Is it Home Sweet Home? A Guide to Choosing the Right Apartment Community
Written By: Katriza Luna
Founder of Everything Home Life Blog
Choosing an apartment for you and your family can be a daunting task. We all have specific needs and there is an apartment community out there for every family. My experience in residential property management has taught me 12 important questions you should ask in your apartment search before you sign a lease contract.
Before You Get Started
If you have any of the following associated with your application, you may get automatically denied and you will need to go through a private company or seek assistance from a housing agency. Most apartment communities will automatically deny you if:
- You have been convicted of a felony of any kind
- You have been convicted of a misdemeanor related to but not limited to: drugs and domestic violence.
- You have filed for bankruptcy or foreclosure within the past year.
- You owe or owed money to another apartment community/landlord or utility company.
- You have been evicted for non-payment or policy violation.
Policies differ with every management company on the above conditions and some may approve you given proper documentation and a full rental deposit on some conditions. It’s best to contact the community by phone and ask as application fees are non-refundable
First Things First
Looking for an apartment can take all day, days, or even weeks. The best place to start is asking yourself these questions below. You’ll be able to eliminate dozens of apartment communities this way and will help you save time and narrow down your options.
- What location do I want/need to be in based on my family’s needs?
This includes distance from work and/or from your kids’ school or daycare.
- What does this location offer?
This includes knowing crime rates, nearest hospital, public transportation, and distance to the nearest shopping center.
- What is your family’s rent budget?
You should include utilities, deposits, fees, pet rent, and/or renter’s insurance with this budget.
- What special needs does your family have in which the apartment community must accommodate for?
This includes pets, special needs animals, Section 8 Housing vouchers, and/or physical disabilities.
On Your Tour: Is it Home Sweet Home? 12 Questions To Ask in your Apartment Search
Once you have your list of candidates, call each one and set up an appointment to view each community. Allow yourself at least 30-45 minutes between appointments for traveling and questions. While on your tour of the apartment community, below are tips and questions you should ask your leasing agent.
Don’t forget to take pictures and notes! If you’re spending a whole day, few days, or a few weeks to find your next home, it will be difficult to remember each and every apartment community. Taking pictures and keeping notes will help you remember which ones you liked best and may consider further.
1. Can I see a vacant apartment?
Most communities will have a model apartment in which they show everyone. These apartments are usually the best they have to offer dressed up to hide any imperfections and to distract you from seeing them too. By viewing a vacant apartment, you will see exactly what you will be moving into. Plus it’s a great opportunity to walk around the community and see what you may see everyday (neighborly habits, how clean the areas are, etc)
2. Can I see the community facilities?
Apartment communities will advertise amenities like sparkling pools, state of the art gyms, convenient recreation areas, upgraded laundry rooms, new play areas, and spacious dog parks that all sound wonderful but these are what I like to call fake amenities as you are definitely paying for these in your rent. Since these are not in fact free, you should take a look and see if they are in fact “state-of-the-art,” facilities as most will most certainly fall short of your expectations.
3. How much is the monthly rent and do you have any rent specials?
How do you know if it’s really a great price or not? Ask the leasing agent what the current market rate is for that particular size apartment. The market rate is the set maximum price in which an apartment of that particular size sells for in that area and with other apartment communities with the same kind of amenities. Most apartment communities will offer rent specials and promotions depending on their availability.
It’s important to note that breaking your lease or getting evicted will require you to pay these specials back to them in your termination costs.
4. What is the rental deposit and pet deposit/fee/rent?
Deposits are refundable and paid upfront to reserve your apartment. It is important to know how much the deposit is so you can add this to your budget. A full month’s rent deposit is generally not required unless you have bad credit or no credit. If you have a pet, most likely there will be a refundable pet deposit you must pay upfront as well. Some communities do charge a non-refundable pet fee to help cover the cost of carpet replacement once you move out.
5. What lease terms do you offer?
Most common lease terms are 6-month, 12-month, and 24-month lease terms. I wouldn’t recommend choosing a month-to-month term or anything less than 6 months unless you have to (temporary job situation, new home building, moving, etc). Some communities charge more for short-term leases and/or require a larger deposit. Furthermore, if you do choose to renew your lease, there will most likely be a rental rate increase (usually no more than $15/month). If you choose to go month-to-month after your lease term has expired, then you will usually have to pay the market rate (which is usually $50+/month) PLUS a month-to-month fee of at least $25+/month.
6. What utilities are included in my monthly rent, if any?
Some apartment communities will advertise “some utilities paid” which is always misleading. Most of the time this means they pay for water, sewer, and trash pick-up and sometimes it’s not even free as it’s actually incorporated into your monthly rent at a fixed monthly rate. Some will advertise that they will pay for your gas utility and you’re only responsible for electric. That sounds great, but that probably means all your kitchen appliances are electric, therefore, it’s not really a great amenity is it?
7. Are these utilities individually metered?
This question is so important. Sometimes utility companies will connect your lines with another apartment for cost effective reasons. Depending on how the apartment is built, you could be splitting your utility bill with your neighbor. This means that if your neighbor spends an hour in the shower every morning, your water bill will most certainly be much higher than if you were just paying for your own water usage.
8. Do I need to get renter’s insurance?
Some states do not require renters to get renter’s insurance, so it’s usually up to the management company if they choose to require it. However it is always highly recommended. If you are required to have this, you will need to add this to your budget.
9. How long does it take for maintenance to respond to my maintenance requests?
This varies greatly with every apartment community and it depends on what your state requires. Most states require they must respond to non-emergency maintenance requests within 7 days and It’s then up to the management company to set their on time frame within this requirement. All emergency maintenance should be handled within 24 hours and the apartment community should have a 24-Hour emergency maintenance phone line.
10. What is the community’s security system?
This includes community gates, gates and facility keys and/or codes, and courtesy patrol. It’s important to note that crime is everywhere and it’s not very hard to jump a gate or a community wall altogether. It’s best to contact the local police department and ask about how many calls they get for that apartment community. Keys and codes are most often abused by residents by making copies and giving away their code to other friends and family. Some communities pay for 24-hour courtesy patrol or have after-hours/night-time courtesy patrol.
11. What is your community’s pet policy?
Even if you don’t have a pet, its a good question to ask especially if you are allergic to animals, have a fear of animals, and/or have small children. Most apartment communities allow pets under 25 lbs and limit the number of pets in the home (usually 3). There are a few apartment communities that allow pets up to 50 lbs or 50+ lbs. No apartment community will allow aggressive dog breeds (full breed or mixed) on their premises, though the list varies so it’s important to check if your dog breed is on their list. If you have a special needs animal, they are not considered a pet and do not comply to the pet policy. By law, apartment communities must accommodate your needs and you do not have to disclose any information about the animal but may be required to submit medical documentation. An apartment should have designated dog areas or at the very least, dog waste stations throughout the community.
12. Do you have pest control services?
Many people do not ask about this and most of the time this is a free service offered by the apartment community and you should definitely take advantage of it. You should have your apartment sprayed before you move in and every month after that.
Before You Leave
At the end of each apartment community tour, you should always get the following information from the leasing agent
- A business card with your leasing agent’s name
- A rental application
- A brochure
Always take the rental applications home to fill out and discuss so you can weigh all your options and make the best decision. Once you’ve decided, make another appointment to view the community again and submit your application!
Thanks! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me! Thank you so much for the opportunity!