Renting or Buying a Home? 5 Things to Consider

Work + Money

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By Sarah Smith

The first time I went looking for an apartment to rent, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. Now, four rented apartments later, I fancy myself (a little) more experienced and (a lot) more confident. Whether you’re looking to rent a room or are hoping to buy your first place, I've found it helps to consider these top tips:

1. Narrow down your budget and location. Know exactly what you can afford; this will help you determine what areas you can consider. Then do your research -- find out how much an average room, apartment or house costs, so you don’t overpay.

2. Craigslist vs. real estate agent. Craigslist can be a great resource when looking to rent a place, but it can also be incredibly tedious and occasionally creepy. One way to cut down on the tedium is to post an ad yourself, so that the offers come to you. Be very specific: List the amenities, price point and location you want. To minimize the creepy factor, avoid including personal information -- don’t list your phone number and use the “private” email option, which disguises your email address.

If you decide instead to rent through a real estate agent, avoid paying them upfront. Some places will ask you to pay to use their “database,” but there usually are no guarantees.

3. Amenities and features to consider. Here are a few things to keep in mind that may affect the price of a home rental or sale:

  • air conditioning/heater
  • parking spots/available parking
  • dishwasher
  • in-house washer/dryer
  • size of rooms
  • number of bathrooms
  • distance to nearest freeway
  • neighborhood
  • trash pickup

And in the case of a rental specifically --

  • furnished/unfurnished
  • internet
  • deposit amount
  • month-to-month vs. yearlong lease
  • cable
  • single room/whole apartment or house

If any of these are particularly important to you, include them in your Craigslist ad or tell your realtor -- and keep them in mind when you begin visiting places.

4. Never go alone. Not only is it unsafe, but you may miss something critical that someone else might notice.

5. Make your visit count. Come armed with a camera and a list of questions. Take photos of every room and feature, including plumbing fixtures and wall colors. These will be helpful when you’re comparing places after the fact, and in the case of a rental, may even help you get your deposit back after your lease is up. Your list of questions should include the features listed above that you want, as well as costs beyond rent or the home price.

Good luck!

Sarah Smith is a recent graduate whose work has appeared in Pasadena Magazine, Vegetarian Times, California Garden, BOP, Tiger Beat and various other publications.

More by Sarah Smith: 6 Frugal Ways to Eat Healthy

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