Millennials are delaying purchasing homes and instead are renting 1 or 2 bedroom apartments until later in life.
In cities with competitive renting markets, renters may want to move quickly to snag a seemingly excellent deal. It’s important, however, to do sufficient research beforehand to ensure that you aren’t stepping into a scam that actually is too good to be true. Come up with an apartment hunting checklist to ensure you're covering all of your bases before you even start looking.
Avoid these rental scams
No pictures? This might be a bad sign, or it could stem from safety concerns of the current tenants.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides information on its website about rental scams and how to avoid them. According to the FTC, scammers may “hijack ads,” by reposting real listings with their contact info instead of the contact info of the actual landlord. Scammers may also create listings for places that don’t exist, or that aren’t for rent. If the price of the place you found online is much lower than anything else in the surrounding area, this may be cause for concern.
Other signs that you may be walking into a rental scam, according to the FTC, include landlords asking you to wire money, landlords requiring a security deposit or rent payments before you’ve met them or signed a lease, and landlords claiming to be out of the country.
Scammers may not necessarily be after your money; rather, they may be collecting personal information for the purposes of identity theft. Be wary of giving your social security number, driver’s license, etc. out to someone you haven’t met for a listing you haven’t seen.
There’s no substitute for an in-person visit from you or a trusted friend if necessary. Not unlike dating profiles, posturing is the name of the game when presenting real estate, and a picture taken ten years ago might not reflect the current reality.
What to have handy when renting
In cities with highly competitive rental markets, renters may need to have documents like a renter’s resume and proof of income (bank account statements or an offer of employment) on hand for open houses and viewing appointments. Landlords often charge an application fee to run a credit check on applicants. Printing out your credit report and score might save the landlord’s time or give your application a boost, but landlords may want to run their own credit check regardless.
You should also check the listed rent against the rent of other, similar units. This will help you make sure that the rent being offered is a fair market price, and it's a particularly important consideration if you're moving to a new city and are unfamiliar with the rental market.
What to look for
There’s no room for deference or gullibility when viewing an apartment. This is the time to ask questions, and then ask more questions. Who pays which utilities? Are pets allowed? Am I allowed to hang pictures up with nail or thumbtacks, and am I allowed to paint? Do I need renter’s insurance? (Some apartment complexes will require renter’s insurance covering a certain amount). Research any and everything else that’s of importance to you: Does the apartment get natural light? How’s your cell phone service? Walk around the neighborhood at night, if you can, to gauge if there’s a marked difference from how the neighborhood seems during the day.
What to ask before signing a lease
Once you have a lease in hand, read it, and don’t hesitate to ask additional questions. Who do I call if something breaks? Are there rules about playing music or having guests over after certain hours? Make sure all appliances work, and take pictures. When you’re moving out and trying to get your security deposit back, these could come in handy if you need to demonstrate that a particular mark or scratch existed prior to you moving in.
In the midst of the stress of trying to find a suitable apartment, it may be tempting to let all such inquiry fall by the wayside. But a yearlong lease, which is the length of many initial leases, is not insignificant—better to find out about any challenges or deal-breakers before you sign a lease, rather than two months in.
Extensive research and preparation will aid in apartment hunting in Blacksburg and help protect against scammers.
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