Renting a new apartment can be incredibly exciting — it can also be nerve-wracking if it’s your first time or you recently moved to a new location. That’s why it can be good to do your homework first.
One trick to finding the best place for you: Assess what you’ll miss about your current place and what you can’t wait to live without. Knowing you need a sun-drenched office space to help you power through an afternoon full of remote meetings or that you never want to haul your bike up five flights of stairs again can help you know some basic parameters in your search. Also clutch: A list of key questions to ask your Realtor or landlord before you make any decisions. They may sound a little quirky, and that’s the point: Every rental varies, and knowing what you’re getting into can make a huge difference in having a peaceful living experience during the lease term.
We spoke to experts — attorneys, design consultants, and Realtors — about the unexpected questions to ask brokers, landlords, and potential neighbors while you're on an apartment tour.
1. Can I Talk With The Neighbors?
You can learn a lot by talking to your would-be neighbors when you tour the building. If you run into someone in the hall or the lobby, don’t be shy about asking them their thoughts about the building. You likely won’t get inside detail from a broker or a landlord, but a neighbor may tell you important info, like if the building elevator has broken down 47 times in the past year. “It's a good idea to speak with some of the other residents in the building if at all possible,” says Lyle Solomon, principal attorney at Oak View Law Group in Los Altos, California. “They have been residing there for some time, so they know how nice or difficult it is to live there.” Inquire about any issues they may have and anything they would advise you to do.
2. What Was The Previous Tenant’s WiFi Situation?
If you work from home, high-speed internet is a must, says Sandra Colton-Medici, founder and CEO of College of Style, a brand design company based in Los Angeles. “Ask whether the building has old wiring or is retrofitted to accommodate high-speed WiFi.” On the same note, look at your phone and check how strong the signal is in the unit. One or two bars may indicate you’ll need to have an additional solution, such as relying on WiFi or investing in a cell signal booster.
3. Can I Use The Bathroom?
If you’re touring in person, don’t be shy about asking to use the restroom. Once there, run the taps and flush the toilet to assess water flow, says Colton-Medici. Plus, nothing like using the restroom for you to realize that maybe it’s a little too close to the living area for your comfort.
4. What Do Utilities Cost In July? What About January?
It’s especially important to know what these costs may be during your city’s coldest and hottest months, says Grant Garcia, chief operating officer of Cherry Development, a premium developer based in downtown Las Vegas called shareDOWNTOWN. These numbers can make a big difference in your monthly budget: In some cases, a flat rent with included utilities may be less expensive than a unit where you’re responsible for paying all utility bills, even if the monthly rent on the first one looks higher on paper.
5. How Would I Have Friends Meet Me At The Pool?
When discussing amenities, it’s important to ask about specifics. “Prospective renters should ask what they get for their apartment besides their monthly rent,” says Garcia. This may include access to the gym, tennis courts, a business center, and more. Also, ask about guest policies: Can you invite a friend to work out? Would you have to pay a rental fee to use the tennis courts? All of these numbers will affect your overall budget.
6. My Parents Live In Florida. Will This Be A Problem If I Need A Guarantor?
These can vary from building to building, says Lauren Reynolds, a Realtor with Compass in Fairfield County, Connecticut, who frequently works with renters. You may need to show proof you earn a certain percentage above the monthly rent. In New York City, for example, it’s not uncommon for a rental building to require you to make 40 times the annual rent. In this case, you would need to make at least $120,000 if the apartment you wish to rent is $3,000 a month. But there may be stricter requirements for freelancers. Ask, and find out whether it’s possible to have a guarantor. A guarantor is a person who can sign and be responsible for the lease, in the event you were not able to pay. Guarantors also have income requirements, and may also have residency requirements, such as living in the state you’re renting in. Knowing this upfront can help you avoid disappointment.
7. Has Anyone Had Trouble Getting A California King Bed/Sectional Couch/Peloton To Fit?
“Measure everything,” says Reynolds. Of course, your couch not fitting isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it can help you plan ahead. Also, assess how you might move your stuff in and out of your apartment. Can a California king bed fit through the narrow doorways of a pre-war rental? Asking about logistics, especially for “must come” furniture, can save you a headache and heartache on your move day.
8. Where Is The Building Maintenance Crew Based?
It’s midnight, and your ceiling is leaking. Who do you call? Knowing how maintenance is resolved before an emergency is a good idea, says Kristina Morales, a Realtor who practices in Ohio. It can also clue you into potential holdups that might happen: If the landlord does the maintenance herself, how long will that take? Will you ever be expected to take the lead on necessary repairs and deduct the work from your monthly rent? Knowing those answers can help you assess whether the building is right for you.
9. What If I Get A Job Offer Across The Country In The Middle Of My Lease?
What happens if you want to move before your lease is up? Often, buildings have a termination policy that may require you to pay thousands of dollars in fees — even if the apartment is rented before the end of your lease term. Sometimes, you can avoid these fees if you find a tenant, but regardless, it’s a good idea to have these spelled out, says Morales. “Unexpected things happen in life and you want to know what you would be responsible for if the need to terminate early should arise,” says Morales.
10. Where Will My Brother Park When He Visits?
“Ask your agent about every detail about the parking space,” says Solomon. Is there a parking space included within your rent, or would you have to pay for it separately? Is it in a sheltered spot, on the street, or in a safe garage? Will it be safe for you to walk to and from the parking lot at night? Where will your visitors park, and how much will it cost?” All of these questions can help save money and a huge headache when it’s 6 p.m. and you’re circling your block, looking for a space.
11. Do You Feel Comfortable Coming Into This Building At 1 a.m.?
If you can, try to come back to the building at night, suggests Solomon. You may not get a chance to see the unit again, but seeing the neighborhood in the evening can help you assess how quiet it is, how safe it feels, and help you assess any areas of concern, such as a secluded entrance.
Sandra Colton-Medici, founder and CEO of College of Style
Grant Garcia, chief operating officer of Cherry Development
Kristina Morales, a Realtor in Cleveland, Ohio
Lauren Reynolds, a Realtor with Compass in Fairfield County, Connecticut
Lyle Solomon, principal attorney at Oak View Law Group in Los Altos, California