Kiplinger Today

Starting Out

6 Steps for Renting Your First Home

Know what you really want, and what you truly can afford, before signing the lease.

4. Continue your search in person.

Even if you're moving to a new city, try to plan a quick trip to check out places to live. If you can't, ask a friend to look for you. Or at the very least, ask landlords to send you some pictures. You need to make sure nothing is damaged and the place appears as described.

Be on the lookout, too, for evidence of bugs, rodents, water damage and other problems. They might not necessarily be deal-breakers because they can be treated, depending on the extent of the problem. But you'll want to find out about them and see if the landlord will foot the cost of dealing with them before you move in.

5. Ask questions — lots of questions.

In addition to asking about utilities, amenities and any potential issues you discovered during your search, find out the terms of the security deposit. Usually, a landlord will ask you to fork over the equivalent of one month's rent as a way to cover the costs in case you skip town or damage the apartment. But you can expect to get that money back when you move out if you leave the place in good shape. Just make sure you're clear about your landlord's definition of "good."


Ask about the length of the lease and what would happen if you broke it early. Tons of unexpected things crop up in life, especially when you're starting out — a new job opportunity that you can't pass up or just a burning desire to try something new. If you can't commit to a long-term lease or you don't think you would be able to afford the penalty for a broken lease, consider looking for a month-to-month lease instead. Or start building up your emergency fund to cover the extra cost and give yourself the flexibility to take off when necessary.

You should also find out about the landlord's maintenance protocols, rules about guests and quiet hours, and pet policies. Even if you don't have a pet yourself, it's important to know whether the guy next door is actually allowed to have three barking dogs in his apartment. Broken rules could result in fines or eviction.

6. Be prepared for a landlord's demands.

Have a list of personal references ready, and be sure to alert your references that they may be contacted. A potential landlord will probably check your credit score and may ask for a copy of your pay stub. While requirements vary, a credit score above 660 is generally considered good. If you're moving for a new job, an offer letter will usually serve as proof of income.

If you have a bad credit score or don't meet the salary standards of your potential landlord, you may still have a chance at getting into your chosen rental. You'll just need to find and provide the information of a co-signer — a guarantor, usually a parent or close friend, who will take responsibility for your rent if you can't make ends meet for some reason. Just make sure they are financially secure enough to take on this responsibility because they will be equally on the hook.

Be prepared with two checks and at least two forms of identification in case you decide to sign for your home of choice on the spot. In regions where rental units are in high demand, you won't always have the luxury of coming back to fill out paperwork.

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