For anyone who has looked at places to rent/lease, you will all know the standard things - how many bedrooms, close to shops, transport etc etc. However, there are three things that you should be aware of when searching for rental places.
  • Know the market.
  • Start early!
  • Move fast!

Let me explain the three points with an anecdote:
It's currently the final exam period at universities in Australia. This means that the rental market is about to flooded with rental properties as leases come to an end and students return home for the holidays. Therefore I know that I have to actively watch the rental websites/newspapers from now on.

I did come across a place in a trendy part of town and it was the nicest place I had seen so far (out of two places I seen in total at that time). I decided to wait and check out some other properties before I decided. By the time I had checked out a few other places (two days), the trendy place was gone! Having seen other places, I now know that the trendy place was a great bargain and a great place to stay - I am still kicking myself that I delayed applying for it. And that covers the last two points. By looking at properties earlier than you intend renting, you can get an appreciation of what constitutes a good place. And once you find that place - move fast! Even if you intend to continue looking at other places, get an application in. In my example, the place was leased the next day - if I had placed an application in the morning, I would have been in the running.

Don't make the mistakes that I did and miss out on your dream rented house/flat/apartment!

It is also very important to have at least a basic understanding of local tenancy and contract law. Most of the time, landlords will put things into the lease agreement that they don't actually have the right to require. This is not a bad thing (at least in my juristiction). Here, those clauses cannot actually be enforced, but their presence gives the tenant the right to desolve the agreement at will.

From the other side of the fence, that is, the person who has another room in their house or apartment they'd like to rent, there's a few tricks I've found to getting a good roommate. I hope you can learn from my mistakes. Note: I live in a very tight housing market, so I can afford to be choosy. You may not, in which case these wouldn't be the smartest thing to do.

  • Create a Fantasy Person Who Saw the Apartment Yesterday

    When you show the apartment, if the person likes it they will automatically assume you want them to move in. This isn't necessarily the case. Remember, you're going to be living with this person for an extended period of time. Be selective. If you have this "person who has the first dibs on the apartment" -- or any excuse like that -- it relieves you from telling the prospective roommate that you just don't like the look of them.

  • Get to Know the Prospective Roommate

    This is really important when paired with the first point. Have a long chat with the prospect. Casually slip in questions about where they're from, what they do, etc. The point of the conversation is to get a sense of this person's employment and tenancy habits (if they say something about moving every 6 months to a new city, do you really want them living there?). You can also slip in some of your expectations for the eventual tenant. (For instance, if they recoil in shocked horror when you say, "I'd like the kitchen to stay pretty clean," this may not be the ideal tenant.)

  • Make a Good Sign & Think About Where You Place It

    Go ahead and include stuff like "looking for clean non-smoker" if that's what you know you'll want. Sure, you might have only 75% of the calls you might have got without looking like an anal-retentive, but you want to weed those people out. Then, put it up where you know you'll get the "right" people (boy, I sound like an elitist). If you don't want some college kid getting his first apartment out of the dorms, don't put a sign up in the student union.

I think it is important to consider the following tips as well, when examining either an apartment to share or one that you'll be renting yourself.

  1. Ask the landlord about utilities. Don't get caught unawares and end up paying throught the nose for heating and hot water, especially if you live in a temperate climate. Often, landlords do not invest the money necessary to properly insulate a dwelling, resulting in an unnecessary doubling or tripling of the heating bills. Ask to see either the previous tenant or at least the previous tenant's utilities bill.
  2. If you have a car, ask about parking. Some landlords offer a parking place with the apartment, but may not mention it in order to give them the opportunity to rent the space to someone else. If there is no protected parking, ask about car theft rates in the area (you can ask the police as well), and have a good look at the hours and days you are allowed to park on your street. I can say, from personal experience, that having to change your parking place every day of the work week is not a fun endeavour.
  3. Carefully examine all plumbing and wiring, as best you can. While the stuff in the walls is probably not accessible, even an amateur (like myself) can easily spot shoddy and potentially dangerous work that is not only not up to snuff, but probably against building codes.
  4. Ask about the local schools even if you don't have a child. If they're rough, you'll likely not only have the chance of being vandalized or burgled, but you'll probably have to put up with a lot of noise if the apartment is within a couple of blocks of the school. Even worse, a university. And the worst of all, being near a university where the nearest building to yours is the engineering department; if that is the case, don't move in unless you cherish the idea of four to six weeks a year of screaming in the streets and prodigious vomiting outside your window (he said, tongue in cheek).
  5. Finally, spend a little bit of time with the landlord to determine whether this person seems reliable and sociable. Having an absentee or hostile or lazy landlord will only cause you headache and frustration after you move in. Ideally, a landlord that lives on the premises and that seems to genuinely care for the tranquility and maintenance of his investment is what you are looking for.

In passing, all of these recommendations have been acquired through making many mistakes when renting apartments. I have had both the best and worst kind of landlords, and let me tell you that the quality of the apartment and the happiness I had living there was directly related to the humour of the proprietor

It's a good idea to walk through the house or apartment with the landlord and note all damage, and have the landlord sign this. Take photographs so in case the landlord decides to attempt to screw you out of your security deposit, you will have something to back you up.

Depending on your state laws, you may or may not be responsible for wear and tear and/or cleaning of the apartment at the end of your occupancy. Know these laws, and act accordingly so as to not incur any stupid charges when you leave.

When renting a new abode I find it useful, where possible, to visit the place at different times of day. For example; get there in the early morning and drive to work/school from there to see how the traffic flows. Another good test is late at night, after last orders. The purpose of this is to try and weed out everything that you could moan and whine about after moving in. Once you're tied in it becomes a lot harder to escape!

Another valuable hour can be spent by meeting a few of the neighbors, if you're in some sort of education then asking classmates or colleagues may prove fruitful.

Finally to re-iterate, make sure everything is sealed and signed, any photos should be dated and signed (by the landlord and you). Always think that they are out to fleece you and you`ll never be disappointed.

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