When it comes to getting a good “deal” on a rental, checking out Trulia’s Market Overview for median rent prices in your city is a great starting point to confirm you aren’t overpaying. But there are other factors to consider when moving into that posh Philadelphia, PA, apartment. Although it may cost more to live closer to your office, that proximity to work could also save you some cash by cutting your commute (especially if it lets you ditch your car and all the costs that go along with it)! Plus, if you take advantage of common apartment amenities, like a pool or fitness room, you can save money on outside membership fees. Here are some other considerations to weigh when determining whether you’re getting a deal on your new place — or overpaying.
It’s important to like both the neighborhood and the apartment complex. If you don’t like your neighborhood, even if the rent is low, you might not feel as though you’re getting a good deal. “I make sure my renters get familiar with the location if they are not already,” says Denise Supplee, co-founder of SparkRental.com, a full-service rental automation service. “I suggest that they drive by the neighborhood at different times of the day and night. This will give a feel for noise, busyness, and even a possible parking situation.”
An old apartment building might be great … if it’s been maintained and, ideally, recently renovated. Otherwise, you might be faced with drafty windows, rattling pipes, and peeling paint. Low rent might not be such a bargain if the apartment is in disrepair. Make sure to ask when the apartment was last updated and take note if the property needs repairs, suggests Cliff McCue of GC Realty Investments in Chicago, IL. Look to see whether there’s water damage, turn on the water faucets and shower to make sure they work well, and confirm the appliances work. If you find problems, it could mean “the manager or landlord is not attentive,” says McCue. If you move in, things might not be repaired in a timely fashion.
While taxes are primarily a concern for homeowners, renters should take heed as well. Moving to a new city can plop you into a new county, and the taxes withheld from your paycheck may increase. “Many cities, townships, and boroughs have wage taxes, some as high as 4%, like in Philadelphia,” says Supplee. “It’s good for someone who is renting to understand this. This can be a fairly sizable chunk out of their paycheck.” If you’re not careful, this withheld portion of your paycheck could dip into your monthly rental budget. Suddenly, that dream apartment that seemed reasonable may be out of reach if your monthly income decreases.
The amount you pay in car insurance is partially determined by your home ZIP code, along with your driving record, age, the type of car you drive, and how far you drive to work. “Auto insurance rates are based on safety, car theft reports, and sometimes just what the area commands in price,” says Supplee. “Contact your auto insurance agent and run the potential address by them just to be sure you won’t be surprised later.” Your apartment deal may not be so great if your commute forces an increase on your insurance.
If you have a pet, make sure you know the pet policy. If you think you might need or want to sublease down the road, check the lease to see whether that’s allowed. Are you responsible for utilities or minor repairs? Do you need to buy renters insurance? All these things can end up costing you money, and you can find the answers in your lease. If you don’t understand something, or if you have a question that is not addressed in the lease, ask. You might even be able to modify the lease.
Note that a verbal agreement from the property manager or landlord doesn’t mean anything when there’s a lease — any and all modifications to it must be in writing. “If the lease isn’t very thorough, or so complicated that you can’t understand it, take a step back,” says McCue. “Never move into a place without fully understanding what you’re signing and agreeing to.”
Don’t be afraid to negotiate paying a little less than the advertised rental rate. The worse thing that could happen would be that your request is denied. But there are ways to go about negotiating rent that could give you a fighting chance. Simply asking for lower rent isn’t the best strategy. “Negotiation points for me as a landlord and property manager are length of lease and credit,” says Supplee. If you have a credit score worth bragging about, point this out to the management. Another option? Offer to sign a lease longer than one year. “Turnovers cost money,” says Supplee. “So if someone is willing to sign a long-term lease, I am definitely willing to negotiate rent.”