When you’re first starting your search for your next apartment, chances are that you have size, finishes, and amenities on your mind. You want that king-sized master bedroom, the granite countertops, and maybe that chic location downtown. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of seeking out the hottest real estate you can afford.
The thing is, all those bells and whistles don’t always mean as much as you hope they do. Sometimes, the little details (and unspoken truths) about an apartment can have a way bigger impact than the features landlords advertise. Before you put down money for that stunning new apartment, you need to start asking some questions.
In many cases, the only way you will know about important details about the apartment is to ask them. These questions, in particular, can give you a more complete picture regarding your future life in a potential living space.
They say that the thrill of the chase is one of the most entertaining parts of life, but when you’re just looking for a place to stay, it can be rough. Even finding a bargain apartment can be a hassle. Asking friends, realtors, and coworkers these questions can help:
- Do you know any cheap apartments near here? The easiest way to find a great apartment is to get referrals through word of mouth. You’d be surprised at how many people know of a great rental, or who recently heard of an excellent place to move to.
- Have you heard anything about this apartment complex? If you are the type fo have friends who just know everything in town, this can help prevent you from renting from a slumlord or worse.
- How did you find this apartment? Asking friends how they found their own living situation might help you uncover new ways to discover an apartment.
- Are there any good apartment assistance programs specific to this town? Most major cities have at least one or two public services that help pair renters with landlords. These programs aren’t just limited to people on Section 8, either. In many cases, you can find an upscale development through them—but only if you ask!
- Do you know anyone who’s currently renting out apartments? A lot of the cheapest steals on the real estate market aren’t openly advertised. Instead, they’re “word of mouth” deals where you might need to know someone to hear of them. Poking around your social network for landlords is an excellent way to find something good in the near or immediate future.
Knowing what you are looking at is vital when you’re trying to find a new place to live. These are the most important questions to ask when apartment hunting, according to experts:
- Is this a good neighborhood?/How are the school systems? Studies show that top school systems are tied to better neighborhoods and lower crime rates. Asking this question can give you a good idea of how nice a specific area is. That being said, real estate professionals cannot answer this question, so your best bet is really to google the neighborhood and its school ratings.
- How do I pay rent? Most apartments will have an office you can drop off rent payments at, but not all do. Some now accept digital payments. Knowing how rent is paid is essential for your protection as much as that of the landlord.
- Can I sublet this apartment? Airbnb might be a good way to make rent for some people, but if your landlord doesn’t allow for it, it can be a cause for eviction.
- What’s the parking situation like? A parking space can be a very significant feature. While it’s regularly discussed in major cities like New York, suburban areas might be more hush-hush about how parking is covered.
- What’s your pet policy? If you have a pet (or want to get one), then this is a must-know. You should never apply to an apartment that won’t allow the furry members of your family there!
- Am I allowed to make changes to the apartment, and if so, what costs are involved? Most apartments won’t be too amenable to significant changes and modifications. If you are the type of renter who needs customization opportunities, costs will likely be involved. It’s good to know what your limits are before you agree to rent it.
- How are emergency repairs handled? An apartment that has an on-site superintendent and repair crew is always going to be the better pick.
- What’s the cost of moving in? In some apartments, you will need to furnish both the first and last month’s rent, plus a deposit and a realtor fee. With others, the standard “rent plus 1.5-month deposit” is enough. Some even have a free month of rent included in the deal. Assuming won’t do you any good, so ask before you agree to sign a lease.
- Do you have any plans to renovate this building? This single question will tell you a ton about any apartment you plan to move into. Along with knowing about future amenities, it can also let you know if you are going to be working with a set timer before you have to move out.
Once you’ve found an apartment that really looks like a dream home to you, it’s time to sign the lease. But wait! There are still more questions to ask about the apartment terms before you are in the clear.
- How long in advance do I have to announce my decision not to renew a lease? This is a crucial question to ask if you live a lifestyle that’s prone to quick changes.
- What are my lease renewal options? Knowing whether you’re booked for 12, 18, or 24 months can help you make decisions ahead of time and plan out your finances. If you can get a month-to-month option, knowing the terms you’d be dealing with is critical.
- Are there any circumstances in which I wouldn’t get my deposit back? Sometimes, even doing something as minor as not cleaning your apartment thoroughly can be enough to get your deposit nixed.
- What utilities are being covered in rent? While most places will cover heat and hot water, some apartments won’t. Others might include all their utilities in the bill or may ask you to pay for everything. Knowing what to expect is important.
- What is your building’s guest policy? In many parts of the country, apartment landlords won’t allow you to have guests that stay longer than two weeks. If you intend on having long-term guests, you need to make sure that it’s okay with your landlord first. Otherwise, you may need to sign them on as a tenant.
- If I sign and get you a deposit today, is there any way we can knock down rent a little more? Contrary to popular belief, rent isn’t always a rigid number. Landlords who are desperate for a new tenant might knock down your price by as much as $50 to $150 per month or more.
There are tons of things that can be negotiable when renting an apartment—pet policies, monthly rent payments, and even security deposits. However, certain things are never okay to budge on. Communication is one of those things.
If you find yourself dealing with a landlord who isn’t fully open about their policies or can’t seem to come up with answers, consider that a glaring red flag. In a legitimate apartment rental offer, the landlord will be ready and willing to answer any questions you might have.
A landlord that dodges specific questions isn’t going to be forthright or fair as a landlord to you. In most cases, this is a sign that they are hiding something that’s wrong about the apartment or might be looking to fleece you. With a best-case scenario, you’re dealing with a landlord who may be inept.
Even if the apartment you spotted looks fantastic, you need to rethink renting it if you can’t get the full details about it. After all, you wouldn’t buy a car without knowing what you should expect. Why would you take a wild leap of faith with the place you want to live?
In the real estate world, knowledge is power. This is true when it comes to buying a home, and it’s true when you want to rent an apartment. The more questions you ask, the better off you’ll be when you’re ready to make a decision. So, ask as many questions as you need to.
The information you get in response to your answers will prove to be useful, but you still should keep an eye on how your potential landlord reacts to questions. If you notice a landlord being dodgy or defensive, it may be better to keep searching for a better place. After all, renting is a matter of trust—and you can never have trust without an open line of communication.