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A Free Renters Guide

A First Time Renter’s Guide

Renting a house or apartment is one of the most exciting “firsts.” Getting the first set of keys to your new home means freedom and independence! It’s exhilarating. They don’t teach you in school, though all of the ins and outs of choosing a place and signing a lease. It is easy to overlook the necessary things you should consider before signing that lease. The rental property experts at Utopia are used to working with first-time renters and answering their many questions. Here are some pro tips on the most important things you need to know as a first-time tenant.

What can you afford?

Obviously, the rent figure is clear: every month you will have to pay your landlord an agreed-upon clearly defined in your lease. Something many first-time renters overlook is the total cost of living as a tenant. This is when you determine what you can afford. According to the experts at Utopia Management, a good rule of thumb is to be sure your rent does not exceed 35% of your gross income (the total amount of money you make before taxes). For example, if you are bringing in $5,000 before taxes every month, your rent should be at most $1,750 per month. In an ideal situation, you would want to be paying even less than that. You can use that extra money to save for a place of your own because that should always be the goal in the end.

Additional expenses

Apartment complexes sometimes charge a move-in fee of around $300-$500 dollars.

Most lease contracts allow for the landlord to raise the rent once the lease comes to an end. Ask if a percentage cap on a rent increase is an option to be added to the lease.

Security deposit and first month’s rent are required, and some owners require last month’s rent to be paid in advance. This protects the owner if the tenant moves out unexpectedly.

Budget utilities: water, cable, internet, electricity, trash. Budget for lawn and pest care if you will be responsible for these.

Some buildings require renter’s insurance, which should be around $120 annually.

Intangibles to Consider

When choosing an apartment, it can be incredibly easy to get trapped in the aesthetics. Are you imagining yourself grilling dinner on the back porch? Does that big living room make you think about the awesome movie nights? How awesome will your first housewarming be? While these visuals and perks are important, there are particular intangible elements that you should be considering.

  • Ask some of the neighbors what it is like to live in that area. Consider traffic, crime, neighborhood.
  • What impression do you have of the landlord? If you’ll be working with a property manager or a big apartment complex, you can research online the property management company’s reputation before choosing.
  • Consider noise from neighbors. Some buildings have good sound insulation, others you hear a pin drop. Try to visit during the early evening when people are home to get an idea of the sound levels.
  • How is parking? Both for you and for guests.

Understand the application process

Most places will charge you an application fee between $50 and $75 non-refundable. This acts as a holding spot for that property or apartment. Do not apply if you do not know you will qualify, so ask up front what their qualifications are. Potential landlords will perform criminal, rental, employment, and sometimes credit checks. With no major blips on the background checks, the credit score range is 600-700 typically. This is not carved in stone though; if you have a score lower than that you can attach a letter to the application explaining your credit situation. If the owner has reason to think you may have challenges paying rent based on your income, credit, or history, they may consider a co-signer on the lease who has good credit, as one of your parents. It’s a legal commitment to fulfilling the lease. If you do not pay rent, the co-signer is equally responsible for making the payment.

A Lease is a Legal Full Year Commitment

Every person living in the unit will be required to be on the lease.  This means each individual is responsible for the FULL RENT. If a roommate does not pay, disappears, moves out, they are still legally responsible for the rent. But you may not just pay half of your rent. You are legally responsible for the full amount. Unpaid rent leads to evictions and credit problems.

The owner can also sue for the remaining month’s rent until the end of the lease if you move out. To start out your life with this debt on your hands is a step in a bad direction. It will be nearly impossible to find another landlord to rent to you once this is on your record. If you have to move out before the lease ends, some landlords will negotiate a fee, or let you out of your lease if they can find a new tenant. Some leases even stipulate a buy-out clause, often equal to a 2 months rent.

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