Libby McMillan Henson
Seven Deadly Sins of the First-Time Renter

When it comes to renting your first apartment, mistakes can be deadly to your bank account and your relationships. Many first-time renters make the same type of mistakes, so here are some that people run into frequently, and some help for how to avoid them:

Not adding up the expenses

Your monthly rent is just one number; there are a lot more that go into your actual cost of living. Talk to your landlord and prospective neighbors to get an idea of what other things, such as electricity, water, and internet will cost. Some paces require renter’s insurance, which is a small cost, but one you could easily never think about.

Also be careful about how you pay for these expenses. There are a lot of upfront costs, and putting too much of them on credit is tempting but can end up costing you dearly down the road.

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Not prioritizing well

There are a lot of options in the hunt for an apartment, and not all of them are things you absolutely need. There are critical things, like not taking an eternity to get to work, and things that are nice if not necessary, like a tennis court on the roof. Everyone’s priorities are different, but what you need to do is make a list of those things and follow it. If you set your priorities right at the beginning, it’ll be much easier, not only to get through all the options you come across in your search, but also to making sure that you’ve moved into the right place.

Not getting a broad perspective on where youre moving

What is your neighborhood like at other times of day? If you’ve only been able to make it there during the afternoon on weekends, does that really resemble what it’ll be like during rush hour on Wednesday? Start thinking about all the little things you have to do every day or week and think about how they’re going to work. See how dark it gets at night, how noisy it is, where the bus stops, and what your cell phone reception is like. Think about these now so you don’t end up stuck somewhere you’re going to end up resenting for dumb little reasons like that.

You should also start planning the move. You don’t want to have to, say, move a piano up to the fifth floor of a building with no elevator. Everything you want to put in your apartment has to get in there somehow, so start seeing how that will work. If you have to strap a couch to the roof of your car and drive it up the parking garage, then do that – you just don’t want to be caught off-guard by it.

Jumping into the lease too easily

A lease is a legally binding agreement for you to pay a lot of money over the course of the next year/whatever length of time. It’s not something to jump into without thinking through all of it. Do you actually know how much this place is going to cost, and where you’re going to get that money? Do you have someone to live with you, if that’s part of how you’re going to afford it? If you put down deposits or fees for the apartment and then have to back out, you’re probably going to lose all that money.

You also need to see the apartment before signing the lease. Does your balcony have a great view of a dumpster? Are you living next to a construction project that’s been going on for five years already with no sign of progress? Or are there just the typical issues, of not enough water pressure, beat up and barely functioning appliances, and the like? Once you’ve signed, you’re on the hook for paying for this apartment, so you need to make sure it’s somewhere you want to be first.

Not negotiating

When you signed the lease, did you just take the boilerplate lease that they offered you? If so, you’re not alone, but may not have even realized that you could do something differently. While there are standard things in a lease, everything in there can theoretically be negotiated. You don’t have to spend days going over every single paragraph in exhausting detail, but if there are things that make you uneasy, then you’re going to at least want to bring it up. It’s more likely to work in smaller places with less standardized leases, but you never know if you don’t try.

Not knowing the rules

To keep harping on the lease, you need to follow what’s in there – it’s not enough just to read it. You may think you don’t need to know about a lot of the rules – you don’t plan on subletting your apartment – but what you end up doing in the future can surprise you. The worst surprise is to start doing something, then find out that it’s not allowed by your lease once you’ve already started subletting your apartment or adopted a puppy that’ll grow too big to be allowed or bought something you can’t keep in the apartment.

Not thinking about security

Everyone wants peace of mind while in their home, and decent security can give that to you. Look to see what crime statistics are like in the area. Nowhere is going to be completely free of crime, but you want to know what types of crime happen and how they can be prevented. This should also be a part of inspecting the apartment: make sure that all the locks on the doors and windows work, and spend some time trying to think like a thief. How would you try to get into the apartment? You’ll want to pay special attention to those possible weak points.

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About The Author

A contributing editor and video producer at ApartmentGuide and Rent.com, Libby McMillan Henson has created award-winning content for radio, tv, print and digital for over two decades. Libby recently authored a book about her home base of Greenville, SC, and has also lived in Austin, San Francisco, Nashville, Boston and Sanibel/Captiva Islands. A lifelong traveler and photographer, Libby loves exploring new places and sharing her finds.

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