Congratulations! You’ve learned from Part I in this 2-part series on renting in Seattle, and you’ve evaluated your rental options based on your needs and compiled a list of your most-preferred options. However, its not all down-hill from here. The next step is to evaluate the hidden costs before you make a final decision and sign a lease.
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Renters be warned! Uninquisitive renters tread on dangerous ground. Without careful analysis, renters can find themselves staring wide-eyed at a much-larger-than-expected bill at the end of their first month. Unfortunately, at that point, you would have already signed the lease and the fees are set in stone.
1. Know Your Budget
Outline what you can afford. This will help you evaluate whether your choice of housing is within the amount your paycheck can accommodate. If you are wondering, “How much can I “afford” to pay for rent?” than consider this guideline. Try not to spend more than one-third of your total household income on your housing expenses. Granted, if you’re considering an area where the cost-of-living is higher, you may have to spend more on your housing.
A note to single renters, renting in Seattle: Finding a roommate to split the bill is a great way to cut down the costs.
2. Ask Lots of Questions
Small fees are hidden in all sorts of little places. For apartments, condos, and townhomes, ask the leasing office for the complete rundown of all of their fees. You don’t want to assume the complex provides internet and find yourself having to call an internet provider the day after you move. Be prepared for security deposits and move-in fees. On top of your first month’s rent, expect to pay at least another $1,000 in fees and deposits associated with your move.
Ask about the extra costs for the security deposit, move-in fees, utility costs, parking fees, sewage fees, trash removal, phone, internet, exercise room and pool fees, as well as repair and maintenance costs. Press further, and ask which fees are fixed or whether they fluctuate based on the market.
For rental houses, have an in-depth discussion with your potential landlord about responsibilities for maintenance and repairs.
After you’ve gathered as much information as you can, grab a calculator and total the costs. Does that monthly bill still match your ideal budget prediction? Does it cause this rental option to score better or worse in your “weighing your options” test?
You now have all of the information you need to make an educated decision. Confidently sign the lease of your choice.
3. Document Pre-existing Damage
Even though you have now signed a lease, don’t let your guard down yet. In your evaluation of your home you’ve now chosen, you inspected each area to determine whether the quality met your needs and preferences. However, all rental homes have most likely housed a previous renter. Even if you’re personally satisfied with the quality of your new home, be sure to document any pre-existing damage before you begin the move-in process. Check for little things – cracked counter top, marked walls, scratched faucet, stained carpet, dented door frames, or broken tiles.
Document any damage you observe. Discuss the list to your landlord. Most apartments will provide a pre-existing damage agreement form they ask you to submit when you take out a lease.
Why is it wise to document any damage? Part of the purpose of your security deposit is generally held to pay for any damage you leave behind. If you do not document the damage that already existed before you moved in, you may loose a larger chunk of your security deposit at the end of your stay.
A smart renter, renting in Seattle, knows their budget, asks questions, and does exhaustive analysis. Following this guide to renting in Seattle will save you the stress and hassle of owing more money than you intended to pay.