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Look carefully now, or regret it later.
Off-Campus Housing: Tips for House-Hunting

Are you searching for an apartment or house, or for a room for rent? Here are a few things you can do to make your search a success:

Visit the Rental, Visit the Neighborhood: Once you have narrowed down your choices to a few places, you will want to physically visit those places. While you tour these properties, ask the manager lots of questions - about deposits, maintenance, neighborhood safety, the location of grocery stores and post offices, etc. Then, take a look around the neighborhood. Are the things you want nearby? This could mean stores, a laundry, parks, restaurants, coffeeshops, a library, public transit, or whatever you like. Of course, you can ask the manager about these things, too, but there's nothing like walking or driving through a neighborhood to make the distances between things clear, and to let you know if you would enjoy living there.

Visit at Night: Most people look for apartments during the daytime. But, before you decide to move in, try to visit the complex during the evening, at night, and during the weekend. Many apartments look very different when their tenants are back, or when the kids are making all kinds of noise in the swimming pool. Or, for example, there might not be enough lighting at night.

Be Prepared for a Credit Check: The management usually requests a credit check on future tenants before letting them move in. They may turn you down if your credit is bad or if you have no credit history. If so, you can either give them the financial information that you gave your university, get someone to act as a co-signer, or perhaps agree to leave a higher security deposit. And if you are prepared to discuss your credit record, you may be able to make a better impression.

Bring Company: You will probably take a tour of the rental with the property manager. To avoid putting yourself in danger, you may want to find a friend to accompany you during your apartment search.

Look at the Cars: A rough way to guess at the environment of the property is to look at the cars parked around the complex.

Get It in Writing: If there isn't a document, then it didn't really happen. Americans often say that "talk is cheap", so get copies of everything in writing - especially the rental agreement or lease. Most importantly: Make sure you get a receipt for the security deposit, and for every rent payment, even partial payments, every time.

Plan Ahead: Your search could take up to several weeks. Even when you find the right apartment, it might not be available until a month or two later. So plan to have enough time to search for a place to live, to move in, and to settle down, buy furniture, and so on. Don't forget that once the semester starts, you will be busy with many other things.

Be Aware of Health Issues: Radon gas has been getting a lot of attention, but did you know that many older building still contain lead-based paint? Click here to learn more.

Find Out Their Hours First: The best time for you to look for an apartment might be, for example, on weekends. If so, then call ahead of time to see if the rental office is open on weekends, or if the manager can meet you then.

Reach an Agreement About the Present Condition: When you move out, you will have to pay for whatever damage you caused during your stay. But in many cases the damage might have been there before you moved in. To prevent this problem, walk through the unit with the property manager and have all damage (stains, holes in the wall, broken sliding doors, etc.) recorded in writing. Many apartments will provide a check-list for you to fill out, on which you can record any damage. If they don't provide a check-list, write all the information down yourself. Either way, make sure the record of the place's condition gets signed by both you and the manager, and make sure both you and the manager have a copy. By signing, the manager acknowledges that you were not responsible for the damage. For more information, see Rent.net's apartment inspection tips.

And, Most Importantly: Never, ever, ever assume that a landlord or manager is honest.

Need more help? Check out 10 Tips Every Renter Needs to Know, courtesy of Rent.net!

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