How to Rent an Apartment for the First Time

There are certain benefits to renting an apartment instead of buying a home, including free maintenance, access to communal facilities and no long-term commitment. However, it’s important for prospective tenants to choose the right apartment. The following tips can help first-time renters select the best apartment for their needs.

 

Set a Budget

 

Prospective tenants should first set a budget by determining exactly how much they can afford to pay in rent each month. According to Quicken, a good rule of thumb is to pay no more than 25 percent of income before tax on rent. If a tenant earns $3,000 per month, for example, his or her monthly rent should be no higher than $750. However, this estimate is a suggestion, not a hard-and-fast rule; if a tenant has other significant monthly expenses, they might be better off choosing an apartment that costs well under 25% of their total income.

 

Consider Location

 

The location of an apartment will affect the cost of rent, accessibility to other businesses and the tenant’s daily commute. Apartments outside of the city are usually cheaper than those within the city, but this can also make daily commutes longer. Therefore, prospective tenants should choose an apartment that’s within a reasonable driving distance from their place of work.

 

Look at Multiple Apartments

 

When searching for their first apartment, prospective tenants should look at least five properties. Even if one apartment offers all the right amenities and is within the tenant’s budget, others may offers better features at an even lower price. The only way a prospective tenant will know, however, is by considering multiple properties.

 

Consider Security

 

How secure is the apartment complex? Prospective tenants should consider security features like perimeter fencing, gates, video surveillance, patrols and alarm systems.

 

What About a Roommate?

 

To help offset the cost of living in an apartment, prospective tenants should consider getting a roommate. Assuming it’s allowed, this can reduce the cost of reduce the cost of rent by up to 50 percent. If a tenant decided to get a roommate, though, he or she should carefully vet the person to ensure they are capable of paying their share of the rent and utilities.

 

Review the Lease Agreement

 

Arguably, one of the most important steps in renting an apartment for the first time is reviewing the lease agreement. This is the legally binding document that explains the terms of rental. When reviewing the lease agreement, prospective tenants should look at the duration, security deposit and the fee for breaking the lease.

*Originally posted on JasonCohenPittsburgh.net

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Common Rental Terms Every Tenant Should Know

Property descriptions can be difficult to muddle through, especially for first-time or young applicants. When it comes to apartment rentals, there are a number of terms that get thrown around; here, I provide a few handy definitions and explanations to help newcomers acclimate to the vocabulary.

 

Utilities Included

Utilities” is a blanket term that typically refers to basics such as electricity, water, and sewer and trash services. However, the term can sometimes include extra expenses such as heat, snow removal, cable, and Internet – although a tenant should never assume that any in the latter list are covered. Often, a landlord will specify which utilities are included in the rent and which are left to the tenant to pay. If the landlord doesn’t specify which expenses are folded into rent and which aren’t, be sure to ask for clarification before signing a lease. Note that in some cases, the landlord will agree to cover a specific bill up to a certain dollar amount and leave the tenant responsible for the remaining balance.

Pet-Friendly

When a landlord lists a home or apartment as “pet-friendly,” they aren’t guaranteeing a home for all types of animals. For example, a landlord might be willing to consider a bird or cat, but turn away someone with a large dog. In all cases, the tenant should assume that only well-behaved pets will be welcome. Check to see if a pet deposit or pet rent is required in addition to the usual security deposit to cover any damage the pet may have caused.

 

Amenities and Amenity Fees

Amenities refer to the perks of residing in the home or apartment – say, a large deck for entertaining, or wood-burning fireplace. Amenity fees generally appear in upscale buildings that offer an unusually high number of benefits to residents, such as a swimming pool or an on-site gym equipment. Check the fine print of your lease for information on what’s included and assess whether the cost is worth the benefits.

 

Application Fee

Landlords will often run a criminal background check on applicants through an online service such as BeenVerified. The fees for these services are then passed on to the applicant. Note that the application fee might also serve as a sort of initial refundable deposit on the property. If so, the landlord might just be holding it until the background check is complete – but you should always  ask the landlord rather than assuming one way or the other.

 

Furnished vs. Unfurnished

If an advertisement lists the space as “furnished,” this could mean only that the rental includes a single bed and a table and chairs, or that every room is fully decked out and complete with curtains. If this is a concern, ask for details and the landlord’s expectations before setting up a time to view the property.

 

*Originally posted on JasonCohenPittsburgh.net 

Affordable Renovations for the Savvy Investor

House flipping requires strategy. Savvy investors know that slapping on a fresh coat of paint and changing a few doorknobs won’t bring about a significant return on their investment. Jason Cohen, founder of the real estate advising group Jason Cohen Pittsburgh, realized this need for investment strategy when he bought his very first property. With the limited funds available to him at the time, Jason couldn’t afford to sink money into unneeded updates; he needed to plan out his renovations and open the property to tenants without going over a set budget. Working on that initial project, Jason Cohen learned that a few carefully chosen renovations could net him a larger return than a few haphazard repairs ever could. Aspiring house-flippers should consider undertaking these worthwhile and inexpensive updates when they purchase a property!

Install new carpet

Stained wall-to-wall carpeting is an instant deterrent for buyers. Throw it out! The flooring below may surprise you; oftentimes, ugly carpets conceal beautiful floors that only need a little wax and polish to shine. If the floor underneath the old covering is unattractive, investors should consider purchasing and installing a new carpet. Either way, buyers will appreciate the clean, fresh appearance imparted by the touched-up flooring.

Replace Bathroom Odds and Ends

Investors don’t need to gut an older bathroom to make it shine. Grouting and caulking, while time-consuming, is an excellent way to return a grungy bathroom to its previously fresh aesthetic. Additionally, minor pieces such as sink faucets, towel bars, vanity surfaces, and medicine cabinets can be replaced at relatively low cost and up the attractiveness of the space.

Paint the walls

Never underestimate the value of a good paint job. A new coat can do wonders for an older space by imparting a sense of freshness to spaces that appear dated or run-down. When painting, investors should opt for a neutral color palette in order to avoid turning away picky buyers.

Consider your landscape

A buyer makes their first conclusions about a property before they ever step foot through the front door. All the time and money an investor spends on a property’s interior may amount to nothing if the shingles on its exterior are shedding or the grass in unkempt. Mind the landscaping! A quick mow of the yard and a bit of garden work doesn’t require much time or money and makes a tremendous difference to buyers.

Mind the budget

In the end, budget takes precedence. While a house flipper may want to completely renovate the kitchen or replace the plumbing in the bathroom, such pricey changes might not always be feasible. Investors should consider repairing rather than replacing, and ditch non-essential renovations if they find themselves spending more money than they anticipated.

As the founding member of the real estate advising group, Jason Cohen Pittsburgh, Jason Cohen is well-versed in advising both professionals and clients in the real estate industry. For more advice and content, please visit Jason’s site at JasonCohenPittsburgh.net.

5 Red Flags Home Buyers Should Take Note Of

As a veteran real estate professional working in Pittsburgh, Jason Cohen well-equipped to assess the risks and potential associated with a property. In this post, Jason Cohen uses his hard-won experience to highlight a few red flags that buyers should make note of when they tour a home.

With their new appliances, sleek countertops, and freshly-painted walls, remodeled houses are meant to impress. For a potential buyer conducting their first walk-through, the surface appeal of a touched-up house can be appealing; however, first-time buyers should avoid making a decision based off of aesthetic appeal. Unfortunately, a number of renovators choose to prioritize cheap cosmetic updates over more vital (and expensive) structural renovations – leaving the unaware buyer with the heavy financial burden of making expensive repairs. Don’t be pulled in by a flashy hack job – watch out for these warning signs when you walk through a home!

Cracks in the Walls

Contrary to what old horror movies might suggest, wall cracks aren’t par for course in old homes. Watch out for splits in brick walls, and makes sure to consult an expert if you think a wall fissure might be more than a cosmetic problem. Don’t take the issue lightly! Wall cracks can indicate severe structural issues and shouldn’t be left unchecked.

Old Roofing

The last thing a buyer wants to do after shelling out tens – or hundreds – of thousands of dollars on a home is sink even more resources into fixing its roof. When built well, roofs remain strong for roughly thirty years. When done incorrectly, they last for considerably less time and can demand as much as $30,000 to repair. Be proactive by enlisting the help of an expert to inspect the roof or asking to see the property’s inspection records.

Fresh Paint in an Old House

A fresh layer of paint usually isn’t something to worry about. However, if it seems as though a house hasn’t been fixed up beside a few patches of paint on the ceiling, beware! Some sellers attempt to cover up termite or water damage by painting over it. Make sure to ask the seller about any suspicious paint jobs before you proceed with the buy.

Water in the Basement

Properly maintained basements aren’t soggy. Moreover, buyers who see water in the basement should worry about more than cleaning on rainy days; according to home inspector William Kibbel, “The wettest crawlspaces (and basements) seem to be directly related to exterior drainage issues. Ground sloping towards the foundation, clogged or missing gutters, and downspouts not properly extended can all contribute to elevated moisture levels and even regular water intrusion.” If you have the funds and time to optimize a home’s exterior drainage problems, you should purchase the house. Otherwise, you may want to let the property go.

Uneven Flooring

Saggy flooring near a home’s bathrooms often indicates greater problems with the property’s plumbing system. Make sure to have an inspector check the plumbing, lest you find yourself with serious issues down the line!

Never, ever be afraid to ask questions. Buyers are entitled to the right to inspect potential purchases and ensure that they really are getting everything they pay for. Take walk-through inspections seriously, and don’t be fooled by a flashy renovation!

*Originally posted on JasonCohenPittsburgh.net