Find a good home with reasonable rent
Whether you decide to rent for financial reasons or just because you don't want the responsibility of ownership, you want an apartment that feels like home. Finding good, inexpensive apartments can be a challenge. Here's a guide to renting a home you'll enjoy that also matches your budget.
1. Affordability is key.
For sound financial health, aim to keep your rent, plus any debt payments, at 36% or less of your monthly income. More than that, and you'll be eating in every night to pay for a too-expensive place. Figure out how much you can afford to spend on an apartment before you start looking. If you can't find a high-quality, low-rent apartment, consider getting a roommate to share the costs.
2. Location, location
Identify your target location carefully. Pick a place that's close to work, groceries, and facilities you use regularly, so you spend less time (and money) in transit. Having public transportation nearby is a great way to cut your transportation costs.
3. Bargain hard
Want to negotiate a discount in rent? Tell your prospective landlord you're very interested but hadn't planned to spend as much as he or she is asking. If you request a rent reduction, the worst they can say is no.
4. Low-cost furnishing
When furnishing your apartment, ask family members for free hand-me-down furniture or small appliances they're not using, or check www.freecycle.org, a site that allows people to give away items they no longer need. Find useable furniture at second-hand stores, or check www.craigslist.org and www.ebay.com. Visit low-cost stores for new household supplies.
Savings Tip #19
Ask the landlord if utilities such as electricity are included in the rental price, and use that information to help you figure out the true monthly cost of a rental you’re considering.
5. Utilities and communications
Ask utility companies to waive connection fees or transfer fees – they may offer big discounts if you say you're considering signing with a competitor. "Bundling" services like Internet and cable with the same provider can also bring discounts. Consider skipping the landline if you mainly use a cell phone.
6. Get it in writing
Make sure the contract you sign with your landlord includes how long you must stay, how much notice you must give before you move, what repairs the landlord is obligated to do, and the rules regarding subletting. If the landlord promises an upgrade – such as painting before you move in – get that in print, too. If something seems unfair or suspect, call your state or county housing office or office of consumer affairs. These government agencies can inform you of your rights as a tenant.
7. Stay safe and insured
Think about safety for you and your belongings. Look for a good lock, and consider an alarm system. Check that your new apartment has a functioning smoke detector and carbon monoxide (CO) detector. A fire or flood can ruin your precious valuables, so renter’s insurance is a must. Figure out how much property protection you require by creating a complete inventory of everything in your apartment – from your TV to your socks – and then shop online for a quote.
8. Be the perfect tenant
Keeping your rental clean and quiet is the best way to ensure your landlord appreciates you. That can mean a grace period if you ever need to be a few days late on the rent, and a glowing reference for your next rental. Many landlords require a security deposit, so keeping the place in good repair helps to make sure you’ll get the money back.
With so many options on the market – high rise and low rises, condos, duplexes, old Victorians, newly renovated suites – it pays to put the effort into finding a good apartment with affordable rent to call your home.
What's next? Student guide to roommates and money