Need advice for house rentals
June 28, 2005 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Advice for short term living in a rural area: Should I rent a single family house? If so, how do I go about doing that and what are the benefits and pitfalls?

In a couple of months, I'll be married, and immediately thereafter the Mrs. and I will be spending our days in Providence, RI and Hartford, CT, respectively. For those uninitiated to New England, these are medium-size state capitals about 85 miles apart by road. This situation will only last for a year until I graduate from law school and am able to better align our geographies.

Envirornmental regulatory problems and local opposition put an end to a freeway that was planned between the two cities, and as a result the area along US 6 and US 44 is one of the most rural in the northeast corridor. The only city that can be said to lie between the two state capitals is Norwich, Connecticut, which has kind of a grungy urban core and not much suburban development. Back when we looked at places before I went to law school, we looked in Norwich and were largely unimpressed with the housing supply. Putnam, in the northeastern corner of the state, has even fewer apartment options. The only good apartment options are in the New London/Mystic area, which is nice but triangulates rather than bisects our daily commutes. (For my 1L and 2L years, we ended up living separately, with me visiting on the weekends. As newlyweds, we really want to avoid having to do that any longer.)

Because the point with the most equitable commute lies in very rural, but very pretty, eastern Connecticut, I have been eager for the opportunity to live in a single family house for a year. We dream of an eventual life in a quiet house with a backyard and a dog, and I figured this was a great opportunity for a sneak preview, as newlyweds, of what homeowner life is all about.

At the same time, she has argued, and I am slowly coming to agree, that the drawbacks to such an arrangement outweigh the benefits. She is especially concerned about maintenance and repair issues, given that landlords of rental houses often live in other parts of the country. I'm concerned about the supply and quality of houses for rent in general. The local papers in Norwich and New London generally have threadbare listings for house rentals.

I still really want to make the house thing work, given that apartment living will entail longer commutes for both of us, generally in less desirable areas, and will deprive us of this opportunity to preview the country living lifestyle. So if anyone has any experience doing this, I'd appreciate hearing about it, with emphasis on the following:

- What is the best way to find a rental house in a rural area?
- Are rental houses likely to be in greater states of disrepair than a house for sale?
- How does maintenance work with an absentee landlord? (Ideally, we'd like to arrange for repairs, with the cost deducted from the rent, so as to avoid delays.)

Thanks all.
posted by Saucy Intruder to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
You might do well to check with area realtors, to see if any of their listings (especially ones that have been empty for awhile) might be open to a short-term rental arrangement.

My wife and I found one of these when we first moved to our town. It worked out great. The owner was in Georgia, so any maintenance that had to be done was handled with a quick phone call. Water heater broke? Go ahead and have it replaced and deduct the cost from the rent. It worked well for us. YMMV.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:46 AM on June 28, 2005

given that landlords of rental houses often live in other parts of the country

What's the basis for this assumption? I've never seen any information on that and it's completely contrary to my experience; the owners of homes I have rented and the people I have known who rent out a home have been folks who did a trade-up in habitat or kept a home aquired in marriage (which for the majority of the population is something you do with someone local).

Beyond that, I think you'll find that local or not doesn't really matter. If they're remote they are either (a) going to be perfectly happy to let you deal with small to medium problems (the test-drive you say you want) and either reimburse you or knock it off that month's rent or (b) have a local management company/person who will deal with it.

Renting a house is a different experience from renting an apartment and probably requires more legwork but I think if anything you'll find they are on average in better repair than most apartments.
posted by phearlez at 9:57 AM on June 28, 2005

If you do find one, _carefully_ investigate water and well issues. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have stayed in NYC. Have your water tested. Don't assume that it isn't crawling with e coli. You can spend thousands (we have) on water processing equipment and still not be able to drink the stuff.
posted by words1 at 10:01 AM on June 28, 2005

What is the best way to find a rental house in a rural area?

Is there a local newspaper, or local coupon-shopper, or just-a-bunch-of-classifieds, or similar? Those are good places to start.

But there's a lot of random chance. Way back when, I looked in the local classified sheet and looked at a duplex being let by the couple who owned it. When we called them back to rent it, it had already been rented, but in a few days the dude called to say that his minister didn't use the parsonage, and that his dad was in charge of renting it out and would we want to look at it. A couple years later, the new pastor *did* want to use it, so I was out on my ass and ended up renting... the house next door, from the aforementioned dad. Both were very cheap and nice in their own ways.

I guess the point of that rambling story is to look at a lot, and make a lot of phone calls, and even when things don't work out ask if they know of anyone renting something more to your needs, especially if you're talking to the owners yourselves.

- Are rental houses likely to be in greater states of disrepair than a house for sale?

Probably, a little bit. But well within the "normal" range for the appropriate "kind" of house -- if you're renting a 1982-vintage 3-br ranch in a family-oriented subdivision, that'll probably be nicer than if you're renting a 1921 farmhouse. And the suburban house will be within the normal range for suburban houses, if not kept immaculate, and the 1921 farmhouse will probably be just a smidge shabbier than your average 1921 farmhouse.

Can't speak to maintenance as in both cases Mr. Sturdivant lived right around the corner.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:04 AM on June 28, 2005

As a former landlord of a house in a rural area, gee, I'd LOVE you as a tenant! So long as your arrangements for repairs were reasonable, that is.

I've never rented such a house as a tenant. I don't see why such a place has to be in any less shape than one for sale, except it may not be prettied up as much. Depends on the market, of course. But I was in a place where 'rural' was an understatement. You're in the NE corridor, so 'rural' may be an overstatement?

To find such a place you may want to enquire with real estate agents plus local papers and maybe even supermarket message boards.

The biggest drawback for renting a house is having to do yard work. Maybe you like that, I hate it. But be alert to the kind of yard you're getting. Some require more work than others. Don't let the landlord leave you a mess, expecting you to make up for his/her neglect! (I've been renting houses in the UK and South Africa, so I've looked at a LOT of places).
posted by Goofyy at 10:12 AM on June 28, 2005

I've lived in many a rented house - urban, suburban and rural - and really it's not very different than an apartment, with the exception of yardwork. You almost certainly will have to have a lawnmower, so plan on that, and various other tools will come in handy. I also have never encountered the absentee landlord in a house - especially in rural areas they tend to be in the same town, which can be good or bad, depending on the landlord in question. As far as shabby, well, sure, some are (the ones I live in) but others are fine. words1 is right about the water - find out whether it's well water or piped before you sign the lease. If it's well water, plan on spending $$ on bottled to drink; get it tested, but there's a good chance you won't want to be drinking it. Do be aware that in some states rental houses don't have to have kitchen appliances - you might, for example, be expected to bring your own refrigerator or stove. Ask the landlord before you move in.

Finding a house like this: it's most likely to be advertised in the local "shopper" - the free or cheap paper consisting only of classifieds that you can pick up in the local supermarket. I would check out several towns; ask friendly locals, look at bulletin boards, etc. The other option is driving around looking for For Rent signs.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:52 AM on June 28, 2005

If the school district is small and local, you'd likely have good luck calling the school office and asking if they know of a place to rent. The folks working there will be very well connected with the community.

A good compromise for you and your wife would be finding a homeowner who is renting a completed walk-out basement or something similar. When I was young, my family was in the same situation as yours, and we lived in such a home for a couple years before we got our own place.
posted by ewagoner at 11:33 AM on June 28, 2005

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