We have lived all over the United States and have worked with leasing agents countless times to find a rental property. Here are five questions that you should ask the leasing agent to help in your decision for your next home.
What is the cost?
Seems like a simple enough question. You need to know what your monthly rent will be, but you must also know about the start up costs. These fees include such things as security deposit, also known as damage deposit and application fees which usually are charged for each adult person who will occupy the apartment/home. Other hidden fees are pet deposits and pet rent. Get this in writing, as sometimes the rent goes up and down depending upon the rate of occupancy for the apartment community. You may be required to put in a deposit to lock in the quoted rate.
How large, in square feet is the unit?
This is not only useful to you so that you know whether or not the place is too big or too small, but it can also be used to determine the best bang for your buck. A simple calculation of the total square footage divided by the cost per month will tell you your cost per square foot. This will help you compare apples with apples when you are considering the cost of several different communities.
What amenities does the community have?
We really love a pool and spa in our community. If the area in which we live has many days of cold climate, it is great to have an indoor pool. Even if no indoor pool is available, and indoor spa can be used year round. Some folks like to have an exercise facility. When asking about the amenities, be sure to ask about the hours of operation. A club house is nice to have too when you want to throw a big party, but if it is not available after the leasing office closes at 5:00 p.m., it is useless to you for an evening party. If your apartment does not have a washer and dryer you may be interested in learning about on-site laundry as well.
Are any utilities included with the monthly rent?
Ask if any of the utilities are included in the rent. In some states the property owner is required to pay for the water. Most people expect to pay for gas and/or electric but water can be a hidden cost. If they do not pay for the water, ask how the water is billed. I have seen three different types of billing (1) Direct individual billing from the water authority to each unit. This is the very best way to be billed because the water you use is the water is the water you pay for; (2) Flat rate charged to each unit, usually $30-$40 dollars per month and (3) Prorated based upon how many people occupy the rental unit. This is the most undesirable way because the entire community water consumption is divided up and passed onto the residents. With this type of billing the residents pay for the water that is used to water the lawn and fill the pool in many cases.
What can you tell me about the neighborhood?
You are looking for answers to things like: nearest school; nearest hospital; crime rate; shopping and public transportation. Location of nearest park or all-purpose trail is good to know too. Post office, police and fire stations and library are all things to learn about.
Remember this is going to be your home for several months or maybe even years. Be sure you know what to expect before you sign that lease.
4/4/2011 Addendum: We are on the search for a new place right now and have found http://apartmenratings.com to be an excellent place to go get reviews on a place you think that you would like to live.