Homework You Need to Do Before Renting a House

The leasing process for renting a house is a bit different than an apartment. Dealing with a landlord (usually the homeowner) versus a complex can get messy. Especially if both parties don’t agree on expenses and expectations ahead of time. The landlord aspect can also expose you to scams when looking through listings.

“We have even had consumers show up to look at a house for rent, only to find the real owners still living there, with no intentions of selling or renting their home,” says the Better Business Bureau about phantom listings, rentals that don’t truly exist.

Here’s what you should look out for before renting that dream house.

1. Make a must-have list

making a list

When searching for a rental home, the opportunities can both seem endless and very scarce. Due to demand, it’s important to have a list of must-haves, nice to have and items that aren’t deal-breakers.

If a fenced-in backyard, 1,200 square feet and nice appliances are a priority, focus your search on that. This will help you narrow down homes and be more efficient. Renters should also ask the landlord about repair and landscaping costs.

This is one of the main things that differ from apartment complexes. Landlords can choose to reimburse you or cover the repair costs upfront. Every landlord is different so make sure to check.

Compare fees and square footage, as well, when visiting potential rentals. Your list will make your walk-through a lot faster and your decision making a lot easier.

2. Focus on your budget

counting money

Search your top neighborhoods for amenities, average monthly rent and square footage available. Set your filters and notifications to keep an eye on available properties in real-time — this will be helpful if you’re on a tight budget.

This is also a good time to reach out to friends and ask if they’ve heard of any openings near them.

To avoid scams, the Better Business Bureau recommends looking at similar properties in the area to get an idea of whether that deal is sketchy. All-inclusive deals and bank wire requests can often raise red flags.

3. Finding the right home

home tour

After pouring over the listings, set up appointments for every property. During your visit, review your list of preferred amenities like a big kitchen, pet-friendly, fireplace, backyard and more.

But also ask the landlord about utilities, pet fees, parking and other extra fees. Potential extra fees can be hiring a landscaper, covering trash fees, utility bills, HOA fees and repairs.

Once the amenities are a good fit, talk more about the monthly rent and security deposit, plus the length of the lease available. Are you thinking of subletting or renting a room in a home-sharing platform? Make sure to confirm this is allowed.

Visit the rental and meet the owner or landlord in person. It’s important since face-to-face business transactions are safe for both parties and reduce scam behavior.

4. Signing the lease

signing the lease

Show that you’re serious about the house by coming to your appointment with your application, proof of income, a blank check and references. This way, all the landlord has to do is run the credit check and if everything checks out, the house is all yours.

Before signing the lease, make sure you read it carefully and agree with each section of the agreement. When in doubt, call a friend or colleague to go over it with you and compare it to local protection laws.

If you have roommates, ask if you can have separate leases. Also, check if there’s a release clause and what happens if you have to vacate early. Ask the landlord if they’ll clean the unit before you move in and if you’re allowed to paint the walls to make it a bit more like home.

While you won’t pay late (right?), it’s important to ask if there’s any grace period and how you will be paying rent (check, bank deposit or through a platform).

A small tip if your neighborhood is quickly developing: ask if the homeowner has any future plans for the house. This will let you know if you’re safe to stay there for longer than a year and how long is the required notice if he sells.

5. Move-in date

moving in

Soon, you’ll be all moved into your dream rental. But first, do a walk-through of the rental home and take photos of current damages and then share with the landlord. This isn’t just wall damage or floor scratches. Be sure to check all appliances, water pressure and toilets to make sure they’re in working order.

Confirming these (and any other verbally agreed on terms) in writing will help you not be liable and get your security deposit back.

Header Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
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Muriel VegaMuriel Vega is an Atlanta-based journalist and editor who writes mostly about technology and its intersection with food and culture. She’s the managing editor of tech news publication Hypepotamus, and has contributed to The Guardian, Atlanta magazine, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, VICE and more. She spends her time eating her way through Buford Highway and exploring Atlanta's arts scene.

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