Apartment hunting? Do these 4 things before signing a lease

Posted at 10:43 PM, Jul 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-03 22:43:13-04

Perhaps you’re new in town. Ready to switch neighborhoods. Trying to escape a roommate who moonlights as a hoarder.

Whatever’s uprooting you, finding a new place can get expensive.

First, there are the upfront costs to prepare for. Many landlords will ask for two months rent and a security deposit before you move in.

Then there are the sneaky add-ons. Fees tucked in leases, unforeseen building issues and landlords who cling to your last security deposit can quickly make the process even pricier.

Here’s how to survive the transition while keeping your budget, and your sanity, intact.

1. The internet is your best friend

You exhaustively googled your last date before meeting up. Why should it be any different for your apartment?

“One of the great things about the internet is if somebody’s upset with a service, they tend to write about it,” said Ted Beck, CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Once you find a building you like, vet everything, Beck said. What do units typically cost? Have there been issues with bedbugs? Is the leasing company prompt about repairs?

It’s better to know in advance if the landlord will charge you hundreds to fix the fridge.

2. Recognize warning signs

Online listings are a great springboard for your search. But always go and check things out in person.

“Make sure you can tour the place,” said Lynnette Bruno, consumer spokeswoman for real estate site Trulia.

An alarm should go off in your head if the landlord is shady about touring and says you can just wire over a deposit.

“The application process is pretty systematic,” said Lauren Riefflin, a spokeswoman for apartment search platform StreetEasy. “If a company or an agent is asking you to pay cash up front [or] there isn’t a credit check … that’s a red flag.”

The cardinal rule: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Be a little annoying

When you do tour an apartment, ask questions. Turn on all the faucets. Check the water pressure. Test the outlets.

“Take your time in the apartment, take your time asking the broker questions and make sure you are doing everything that would make you comfortable,” Riefflin said.

Brokers often make you feel like you’re under a lot of time pressure, Beck said. But you have a right to due diligence.

The same goes for when you actually move in.

Take pictures of everything — the stove, the doors, the corners — to document any scratches or scuffing. Put the photos in a folder on your computer. You’ll need to prove you didn’t do any damage to get your full security deposit back when you move out.

“Do a walk-through of your apartment when you sign your lease [to] check the condition of things,” Riefflin said. “Do the same walk-through with your landlord at the end of your lease.”

4. Read the lease (really)

They’re lengthy and full of legalese. But the lease is where rental companies stick terms that can really bite.

“Access to amenities in the building can have an added fee — things like a gym and a rooftop deck,” Riefflin said.

The same could go for trash collection, use of common space and even access to the elevator, Bruno said. Owning a pet, too.

Take the time to comb through every section. And again, don’t let the property manager make you feel rushed.

“It’s so important to read the lease, as long as it may be,” Riefflin said. “Word by word and page by page.”