How Do I Rent A House?
September 14, 2017 11:58 AM   Subscribe

After many years of home ownership we are scaling back our square footage and will be renting for a couple of years, until we decide what we want to do with the rest of our lives. We haven't been renters since the 90s. What do I need to know about leases, management companies, etc., so that we don't get stuck renting a dump from somebody we hate? If it matters, we'll most likely be renting a single family home or townhouse, in Richmond VA.
posted by COD to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi! So we are renting after owning for 12 years due to relocating while we build our house and I have been a landlord for ten years. Here are some of my suggestions.

- we rented a house from a private landlord and liked that she had been a landlord before so she was not new to the game. We liked that this particular house was the house she was living in so it was immaculate. Check to see how well the home has been maintained. We wanted someone who had pride in the property and would fix things timely. We had the ability to meet her before we signed which was great. It gave us a sense for who we were dealing with.

- read the lease carefully. If anything seems off or incorrect, ask questions or ask for a change.

- make sure the lease is clear on who is responsible for what. Are you responsible for lawn care? Snow? Probably not that far north but hurricane shutters?

- our lease has a clause that we are responsible for any repairs under $50. This is to keep us from bothering her over dumb stuff. It's fine for us because we have been homeowners before and take care of the place but I won't put something like that in my lease because I don't want someone not telling me there is a problem with my rental because they don't want to pay for the repair.

- know what's normal in your area for fees and start up expenses. Where we moved to, first, last and security was asked for by 90% of the rentals. Where my rental is, I do first and last which is more common there.

- find out how they want you to pay rent. The lease for our current place originally called for her giving us deposit slips and depositing the rent at her bank. I didn't want to drive to the bank every month so we set up ACH transfers and she agreed to make that change. I use the same for my rental because I don't want to worry about checks.

- do a condition walk through upon move in that gets signed. We did one here and I do it with my place. That way everyone is clear on the condition the unit was in so it's easier to sort out any security deposit withholdings at the end.

- since you have been a homeowner before and are used to doing whatever you want to the place, find out what their policies are with respect to hanging stuff, painting, etc. My rental is just an offwhite and I don't allow for it to be painted. Same with the place we are in. We are ok with that but others might not be. We also know that we can't use screws in the walls without being charged for repair so we didn't do things like hang heavy artwork or wall mount the tv. For the most part, it's been ok but I do wish we could paint my daughters room. She had a gorgeous nursery at our last place and I miss being able to do those types of things.

- find out how you report maintenance issues.

- find out about termination notice. Where we rented the majority of houses are in HOAs and moving into one requires HOA approval. Most places take up to 30 days to approve an application so we wanted 60 days notice if she wasn't going to offer a renewal so we could find another place. On my rental I require 60 days notice of termination for either side otherwise it rolls month to month at an increased rate or we sign a new longer term lease. But have a good understanding of the requirements.

- parking. Make sure you have enough parking!

- talk to neighbors especially to see how the management company behaves.

If I think of more, I will share!!

posted by polkadot at 12:58 PM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am in a similar spot, moving after ten years in one house. It took awhile to for me to find a place and it will be adjustment but I'm so happy to declutter, downsize, and hopefully have fewer stresses and worries, too. I will miss my amazing KitchenAid double convection ovens but dusty old electric ranges can do the trick, right? Something I have read is how going from owning to renting is a status change: it totally doesn't matter but it definitely is adjustment in ways we don't even realize about ourselves. However, you know yourself that homeowning has as many downsides as it does perks, and many of your neighbors can probably relate. When I told my neighbors I was moving, they admitted to be a bit jealous even; again, these things don't really matter but just remember that you're doing this for you. The pain of the search and move is real but so are the benefits once you're settled. I can't tell you how excited I am not to have to write checks/do automatic payments for a half dozen utilities to say nothing to the yardwork or worry when I'm gone for long periods of time. Most rentals aren't all-inclusive but some are if that is what you want or happen to stumble across.

My advice is to take time finding a good place: ask around and look not only on Trulia, Zillow, and the like (subscribe to get listing notifications -- it's really worth it.) Also check Craigslist regularly: in my area (smaller than where you are, FWIW), some of the best places owned by private landlords are listed and snapped up fast. If you respond to an online listing (anywhere) and don't hear back within a day or two, it might be a fake: don't worry but don't pursue it either. Tour lots of places: you'll find what you don't want and see what you do, and it might surprise you. You'll figure out the market and get a feel for different companies and areas.

My place isn't perfect but was worth the wait; it took me two months of looking to find it although I would have also gotten an even better place (not as ideal location) had I waited a few more. If you can take your time, then you will probably be happier with the outcome. Just remember: this is your first move in awhile. Moving is a pain but it will likely be much easier to move apartments should something better come up in a year. I even cold called a few companies that looked good but didn't have any listings, and that's how I was able to get on the wait lists.

You really have to sell yourself as a renter when the market is hot. I don't know what your profession is but sharing that I'm a local teacher really helped me get the foot in the door by showing I was connected to the community and upstanding. My very clearly queer and tattooed partner is not a teacher but, as a very charming person, she found lots of opportunities in her conservative, small town. Be prepared to list your income and credit score on answering machines of real estate agents and the like; it feels weird but helps establish credibility. Talking how you have owned your home for so many years and now want to downsize (move into the city, etc.) will help sell you as a responsible tenant, too.

Go with your gut on a place and an area: a lot of people who feel very connected to one neighborhood can get really judgey about other places. It's gross realizing how classist and racist seemingly nice folks can be. Don't listen to them but rather yourself. You can always visit local shops and speak to residents about what they like and don't like when you scope out new neighborhoods. You can always AirBnB a neighborhood to check out the commute!

I did not realize what a pain it'd be to find a place that would accept me as a (responsible) pet owner. If you have pets, don't give up hope but recognize that you may have some limitations. Some people are a hard no on pets and others are a soft no; some of the more expensive places I found were more open. The place I ended up in is pricer but isn't charing a monthly pet fee, which is great.

Start decluttering and donating now! Moves are a pain and it's worth it to hire professionals if possible. For example, you can pay a low fee to rent a UHaul locally: you pack beforehand and pick it up and drive but can often pay $200ish for two movers to come to your house to carry stuff. It's so worth it!

Look into renter's insurance before you move: it's much cheaper than homeowner's insurance but important. Some places will require certain amounts. Read the contract carefully and don't be afraid to ask questions, request changes and/or walk away.

Polkadot made great points, and I especially second the one about parking. I wanted off-street but ended up in a place with ample on-street parking and is a rare combination of downtown and permit-free. I will miss my carport but I'm so glad I didn't rent at a cheaper place where parking would have a chore and/or expensive.

Best of luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 8:27 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As evil as most rental management companies are, you may want to do a cursory internet search of ones in Richmond to see if there are some houses that aren't necessarily listed on Craigslist, Times-Dispatch, etc.

Also, a complete anecdata point: in the late 90s, I rented a house of off Libby near St. Mary's. The heat was via heating oil. I completely ignored a bullet-point in the lease that stated that I leave the house with a full tank of heating oil (even though it wasn't full when I moved in!). That was an extra $400 I didn't expect. Read your lease carefully if there's any out-of-the-ordinary items like a heating oil tank.
posted by kuanes at 7:48 AM on September 15, 2017

Best answer: Oh one more thought.

Think about how long you realistically want to stay for and ask about what your options will likely be after your year lease is up.

We knew we only wanted to rent for 1-2 years to see if we liked the area before purchasing. So, we wanted to know after our first year, would she consider month to month? Would she want another year lease? Would she only be looking to rent the house for a year? We wanted to make reasonably sure that if we wanted to stay or extend we could as we didn't want to have to move more than we needed to.

Also, prepare for rent increases. If you have had a fixed rate mortgage, you're probably used to stable housing costs except for perhaps changes in property tax. After our first year, we received an offer to extend for an increase of $250 per month... after we talked her down from a $350 per month increase. Even though we didn't like it OR think that she could actually get that if she put the house up for rent again, we are in the process of building in the same community we currently live in so knew it would be tough to find a 6-8 month lease and didn't want to move an extra time. But it was shocking to me because as a landlord, I had only raised rents between tenants since good tenants are worth keeping to me. Had I known we would be here for 18 months, it would have made sense to do an initial 18 month lease to lock our rent payment for a longer term. Some landlords will find that appealing because there are costs associated with re-renting properties and it's better for the landlord if you reduce the number of turnarounds.
posted by polkadot at 3:15 PM on September 15, 2017

« Older iPhone repair question   |   Smashed a finger - need a doctor? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.