Tips for first-time renters

You’ve made up your mind—you’re finally going to move into your first apartment. Before you get too comfortable with your new found freedom, beware. This is real life: a couple of late rent payments can damage your credit significantly, and if you have a huge party, the police will come. Make sure that your first experience out on your own is a good one with these tips for first-time renters from some folks who’ve learned the hard way.

Tip #1 – Budget wisely

Experts suggest that your rent should be no more than 25–30% of your income. Beware of choosing an apartment that you won’t be able to afford three or six months down the road. An eviction can ruin your credit report and will be seen as a warning sign to other potential landlords. To create a reasonable budget for apartment living, take a look at your income after taxes and subtract your expenses. Include things like food, household supplies, phone, car payment, car insurance, parking fees, credit card bills, clothing, cleaners, gas, Internet, healthcare, school loans, and entertainment. What you have left is what you will be able to spend on your new apartment. Keep in mind that this total will need to include rent as well as any additional utilities, such as water, electricity, cable, and garbage pick-up if it is not included in your rent.

Tip #2 – Think about the deposits

Not only will you need to afford a deposit on the apartment itself, but you might also need to pay a fee to have your electricity turned on, cable and Internet hooked up, or other incidental fees. Your security deposit is most often equal to one month’s rent and the other deposits can range anywhere from $25 to $100. Again, make sure that you plan before you sign the lease and move in; moving can create a lot of unexpected expenses, so make sure you have the money set aside to cover them.

Tip #3 – Use credit cards in moderation

To establish credit, you need to have credit. Having credit cards and paying off your debt in a reasonable amount of time will strengthen your credit report. And everyone has times in their life when they need a credit card. Don’t feel guilty about using credit cards, but don’t be careless either. Be responsible when using credit cards and avoid carrying a balance for over three months. Rather than depending on your credit card as a way to make ends meet every month, know that it is there in the case of an emergency.

Tip #4 – Determine what you “need” versus what you “want”

When searching for a potential apartment, consider the things that you need and the things that you want. If you don’t own a car, your apartment will need to be close to either your place of employment or to public transportation. If you have a pet, you will need to find a place that allows pets. Things like high-speed Internet, a gym or pool on premise, and an in-unit washer and dryer are probably items you want. Be prepared to give up some of your wants to get the things you will need. Of course, the perfect apartment, which has those things that you need as well as want—and is within your budget—may be out there somewhere.

Tip #5 – Do not sign a lease without visiting the apartment

Visit the actual apartment you will be renting, not a model. Perform a complete walkthrough and check of the unit.

Take measurements of the rooms and the doors (to make sure your stuff will fit).
Pay attention to any odd smells or loud noises.
Open all the closets and cabinets.
Turn the faucets on and off.
Check all appliances to make sure they work.
Ask about the security measures the landlord has in place.
Are the parking lots and common areas well lit and clean?

If there is damage to the apartment, you can request that it is fixed before you move in.

Tip #6 – Read and understand your lease

Don’t feel rushed to sign your lease immediately. Take a copy home with you and read it over in its entirety. Make sure the information in the lease is exactly what your landlord told you verbally. If your landlord said that it was acceptable for you to have a dog and there will be no additional deposits or fees for having a pet, make sure that is outlined in the lease. Look for any additional fees or penalties that may be reflected in the lease that your landlord may have failed to mention. Make sure that the lease details which utilities will be paid for by the landlord and which ones you will be responsible for.

Tip #7 – Get renters insurance

You might be thinking that you really don’t own enough stuff to justify paying insurance for it, but think again. Take a look at all your clothes, books, electronics, furniture, appliances, computer and computer software, and so on. You really would be out a pretty penny if everything went up in smoke. Renters insurance will run between $10 and $20 a month, depending on where you live (crime rates, propensity for natural disasters and flooding, and more may affect the cost of insurance) and the level of coverage you choose to get. When you get your insurance, the carrier may ask you to retain proof of the items that you’re covering. Take photographs of your possessions and place them, along with owner’s manuals, databases, and receipts in a safe deposit box at your bank or purchase a fireproof safe for their safekeeping. Some landlords actually require all renters to carry renters insurance!