There is a good article in today’s Palm Beach Post, written by Kim Miller, entitled “Top Ten things every renter should know.” According to the article, the list was compiled by two Realtors who work in the Miami market. You can check it out in its entirety here, but you’ll find it’s mostly just a list of bullet points. Easy enough to write, but not always so easy to interpret or turn into a reality. Since the devil is in the details, we thought we’d dig in a little deeper. . .
The Post article suggests that a soon-to-be renter obtain references from a previous property owner or employer. Absolutely a good idea. Submitting an offer on a place to rent is a lot like applying for a job. You know you, but odds are good that the owner of a place you’d like to rent won’t know you from Adam. You therefore want to paint yourself in the best possible light, and that means demonstrating stability, responsibility, and a degree of openness. Providing a landlord with a summary about you, including the type of work you do and the place(s) you’ve lived in the past, builds a sense of familiarity. If the landlord feels he knows you a little better, he’s more likely to rent you his place at terms you can live with.
Obviously, this is often Topic #1 when deciding on a place to live. The article in the Post suggests that your housing cost should be capped at 25 to 30%. Fair enough, but how you get there can make all of the difference. When beginning your search, write out a wish-list that contains absolutely everything you want. Odds are, of course, you won’t get it! But, from there you can begin scratching non-essential items off the list, while leaving the priority items up top. With a little compromise, you’ll probably have success. If, on the other hand, you find yourself scratching off even your top priorities, then it’s either time to rethink your budget or expand your search to other areas.
Today’s article suggests that would-be renters “use free features on real estate sites to easily search for rentals by zip code.” Obviously, there’s something to be said for doing some homework. But keep in mind that real estate commissions on rental transactions are paid by landlords, so you need not go it alone. Enlisting the help of a good Realtor will make your search more efficient, without costing you anything, and you’ll be tapping into the knowledge he or she has amassed in that market. Poke around the internet, by all means, but when it’s time to get serious call upon a pro to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
Search Outside the Box
Again, sage advice offered in Ms. Miller’s article, provided you’re smart about it. Single family homes and townhouses can offer great value, but there is give and take when compared to condo living. It’s easy to demonize a condo association, but that demon can become an ally if you have an unruly neighbor or an unruly neighbor’s barking dog to contend with. As with real estate commissions, association fees are paid entirely by landlords, but that doesn’t mean they can’t inure to the benefit of a tenant. If you rent a house, and the guy next door decides to take the mufflers off his Harley, odds are better that you’ll be taking on that battle yourself rather than turning to the association to put a stop to it. So by all means, explore all of your options, but do so thoughtfully.
This is a must, must, must. Upon taking possession of a newly rented property, create an inventory that can be shared (promptly) with the landlord. Dings and scratches, discolored shower grout, carpet flaws, etc. should all be noted. A list can be written out and politely provided to the landlord, with a CD full of photos if you wish, so that the condition of the place upon your arrival is well documented. It’s a 2-way street, of course. . . If you set out to wreck the place, the inventory and photos will help the landlord prove his case as he holds back your deposit.
Review the Lease
One should always read everything one signs, especially when thousands of dollars can be at stake. When it’s time to ink the dotted line, ask your Realtor to help you understand anything that looks amiss or confusing. Even if you don’t have your own Realtor in the deal, ask the listing agent. If you’re working with someone ethical, he or she will give you the straight scoop.
Primarily, folks think of rental insurance as a way to protect their own stuff. And while a rental policy does that, it provides other valuable coverage as well. Almost all policies include liability coverage, which can possibly save your bacon if anything gets dodgy. If you negligently let a toilet overflow while you’re away for the weekend, that liability coverage can help you pay for the flood damage in the unit(s) below. It can also protect you, provided you buy the right policy, if your pooch decides to eat the mailman. Simply put, renter’s coverage makes for inexpensive peace of mind.
The Post article references security deposits in the Walk-Through section above. No need to reiterate that, but this topic raises another point. In Florida, a landlord is required to store your security deposit in an escrow account, and those funds are not supposed to be commingled with other, unrelated funds. Typically, the escrow account chosen does not earn interest. A landlord can opt for an interest-bearing account instead, but he or she must then pay you a portion of the interest earned while your deposit was stored. Upon taking a new rental place, ask your Realtor to find out exactly how your money will be stored while you have possession of the property. You may be entitled to a few dollars of interest when you move out. Or, more importantly, you may find yourself fighting to get your money back if the funds weren’t socked away properly,
Use Space Efficiently
The last section of Ms. Miller’s article suggests that tenants use space efficiently, but she means so as it pertains to décor. Fair enough, but nobody can tell you how you should decorate your place. Suffice it to say that a 1-year rental can go by like a blink of an eye. Unless you plan on renting for a good, long time, be mindful of the fact that another move is on the horizon. Living a more Spartan lifestyle as a tenant can pay big dividends when the year has gone by and you’re begging your friends and family to help you lug all of the junk you’ve acquired down three flights of steps!
In the end, all of this is worthwhile advice, and it’s the stuff we deal with every day. If you find yourself in or approaching the rental market, check out some options on our buildings page, and then get in touch with us. We can help you navigate these issues so that you find a place you like and then navigate these issues so that you’re protected while you’re there.