Whether you’re fresh out of college, or downsizing out of a suburban home, you may think renting a place is fairly risk-free. As long as you find a suitable unit you can swing each month, you need not worry about much else, right? Isn’t that one of the big advantages of renting over buying?
You don’t get off that easy! These three steps will secure both your home and your wallet.
Related: Avoid These Rookie Landlord Mistakes
1. Budget for upfront costs
Everyone knows this one, right? Renters will likely need to hand over at least their first month of rent plus a month as a security deposit before moving in. But consider this: If you’re moving from one rental to another, you'll probably have to put down the cash before getting the security deposit back from the place you’re leaving.
This timeline is standard practice among landlords but continues to trip up unprepared renters, says Niccole Schreck, consumer insights and marketing manager for Rent.com. Rather than having to hit up mom and dad, or -- horrors -- start charging everyday expenses to conserve cash, begin saving a few months in advance. In fact, you should always have a few months of rent saved in case your landlord does not renew your lease. That could happen if, say, owners decide to sell the place.
And don't underestimate the costs of boxes, tape, bubble wrap and other packing supplies. A moving kit for a three-bedroom home from Staples can run $400. Even ten 24” x 24” x 18” boxes for a studio can run $40, and that doesn’t include tape, wrapping paper, garment boxes, and other incidentals. Costs add up quickly.
Hiring professional help? Make sure you’re ready to go when the movers arrive. “If you aren’t organized and haven’t quite finished packing, it’ll take more time, and they generally charge by the hour,” says Schreck.
2. Read the lease. Really.
After an exhaustive search, it may feel like you can breathe easily once you’re approved for the rental. Not so fast. “Many people will just sign the lease without actually reading it,” says Schreck. A recent survey from Rent.com found that 26% of renters had lost their whole security deposit at some point. One culprit: not knowing the terms of the lease. “You can’t play by the rules if you don’t know them,” she says. For example, your lease may specify no painting, or have rules about putting holes in walls. Ask your landlord to include in the lease or as an attachment anything he verbally tells you, such as holes are fine or your cat won’t be an issue. Also double-check that utilities included in your monthly rent match what your landlord said.
3. Get renters insurance now.
Many renters assume if catastrophe strikes, such as a fire or break-in, the landlord’s homeowners insurance policy will cover their belongings. Wishful thinking. Landlord policies cover the structure of the home, and perhaps owner-provided extras such as appliances, but will not reimburse losses for the personal belongings of the tenant, says Paul Bruemmer, a landlord insurance expert at Farmers Insurance. Yet 60% of renters do not have renters insurance, a Rent.com survey found.
A typical policy runs between $15 and $30 a month, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. (Unusually expensive items such as fine jewelry and art may need additional coverage.) So for the cost of, say, a fine pair of jeans, you can ensure the rest of your beloved belongings will be covered in the event of bad luck.