smart spending

How to find the first apartment

"They should see a copy of the original lease, and contact the landlord or manager, whether it's an individual or a company. If they can, they really should try to get their name added to the lease," says Hill. "The biggest fear is, how do they know the rent is getting paid?"

Negotiate for what you want

If you see something on the lease you don't like, don't be afraid to negotiate. Most landlords or property managers will have standard terms on things like security deposits and the term of the lease, but, depending on their circumstances and the market you're looking in, they may be willing to change their terms to get you into their property. In some situations, they may even be willing to negotiate the rent. Have a list of things you may want to ask for prepared ahead of time. That way, when it comes time to hash these things out with a landlord, you won't forget anything in the heat of the moment.

This is also a good time to bring up needed repairs that you may have seen on the walk-through. If there are pre-existing conditions that you want fixed before you move in, have the landlord or manager amend the lease to include those repairs. Make sure you're clear on who is responsible for arranging repairs. Whom do you call if the toilet or the furnace stops working, and how fast are they going to get back to you?

Lastly, even in the tightest markets, resist the urge to sign a lease before these issues are resolved. Before signing the lease, and handing over deposits that go with it, you can always walk away, but after the lease is signed and the money changes hands, there's no going back. The next six to twelve months could either reward you for your due diligence or make you wish you'd been more thorough.

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