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.
1. Do You Know Any Cheap Apartments Near Here?
The most important question to ask when apartment hunting is whether or not your friends and acquaintances know of any good deals. Word-of-mouth referrals are one of the best ways to find a great apartment. You’d be surprised at how many people know of a great rental, or who recently heard of an excellent place to move to.
2. How Did You Find Your Apartment?
Another great question to ask friends when renting an apartment is where and how they found their apartments. Asking friends how they found their own living situation might help you uncover new ways to discover an apartment.
3. Have You Heard Anything About This Apartment Complex?
If you're renting an apartment in a large building complex, you should always ask about the property and its reputation. If you are the type to have friends who just know everything in town, this can help prevent you from renting from a slumlord or worse.
4. Are There Any Good Apartment Assistance Programs Available?
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!
5. 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.
6. Is This a Good Neighborhood and How Are the Schools?
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.
7. How Will 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.
8. Can I Sublet This Apartment?
You should also ask the landlord if they allow subletting. If you travel often, subletting or Airbnb might be a good way to make some extra cash to pay for rent while you're traveling, but if your landlord doesn’t allow for it, it can be a cause for eviction.
9. 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.
10. What’s the 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!
11. Am I Allowed To Make Changes To the Apartment?
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.
12. How Are Emergency Repairs Handled?
Another important question to ask when renting an apartment is how are repairs handled and who makes them. An apartment that has an on-site superintendent and repair crew is always going to be the better pick.
13. 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.
14. Do You Have Any Plans To Renovate the 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.
15. How Do Lease Renewals Work?
You'll also want to ask how lease renewals work as well as how long in advance do I have to announce your decision to renew or not renew a lease. This is a crucial question to ask if you live a lifestyle that’s prone to quick changes. 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.
16. When Will I Get My Security Deposit Back?
Also ask if there are any circumstances in which I wouldn’t get your security deposit back. Sometimes, even doing something as minor as not cleaning your apartment thoroughly can be enough to get your deposit nixed.
17. What Utilities Are Included 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.
18. 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.
19. Is the Rent Negotiable?
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.