You walk into a rental you’re particularly interested in — it’s bigger than a closet, the roof isn’t caving in, and it’s in a great neighborhood close to your favorite shops. When do you move in, right? Well, not so fast … sometimes there are some pretty serious issues lurking in that seemingly superb place.
I know the drill all too well. I recently made the move from Phoenix to the Bay Area, where the rental market is, frankly, cutthroat. After a month of applying to countless places, practically begging landlords to take my money, I finally found what I thought to be the perfect pad. And while my new apartment is pretty awesome, there were a few important matters I missed in my haste to find a home.
Whether you have to make a last-ditch decision or you have all the time in the world, here are 8 concerns that potential tenants often overlook when apartment hunting.
It was the end of move-in day. I was exhausted, grumpy, and ready for a shower. But, much to my dismay, the shower that followed consisted of a slow trickle barely pushing its way out of the showerhead. Luckily, my issue was easily fixed, but if you choose a place with low water pressure, you may have to resort to cleaning yourself with the backyard hose. During your apartment search, check all faucets because the kitchen sink’s water pressure may be just fine while the shower’s is, well, not.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s important to know if pets are allowed at your rental property, and if so, what kinds of pets. In my case, I needed an apartment that permits furry friends. But for apartment hunters who are allergic or simply not too fond of animals, you might want to check with the landlord to see whether or not your neighbors (around, above, and below you) have pets. And regardless of your pet-loving status, ask anyway, because a particularly noisy dog might be a dealbreaker if you’re one of those people who likes to, you know, sleep.
Cell phone reception
Most of us don’t think to whip out our cell phones and check our reception while the landlord is explaining all the wonderful amenities of the apartment. But once you can explore a bit on your own, walk into each room and try making a phone call. If the only spot you can successfully place a call is the bathtub, you might want to reconsider signing the lease (or at least be prepared to get a landline).
Hours for common areas
Depending on the size of the building or complex, amenities like on-site laundry rooms and gyms may be available. But, to avoid finding your wet, freshly washed clothes on the grubby laundry room floor, see if there’s an established schedule for residents to use the facilities. This will also help you determine whether or not these amenities will be available when you need them. Make sure that any common areas are clean and safe to be in at any point during the day (especially facilities that are open 24 hours).
Creepy-crawlies aren’t just an annoyance — they can also be dangerous to your health and pose a risk to the structure of the building. Look for the signs: insect nests outside the building, cobwebs, wood that looks like it’s been eaten away or chewed through, and small holes inside the apartment (mice can crawl through spaces the size of a dime!). Ask the landlord if there have ever been complaints in the past from former tenants, as well as what the landlord will do to address the problem if it ever, ahem, creeps up.
Apartment hunters will often view a place during the day or on the weekend, when neighbors might not be home and traffic isn’t as congested. If it’s possible, ask other residents what noise levels are like on average, both inside and outside. Can you hear every honk of a car’s horn even with the windows closed? Can you hear the upstairs neighbor blasting Kenny G. every weeknight at 11 p.m.? Some apartments are more insulated than others, so for the sake of your sanity, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
The move-in process can be rushed for both landlords and potential tenants, and sometimes both parties don’t realize there’s a problem until something goes wrong. Some of the most commonly missed structural issues include leaky roofs, damaged windows, mold under the carpet, and ventilation problems.
Faulty appliances are also a common issue, and although they’re not technically part of the structure itself, they’re still structural additions that the landlord is responsible for in most cases. No one wants to have all their friends over for a housewarming dinner only to find out that the oven won’t even turn on.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it never hurts to do a little extra research when it comes to your safety. After all, neighborhoods that look perfectly safe during the day might have higher crime than expected after the sun sets. The best way to find out is to contact your local police department. You can also feel things out by walking around your prospective neighborhood at different times of the day (including at night, but bring a friend).
One of the best ways to protect yourself and your valuables is to pick up some renters insurance. And luckily, it’s pretty darn inexpensive!
Bonus apartment hunting tip: Yelp it
If you’re looking at a unit in a larger building, especially in a city, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find online reviews. Sure, some may come from disgruntled former tenants, but look for patterns if possible. Do people comment on how quickly the landlord responds to issues? Any mention of pests, loud neighbors, or cleanliness problems? If you plan on signing a year-long lease, the more you know, the better.
Asking the right questions up front can save you major headaches down the road. Now that you’ve done your research, go out there and show that rental market who’s boss! (It’s you.)