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Deciding where to rent, especially in a new location, can be an especially difficult decision for any potential renter, particularly when he or she does not know how or where to look. Below are some factors for apartment searches to consider.

UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD
The general rule of thumb for renters is that the monthly rent should equate to approximately one-third of your combined annual income. For example, a renter that makes $60,000 per year should be spending no more than $20,000 (or about $1,600 per month) on rent. There are additional considerations to determine whether rent is affordable:

(1) Take-Home Income vs. Actual Income: You must make sure you use take-home pay rather than overall income when calculating monthly affordable rent. Take-home pay is income after taxes, rather than your total salary. Using take-home pay as a gauge will give you a more accurate picture of how rent will affect your budget.

(2) Personal Financial Obligations: Take into account all of your financial obligations to determine how much rent you can afford. Do you have student loans, car payments, or other major expenses? You should also consider daily living expenses such as groceries and transportation.

(3) Other Required Costs: Utilities, such as electricity, gas, or water, or other services such as trash pickup or snow removal are generally the landlord’s responsibility, unless the lease specifies otherwise. If you are responsible for any of these costs, the monthly expenses will increase. Be careful to look closely for these items and factor them into negotiation when preparing to sign a lease.

(4) Up-front Costs: Beyond the first month’s rent, you should note that the landlord will often require an additional up-front payment. The landlord cannot charge more than the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit (equal to no more than one month’s rent), and potentially a lock change fee. This would be in addition to a real estate agent’s fee. You should plan ahead to account for these costs at the outset.

If the monthly rent of a single apartment or home is too much, consider finding a roommate. This arrangement allows both renters to split the monthly rent and also the costs of utilities, cable and other costs. Remember to review the terms of your lease before seeking a roommate because some landlords require prior approval of an additional roommate or forbid it altogether.

There are serious consequences if renters fail to pay a landlord, including late charges and perhaps eviction. Unless the lease states otherwise, landlords can start the eviction process the day after you miss a rent payment. Communicate with your landlord if you anticipate needing extra time to make the full rent payment—and be sure to get any such side agreement in writing.

ANTICIPATE YOUR NEEDS
Each apartment or home will vary in the amenities it offers, including distance to various essential stores or services, a parking space, and the general character of the neighborhood.

(1) Distance to Essentials: Consider proximity to public transportation, ease of access to major highways, distance to groceries, and other similar factors. Take time to decide what is important in an apartment location.

(2) Character of the Neighborhood: The type of neighborhood may be just as important as the type of apartment. Consider the noise, style of housing units, size of the blocks, number of people, number of apartments, restaurants, parks, schools, and other components of the neighborhood that will affect the quality of your life.

(3) Amenities: Consider what amenities are included (or not included) in your lease such as parking, furnishings, cable/internet, central air, laundry, pool or workout facilities, use of common areas, as well as many others. If living with roommates, you may also consider whether the bedrooms have locking doors or a separate bathroom. Visit the actual unit, if possible, to see it for yourself.

(4) Length of the Lease: You must be aware of when your lease term begins and ends. While many leases are for 12 month periods, others can be for different amounts of times. “At will” leases have an indefinite duration. Leases can also have varying required start and end dates, so take care to know the dates the lease term will be begin and end.

WORKING WITH OR WITHOUT A REAL ESTATE AGENT

Finding a unit can prove difficult. Generally, you can choose to conduct their own search or may opt to work with a real estate agent. An agent acts as a go-between for the potential renter and the owner or manager of the property. Remember, real estate agents’ services generally come at a price and the agents themselves often technically represent the landlord—that means they are not pursuing your best interests as the renter. Be aware that a real estate agent may provide a valuable service as a specialist with familiarity in local listings and knowledge to serve as a valuable resource to ask questions about the rental process.

While the prospect of a new home or apartment is exciting, it is important for renters to understand what to look for and do their homework before setting out to find a unit. Visit the OCABR website to find more information for landlords and tenants.

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