10 Things You Should Always Ask Before Renting in Today’s Tricky Real Estate Market

Having worked for several years in the real estate market as a corporate relocation consultant and as a property management director, I have several suggestions for tenants.

Renting is a workable option which gives you greater flexibility than homeownership, with the flexibility to move if you want to or need to, to try out a new location, to conduct a wider job search, to plan on a growing family, or even to move due to a long-distance relationship. If you are considering a new rental agreement, with or without roommates, for the short-term or for longer, whether you have rented before or not, there are some basics to remember each time.

Who will manage the property?

You may want to consider this even before you start your property search. Properties must be managed by someone other than the tenant, so that certain eligible repairs and maintenance are handled at the owner’s expense.

Some owners who live nearby may opt to manage the property themselves to save fees for a professional management company. Other owners may take a really loose view on management, which will not serve you well as a tenant. I have heard owners tell prospective tenants things like, “Oh, well my elderly father lives around here and he can pop in on you once in a while. Although he doesn’t drive.” Ouch. Grandpa may not have a computer, a mobile phone or a rolodex full of reliable contractors for your broken dishwasher, boiler repairs, an emergency locksmith or an exterminator.

So, best to decide now if you wish to rent where there is, in fact, professional property management in place with access 24/7. Many renters fail to even ask about property management and bad surprises are not welcome, since the most fabulous place could suffer from the worst repairs, making life quite unbearable. Remember, the person managing your property will be entitled to hold a key, so you need to know who this is.

Find out what’s included, what’s not and who is responsible for what

Read the lease carefully. Make sure it is clear who is responsible for garden maintenance, if there is one. Same goes for maintaining the common parts: hallways, front entrances, garages, and so on. Who is responsible for window cleaning, which windows exactly and how often? Who is responsible for clearing drain pipes of leaves in the autumn, since blocked drains will lead to water ingress which leads to a host of problems eventually. If you have questions interpreting the lease, get advice from someone who is better acquainted with these legal documents.

Ask about taxes to make sure you understand which party is responsible for what taxes. In most cases, these should be the owner’s responsibility but in some locations, tenants are responsible for some city taxes for garbage collection and other local services. If it is a condo, ask about the monthly HOA fees.

Who are the neighbors? Where can I park?

Ask what you can to find out what you can. If you have a sweet little miniature poodle who never yelps, that’s great for your neighbors. However, the pets-allowed policy could back-fire on you if they have a noisy or nervous pet.

Ever sat next to a crying infant on a flight? Perhaps you don’t want to live next to one where walls may be paper-thin.

Your neighbors will come and go and so there are no guarantees whatsoever. But if the aroma of a nightly spicy curry wafting through your shared hallway is going to bother you, pay attention before you decide on the place.

This means that you ask to visit the property more than once at different times of day, on different days of the week. And while you’re there, check out the parking situation. Parking tickets or a towing are going to add significantly to your monthly outgoings if you make a mistake on rules and regs around where to park the car.

The application fees

It is quite likely that you’ll be asked for a non-refundable application fee to cover the credit search. If it seems hefty, ask questions now to ensure that it is properly charged. Ask for a receipt. You should not be surpised if you are asked for an ID, drivers license, passport or other identification. This may be copied to accompany your files and now you must simply wait for a credit approval.

Ask whether the property can be removed from any further viewings

While you are waiting for your credit approval, you do not want the property to be snatched up unfairly by someone else who perhaps tries to get it by offering over the rental price. So, request that the property no longer be viewed and that the owner agrees to this, in case several realtors have access to the keys. Ask if you can have this agreement in writing.

The security deposit

This can vary widely depending on the locality but is usually one month, six weeks or two months rent in advance. Some landlords will ask for a higher deposit if they have agreed to your having a pet. This is to cover the potential scratching of wood floors or furniture, if the rental is furnished. Remember, the security deposit is the landlord’s protection and your incentive for taking good care of the property, beyond normal wear and tear, which cannot be deducted from your security deposit. Likewise, you are not entitled to withhold rent for what you consider a breach of landlord care, nor in lieu of your final month’s rent.

If you see any major repairs, carpet cleaning, paint touch ups that do need attention before you move, you must ask that these be done now. Inspect a second time after the repair. Test the water pressure at sinks, bath, shower.

Walk through the place, use a camera and be present on moving in day

The return of your security deposit is dependent upon the condition of the property before and after, so if there is any existing damage before, you should have evidence of that – with the date recorded on the photograph – prior to your movers descending. Remember that if the movers scratch walls, this is your responsibility, so it is best to be present on moving day to oversee.

The question to ask up front is whether or not the security deposit will be held in an interest-bearing escrow account during your tenancy. The answer to this should be clear in the lease before you sign.

Renter’s insurance

Your contents insurance is your responsibility covering loss of your own items due to fire or theft. The owner is responsible for insurance covering the building. Ask to see a copy of the owner’s cover and make sure it is up to date. They should not object. If you live in certain locations, ask whether or not earthquake insurance is included, since this is usually optional for owners.

Ask about furnishings and fixtures

You must know what is included and what is not. You may be looking at a partially staged property, or one with a previous tenants’ belongings or items that the owner plans to remove. Avoid nasty surprises on moving day when the microwave you saw is no longer there or lighting fixtures are gone.

Ask who the utility suppliers are

Ahead of your move, ask the property management whether gas, electricity, cable, internet service and telephone service have been suspended without being cut-off. You will find it easier to start up new service in your own name if you know who the service providers are and then call them immediately.

Enjoy your new home!