Brandon Copeland

First Apartment Checklist: Make the Most of Your Search

Atlanta Falcons linebacker and Kiplinger contributing editor Brandon Copeland discusses key factors to consider when searching for an apartment.

What's up, everybody? This is Brandon Copeland, aka Professor Copeland. You are now tuned into another episode of Cope'ing With Money.

Recently, I've been doing some research and I found that apartment searches tend to hit a low between November and April. Well, this happens for a few reasons. In northern states, most people don't want to be moving during the middle of a snowstorm, and across the country in general, most families don't want to move their children during the middle of a semester and no one wants to be moving during the middle of the holidays.

What this essentially means is that most people are looking to find new places to live outside of those months – in other words, right now.

So of course, I thought it would be fitting to go over some things that you should consider as a renter, both to save money and help make your moving process as smooth as possible.

Previously on Cope'ing With Money, we talked about the real cost of buying your first house, so definitely check out that video if you have the time. But we needed to make sure that we provide some renter-specific tips as well. We've got to protect our renters. So let's dive right in.

The Benefits of Renting

So, first and foremost, why actually rent in the first place? Well, renting allows for increased mobility and flexibility as opposed to buying, and also requires less maintenance on behalf of the tenant. Renting also helps you build your credit, allowing for increased savings, and reduced debt if done correctly.

There's a lot to be excited about when renting a new apartment. But, as always, we want to make sure we're taking measures to safeguard ourselves.

It's easy to tour a beautiful apartment and fall in love at first sight. But after spending a few days living there you realize that the washer isn't working, the fridge isn't cooling, and there's a leak in the ceiling. If you're not careful, all of these things could be blamed on you.

It gets a little stressful quickly.

We want to make sure that we're taking the proper precautions to protect ourselves, our families, and ultimately, our money.

Know the Full Cost of Renting

So, when looking for an apartment in your price range, you need to make sure you're considering the full cost of securing a place.

Before moving in, you're going to be responsible for paying the security deposit and the first month's rent. And depending on your landlord, you could be required to pay last month's rent as well.

Plus, if you're using a realtor to aid you in your search, you'll typically pay them another month's rent or more as a broker's fee.

Even though the first and last month's rent is money you'd be paying anyway, and you should ultimately receive your security deposit back (so long as you leave the apartment in good condition), you want to be prepared for the large upfront cost before signing the lease.

Inspect Your Property

To ensure you do get your security deposit back, make sure you perform a moving inspection and complete a moving checklist. This means going through and checking the entire property, checking for damages on the walls, the floors, the ceilings, as well as making sure that all the goods and appliances in the home work as intended.

If your apartment is already furnished, you want to make sure you're on the same page as your landlord regarding what's already there and the actual condition of the furniture. If your landlord claims there was a rocking chair in the living room, and you swear there wasn't anything there when you moved in, that's going to make for an awkward conversation at the end of the lease when you want your security deposit returned.

It's good to take plenty of photos when you move in – specifically of anything that appears damaged. By texting or emailing these photos to yourself and your landlord, you'll create a dated account of the state of the apartment and be able to prove you're telling the truth should a conflict ever arise.

Consider Buying Renters Insurance

You should also consider getting renters insurance to protect your assets. Most landlords already require this, but if yours doesn't, then you definitely want to make sure that you get this for yourself, and here is why:

Most landlords have insurance over the entire property, the asset. That means if the roof goes bad or there's a leak in the ceiling, their insurance will help them cover it. However, if that ceiling leaks onto your beautiful flat-screen TV or your laptop that you need for work, then it could be on you to replace it.

Renters insurance covers events like this and helps replace your belongings in the event of damage or theft. Plus it's usually not too pricey, usually less than 15 bucks a month. And just the peace of mind you receive is likely worth the small additional cost.

So you've taken some steps to protect yourself before moving in, but now what are some things that we should be mindful of once we're actually a tenant?

Keep Up-to-Date on Rent Payments

Most importantly, we want to make sure that we're paying our rent on time. This is what keeps our credit in good standing, and no one likes to pay late fees.

Make sure you're keeping an accurate record of your rental payments. If there's ever any debate over whether or not you've paid, you want to have the receipts to prove it.

Although I own my own home, I'm typically renting in whatever city that I'm playing in. And so I make sure that I pay my rent via credit card or via ACH Direct Deposit from my bank account, so ultimately I always have that strong record of them pulling money from my account that they can never argue with.

Stay on Top of Maintenance

On top of this, we want to make sure we communicate any maintenance issues with our landlords immediately. Although we obviously hope there are none, we want to make sure that the landlord bears full responsibility for anything that's not our fault as the tenant.

Whether this is a door handle that you've been hitting with a vice grip that you done ripped out of the door, or this is a leaky pipe, or something that may have burst in the ceiling, reporting these things as they happen helps prevent them from festering and causing bigger problems. It also keeps you and your landlord on the same page regarding the cause of the accident or the incident and whose responsibility it is to fix it.

If you wait until the end of the lease to address this stuff, then one, you're creating a larger headache for your landlord, who probably won't appreciate it. And two, it becomes a lot tougher to claim that you didn't cause the problems or that you weren't aware of them when you've allowed them to rack up for this long.

Naturally, there are a lot of costs associated with fixing these things, and your landlord will likely look at your security deposit as a way to subsidize that cost. So, let's avoid that whole situation by making sure we get out in front of these issues simply by having that conversation.

Communicate With Your Roommates

Finally, if you're renting an apartment, there might be a chance that you're doing so with roommates. A lot of people choose to live with roommates, since splitting a multi-bedroom apartment is typically cheaper than renting a one-bedroom by yourself.

Make sure you're communicating with your roommates upfront, and that everyone's in agreement regarding the monthly payments and the condition you're trying to keep the apartment in. It's no good being left on the hook because someone you live with isn't paying their fair share, or having your security deposit compromised by an issue that you didn't even cause.

Some groups will divvy up the rent differently depending on the room size or pay different amounts in utility costs if usage varies between people. Whatever you and your roommates decide, you want to be sure that everyone knows what's expected of them and everyone's taking responsibility for their costs. This not only avoids money problems, but also ensures everyone feels comfortable and secure in their own homes.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when moving into your first apartment or even your second, third and so on and so forth. It's always nice to have a change of scenery, and by protecting ourselves financially, we can eliminate that stress and anxiety and enjoy these moments to the fullest.

As always, I appreciate you taking the time. Please make sure to share this video with your friends, families, and loved ones who may be moving into a place of their own soon, and visit kiplinger.com/cope to see more.

This has been another episode of Cope'ing With Money. As always, stay safe, stay blessed, and I'll see you next time.

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