When looking for your next living situation at the end of each year, it’s easy to fantasize about finding that perfect house just a block away from campus, furnishing it and living there with your best friends until graduation.
After moving out of the dorms, I had the same dream. But, once I discovered that this fairy tale wasn’t going to happen immediately, if at all while I was in school, I stopped thinking about the whole idea and never took the time to figure out what I would need when the opportunity did present itself.
Then, when the day came that my two best friends and I found that three-bedroom, two-bath, pet-friendly house with a backyard that was less than a five-minute drive from campus, we knew that we had to act. Each one of us made a dozen phone calls—one to the realtor, another to the current residents of the house, one to each of our parents and then more to anyone else who could help make sure that this house was ours to rent for the upcoming school year.
While making these calls, I realized how unprepared I was for this fantasy to come true; I did not know what questions to ask the realtor, what information my cosigners would need or what information I would need from them.
So, for those who are about to start looking for their first house to rent, here are five ways to prepare before renting.
1. Check It Out
Finding houses for rent has gotten a lot easier with the use of the internet, but the pictures and virtual tours are not a replacement for seeing the house in real life. Going to look at the property, neighborhood and, if possible, going inside of the house is a vital part of figuring out if the home you’re about to rent is the right one for you.
Look around the neighborhood and try to get a feel of who lives there. Do families live there? Do other college students live there? Figure out if you and your roommates are going to “fit in” (meaning you won’t be too loud or disturbed by others). You will also want to look at the yard of the house. Is the fence high enough to keep a dog in? Is the grass healthy? And, if you get to go inside, size up the rooms and look for damages and anything else you might want to bring up to your realtor.
2. Create a Checklist
This may seem tedious, but there is a bunch of stuff you will need for filling out just the application to be considered as a possible resident. You should call or visit your realtor first and ask them about the application process and what they will need to help you complete this step.
For me and my roommates, the application involved the typical background, credit and income check. The requirements included our Social Security and ID numbers, past residential history, employee verification, cosigners (if needed and wanted) and an application fee.
Ours was a very normal process, but my roommates and I were so excited about the house that we forgot to ask what we needed. Thus, for me, starting the application step was full of hoops I had to jump through just to be able to get my ducks in a row. It would have been much easier on myself and cosigners if I had just asked, created a list and then started the process.
3. You Probably Need a Cosigner
Going into this process, I knew I would need a cosigner due the fact that I have not begun building my own credit. However, I was not aware of all the reasons for needing a cosigner until I started the application for the house.
I applied with two roommates and the income requirement was that, between the three of us (including cosigners), the monthly net income had to be five times the monthly rent. This is where the cosigners really help for college students who either don’t work or only work ten hours a week. Cosigners are not always needed, but having one can increase your chances of getting that house.
It’s important to remember that, just because you have credit and a job, it doesn’t mean that a cosigner is not needed or helpful.
4. Ask Questions
No question is a dumb a question!
You’re about to invest your money into a place where you will live, and you should have all the information before doing so. Questions to ask would include: What is the deposit? How much will rent be? Will there be a rent increase? If yes, how much and when can you expect that to happen?
Also, ask where your deposit and application fee will go. Will any damages you saw to the outside or inside be fixed before you move in? Is the house pet friendly? These are only some of the questions to ask before you sign that lease. Missing information could come back to bite you if you don’t ask.
5. Know Who Gets Put on the Lease
I didn’t know how to answer this question until I talked it out with my future housemates. When renting, it’s important to decide who gets put on the lease with everyone who plans to live in the house. You’ll need to consider a few things when it comes to this topic; for example, if someone isn’t on the lease, they can move out without finding a replacement. Being on the lease will lock them into a portion of the rent, and it prevents them from moving out without finding someone to take over that responsibility.
In addition, consider that, by putting their names on the lease, it gives not only equal responsibility between housemates, but also equal say. The final word comes down to what each housemate decides, but there are many factors to consider and talk about before deciding.
Renting a house while still in school can be stressful, but it’s also an experience that is unmatched. Each new living arrangement you have in college will teach you something new and valuable. For me, going from a dorm to an apartment and now a house has helped me gather knowledge on different kinds of living arrangements. Each small bit I’ve learned has helped me make the next step and prepares me with knowledge of what to look for before moving again.