hunting can be tedious when you move to a new city or state.
You don't get the same level of care and feeding that house
hunters get. But apartment dwellers need to take some of the
same steps as prospective homeowners when trying to find the
best place to live.
Patricia Curran, director of consumer
education at MetLife in New York, says that too often people
who rent don't do enough research.
"They need to make a list of what attributes
they want in an apartment and what resources they want near
them. How close do they want to be to their job, recreational
facilities, church or synagogue? Is parking an issue? If they
have a car, do they have to pay extra?"
research on the Internet
People relocating from another state should use the Internet
or classified ads to check out apartment complexes in their
new city, says Curran.
"The Internet is a good way to do research,
but you need to see a place. Pictures online don't tell the
entire story. Don't sign a lease based on a picture."
As for classifieds, Curran says to be sure to
read between the lines -- what you read may not be what you
get -- " 'Cute' may mean tiny."
Once you arrive in your new location, talk to
co-workers about areas to live. They can generally tip you
off to safe and desirable neighborhoods.
Curran advises taking a camera or videocam along when visiting
a complex. If the apartment meets your criteria but there's
minor damage, make a record of it. That way the landlord won't
be able to withhold your security deposit when you leave.
While you're there, see if you're comfortable
with the landlord -- if you're not, it could make for a tense
relationship in the months to come.
Check for smoke detectors;
find out who replaces the batteries. If the laundry
facilities are in the basement,
go there, check the machines and make sure you'd feel comfortable
going into the basement by yourself. Make sure there's adequate
outdoor lighting, that locks
on all doors and windows are in good shape, check for fire
extinguishers and that emergency exit
signs are lit.
a locator service
If you're not comfortable handling all this by yourself, or
you just don't have the time for the legwork, consider an
apartment locator service. They're usually free and the reps
can do a good job of giving clients the "lay of the land,"
says Liz Cole of Dallas Apartment Locators in Dallas.
"We save the client time, money and energy.
Our list is personalized -- only the properties that meet
their criteria, are within their budget and are available,"
says Cole. "With us, the client isn't aimlessly driving to
some property that doesn't have the tennis courts they want,
listening to a property agent telling them about all the other
amenities they have."
Cole also says her company makes the complex
managers aware the client has other choices so they have an
opportunity to match an offer rather than lose the customer.
rent to 25 percent of income
MetLife's Curran says a good rule of thumb when considering
how much rent you can afford
is no more than 25 percent of your monthly gross income.
"If you spend more than the recommended 25 percent,
you'll cut into entertainment and lifestyle," Curran says.
"It's a personal decision people have to weigh."
As for security deposits,
Curran says they generally range from one to three months'
rent. If it's three months, Curran suggests trying to negotiate
it down to two months.
"Also, you want the money held in an escrow
account that earns interest. You want it held separately from
other people's money and separately from the landlord's money."
Curran also suggests renters' insurance
as an inexpensive way to make sure you're covered should disaster
"There's a misconception that the landlord's
insurance covers people's belongings," she says. "It doesn't
-- it covers the structure."
-- Updated: May 12, 2003