property damage. But landlords can miss certain details, so take photos or videos of the rental’s condition before you move in. This can help you avoid charges for property damage you didn’t cause.

Additionally, you can request an inspection with the landlord before you move your belongings in, so they’re aware of any issues they need to address.

10. Report rent payments to a credit bureau

Rent payments are often the most important monthly expense, so why not use it to your credit’s advantage? If your landlord is already using a platform like Avail to collect rent, you can turn on CreditBoost when you submit a payment. this allows you to report that transaction to TransUnion for $3.95 per payment.

Other options, such as Rent Reporters and LevelCredit, allow you to report rent payments independently for a monthly fee. Reporting your rent payments to the credit bureaus can help restore or build your credit, which is especially helpful if you plan to buy a home in the future.

Final thoughts

Having a plan is the best way to simplify your first apartment-rental experience. With these tips, you can feel well-prepared for the unexpected and increase the chances of being approved for your dream rental.

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