Our Viewpoint: How to Rent Savvy: Make Sure You're Getting the Most for Your Money

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 at 8:14 PM
Our Viewpoint: How to Rent Savvy: Make Sure You're Getting the Most for Your Money by The Spectator
There are a few things to consider that will save you time and money before renting.

Renting. Chances are if you’re a student at Edinboro, you are either renting currently or are planning to in the near future. There are many benefits to renting, like being allowed to perhaps have a pet to come home to, or having a stove, refrigerator and dishwasher to make dining more cost effective.

Finding an apartment to rent on top of classes, appointments and extracurricular activities is almost always anxiety-inducing. “Maybe there are cheaper options or I’m settling too soon” and “Maybe this fee is just the landlord trying to suck as much money as they can from me,” are common thoughts that will course through the mind. Renting is a commitment, one that you’re usually unable to get out of easily. That’s why we think it’s important to know the ropes, so to speak, on how to navigate the renting marketplace.

Navigating the marketplace is especially difficult if you’re a student who doesn’t have the financial support of parents, so the first step for students who are approaching this conundrum alone is to construct a budget. Even if you’re receiving some or total financial support from your parents, it’s still important to know how to budget. Chances are you need to buy your own food or pay for utilities. Managing finances is a balancing act — the balancing becomes so much easier if you plan accordingly. For instance, if you’re working a job to put yourself through school, you might want to consider implementing a rule to not spend more than 30 percent of your monthly income on housing, as other areas of your life like education, food and gas money will require the bulk of your income. Obviously, this might mean looking for a cheaper place to rent, even if you’re losing some aesthetic quality. Try to utilize websites that promote candid roommates. As long as you share some core values of respect and privacy, roommates can significantly drive down the cost of renting.

Before even going to local rental agencies, ask friends and acquaintances for their experience with local renters. Make sure to collect as many reviews as you can, because one friend’s bad experience shouldn’t condemn an entire enterprise. Go online, look for reviews and editorials previous renters have penned. Most sites are easy to use, as all you have to do is enter your location in the search bar and hundreds of results will appear within a 20 mile radius.

After asking around, comprise your own list of things you would like your apartment to have. For example, maybe you want to pay a flat rate and have all utilities and Wi-Fi bills covered by the initial cost. Maybe the functionality of the appliances is what most concerns you. Does the stove look like it’s on the verge of bursting into flames? Probably a good idea to invest your money elsewhere. Location is also an important thing to factor in when considering to rent.

Would you rather live somewhere very quiet, away from busy streets, or would you rather be two blocks away from campus at all times. Then there’s parking to consider. Is it free? Does your car risk being demolished by a snowplow every time Edinboro experiences a snowpocalypse? Ultimately, you may want to walk or drive by the location a few times during the day, at night, or on the weekend to see if the expectations you have are not too idealistic.

After you’ve found what you perceive to be the best option available, make sure you know what you’re getting when you sign the lease. If you’re going into a lease signing without rent that includes heating, water, electricity, cable and internet, you should ask the landlord what the average for utility bills in the building are. If you don’t, you risk the panic of opening an astronomically pricey bill and destroying your credit score to pay for said bill.

There are probably thousands of things to do that are more interesting than reading the contract you will be asked to sign, but part of being an adult is realizing that there are things that have to be done regardless of how much pleasure you derive from them. Consider reading over the lease in the same mindset you would eat vegetables— briefly dissatisfying, but ultimately saving you from damaging repercussions in the future. When reading it, look for and highlight the most important parts such as the beginning and terminating dates of the rental period, the rental price and information about your security deposit, the clauses that claim the reasons why your landlord can terminate your lease, penalties for abandoning the apartment before the end of the lease and personal responsibilities for repairs.

A red flag you might encounter while reading a contract is “automatic renewals.” Automatic renewals assume you will be staying in the same location and have the same financial circumstances after your initial leasing period is over. Automatic renewals, should you change pay grades or lose financial aid, force you to pay even if you’re not living on the premises. It’s a tricky, unscrupulous loophole that some tenants get caught in, especially college students who often toss the contract into a nebulous folder of “other important documents.” Also, beware of privacy clauses and avoid leasing with property owners who make a stipulation to have unlimited access to your rental without notification. Tenants have rights, and a landlord should be permitted inside without notice only in instances of emergency. Perhaps most obviously of all, never sign a lease without seeing the exact apartment you will be living in, even if you’re offered a “bargain.” Doing so almost guarantees your chances of living in an apartment that is below both your standards, along with The Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If you secure a showing with the property owner, when you get inside there are particular things you should be testing. If there are any exposed pipes, check them for leaks. Don’t be shy about running the water to see if it has sufficient pressure or temperature. Consider the temperature of the room as well; if it’s frigid ask the owner if they have heating. Chances are they do, but are not heating the room to keep costs down. Open and close windows and observe if there are functioning locks on the doors. Broken locks or windows are not a good sign, as they indicate that your landlord is likely not keen on spending the cash to make the apartment safe. You’ll also want to consider the walls of the apartment. The more walls that are shared with adjoining rooms, the greater the chance of noise from next-door neighbors.

Make sure you know the landlord to the best of your ability. Know basic information about where they’re from and how many properties they own. Knowing this puts you at an advantage, as you may be able to bargain with proprietors who are making supplemental income off of your student loan refund checks. Perhaps if you show them your shoestring budget grocery list of ramen noodles and canned peas, they’ll be more willing to cut you a deal.

When you sign the dotted line and the keys to the apartment are plopped into your hand, go to your apartment and celebrate. Congrats! You did something your little eight-year-old self wouldn’t have thought possible. You’re making it and you’re making it because of your consumer savvy. Now, whip out your camera and photo document the condition of your room so that your security deposit is returned in full. That dent? Not from you. Have the evidence to back it up and happy decorating.

Our viewpoint is voted on by the staff of The Spectator.

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