10 Tips For Finding A Rental Home

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house for rent sign

Renters often don’t do enough research with apartments and homes, and as a result, you hear about folks moving a lot. Here’s how to save your money & time.

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A friend looking for an apartment asked me for tips. It’s something I’ve written about in a number of posts, because I think it’s so critical for those who value living in a nice home.

It’s time to dust off this topic again, and include a couple helpful new tricks I’ve since learned.

1. Show up early

My place just got snatched by a new renter. She showed up early to the apartment viewing, and stood waiting curbside. As I vacated for the showing, I small-talked with her, since the property manager had yet to show. I told her some examples of why I really liked the landlord, and gave her the answers to other questions you should ask, too:

  • How quickly do they respond to problems?
  • How responsive are they to email and voicemail messages about issues?
  • Have there been any problems with mice or bugs in the building?
  • Have there been thefts?

As a result of our chat, with concerns about management put aside, she was the first person to view my space and the last! It’s her home soon.

Another perk of her showing up early, though, was that she saw manager engaging with me since she showed up right before I left, and I think it showed the would-be tenant how jovial our relationship was after nearly three years.

2. Snoop around outside

I was lucky with my rental — I graded this on a curve, deciding to trust the manager when she said a new maintenance guy was taking over, and standards would improve. She was right, it did.

Not everyone tells the truth, though, so this is a leap of faith even if they’re making promises.

But if you look around outside and the property is really well-maintained and, most importantly, the garbage area is tidy, it’s a good indicator that the owners care about their investment.

3. Look for details

From badly-kept floors to spots of mildew and mold in bathrooms, you’ll see good signs of what’s going on with maintenance. It can be a building manager’s lack of attention, or just bad current tenants.

But either way, taking a suite rife with issues on the word that they’ll be improved before you move in, that’s a pretty loaded commitment if it’s not in writing. Rentals are costly and hard contracts to break when you show up on moving day to find broken promises.

4. Don’t forget the little things

Make sure you check stuff like the water pressure in the shower, how quickly the stove heats up, whether there are sufficient (and easy to reach) power outlets throughout the home. Check the windows both open AND closed to make sure sound-proofing is good.

If it’s quiet, it’ll likely be good in the winter for energy and heat retention. Are window locks secure and safe? When you open the oven or fridge door in small kitchens, are there any obstacles? I guarantee you that’ll get old fast with day-in-day-out cooking.

5. Google the management company

Hell hath no fury like a wronged consumer. I avoided some local rental companies because of word-of-mouth but also personal experience. One, who I’ll call BB, was a company I did a showing with, where I pointed out obvious signs of moisture damage that hadn’t been mitigated properly. The agent told me that they maintain to “owner specifications,” not set guidelines.

What that means is, a cheap owner trumps the sound logic of property maintenance. Such as, you know, mitigating moisture damage properly to prevent onset of mold and the like!

Instead, you want a company like mine where, maybe they won’t splurge on your property, but they have minimum standards they insist on maintaining — like pest prevention, moisture control, and all those things that make a big deal to a renter. Ask the rental agent who it is that makes the call on what livable conditions are and see what they say.

6. Check the Bedbug Registry

Has there been an outbreak at the building in the last 12 months? You might wanna be wary, if so. This is definitely a bigger problem in higher-density areas with apartments and such, but it’s critical in cities like New York, Vancouver, LA, and so on.

7. Walk around

Get to know the neighborhood. How far is it to the shops? What kind of hours do they keep? Is there a lot of traffic? Is the street lighting good at night? Is it the kind of place you can see yourself enjoying? What’s nearby? What’s too far?

8. Bring a measuring tape and notepad

Make notes as you view. Are closets too small? Is there enough ensuite storage? If not, is storage available? There’s a big difference between asking if the building has storage lockers versus whether you can get access to a storage locker right away, as I learned at my last apartment! (“Yes, there’s storage.” And later, she tells me, “Well, the lockers are all taken right now.” Uh…)

If the suite is empty, it’ll seem bigger than it is. Measure the rooms. Compare notes later with how large your furniture is, and ensure you have space. It’s good to know what the dimensions of your current apartment is, room-by-room, so you can mentally compare it with ease.

And is there an elevator available for moving day? Will your stuff fit? Measure it. Are stairs awkward with odd corners? Are any angles too sharp for getting bookshelves or other big stuff up?

9. Check it out in the morning AND afternoon

If you’re serious about a space, go view it at a different time of day, so you have an idea of what the daylight is like. If it’s summer, you might be shocked at how hot it can get in the afternoon, or if it’s winter, maybe it never gets direct daylight.

If you value natural light, it’s a great thing to look into, something I wish I had done last time, when I learned I never got any direct sunlight at all. Ever!

10. Take lots of photos

You think you’ll remember the space, but you won’t. You probably won’t even remain objective about what it looked like five minutes after you walk out.

Take extensive photos of everything from cupboards to small spots of damage. It’ll help you make decisions easier.

No one to blame but yourself

In the end, you’re responsible to do your investigating, Googling, and all that. You need to follow gut instincts and research results. Is the manager curt and unfriendly? Do they get annoyed with questions? Do they pause too long when you ask about repair histories and pests and such?

This is where you’ll be every single night for maybe the next several years. Moving because you’ve made a bad choice can mean throwing another $2,000 out the window.

It’s taxing and stressful, so yes, every bit of extra querying you do will save you grief.

Do what I did and make sure you do maximum viewings in the last two weeks of every month. If nothing feels great, don’t give your notice! I got the go-ahead on my space on May 30th, just in time to give notice on May 31st! It’s worth waiting for the right home. Trust me!

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.