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Rental Handbook: How to Find a New Apartment

Welcome to our next installment of my comprehensive 'Rental Handbook' aimed at helping renters (and landlords) in the Boston area understand the rights and obligations of tenants (sometimes referred to as renters or lessees). In this Handbook, I have approached issues that you may face in dealing with a rental in the city, or in the surrounding towns of Newton and Brookline.

Today we will cover the process of Finding a New Apartment to simplify a somewhat arduous task.

Understand what you can afford. Take your annual gross salary and divide it by 36; this will give you the landlord/agent perspective on what you are "qualified" for. The basic premise is that it is not financially stable to spend more than 1/3 of your monthly salary on rent. So, if you make $60,000/year, you are qualified to rent a $1665 apartment by yourself. If you're eyes are bigger than your wallet, get ready to have a co-signor on board.

Work with one rental agent. What you need most in your search is an advocate for you who can help position you more competitively against other renters. By working with one agent, they can get you into all of the units you want to see and look out for your best interests. Remember--the agent listing the apartment works for the landlord; you want to have someone who works for you! The reality is you will have to pay a fee to someone most of the time, so it may as well be to the person who is sticking by your side. And the fee itself can bee seen as an investment. If you're paying out $1600, that's about $135/month over a year (less if you lease longer). The other reality: many agents have access to most of the same apartments.

Ditch Craigslist Altogether. It may be really tempting to hit craigslist and message 30 different agents about apartments you found online, but ultimately it creates a lot more confusion and stress for you. Sure, you may have more control in the timing and scheduling, but it may not be worth it. You'll have to slog through thousands or listings, many of which will be scams. Allow your agent to set you up with a daily listing alert from the Multiple Listings Service (which is updated every 15 minutes), and

Prepare your documents ahead of time. If you've ever rented in the Greater Boston area before, then you know that you have to be quick on the draw! Some rental listings don't last through the day once showings start, so you have to be prepared to make a quick decision if you see a unit you like. Part of beating others to the punch will be having all of your documents prepared to submit within an hour of seeing the unit.

Have money set aside. Moving is expensive. Be prepared to have First Month's Rent, Last Month's Rent, Security Deposit, and a Broker's Fee for your new place. One of those checks will be due with the application, and the remaining funds will most likely need to be provided at lease-signing (which can be as quick as two days later). That $1665 apartment you rented? You're going to want to have $6,660 squirreled away to be safe. If one of those checks isn't need, then consider yourself lucky!

Terms may be negotiable! If you are looking at an apartment and you and your agent get the sense that no one else is going to be putting in an application at the same time as you, then try to negotiate. Don’t get carried away, but know that renters can give themselves the upper hand if timing is right. You can often ask for something as a renter and get it. Whether it’s a reduction in the rental price, a different start date, a different lease length, or a request for a repair, you may have some wiggle room. I advise renters to ask for what they care about most, and to ask for only one thing.

That's it! Please post any questions or comments below. I hope this 'Rental Handbook' was helpful! Feel free to post any ideas for future blog posts you'd like to see as well.

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