Questions to ask Before you Sign The Lease

Questions to ask Before you Sign The Lease

        Moving to a new area can be challenging. There are many number of stressors that could be taking up space in your mind. Maybe you are starting a new job and are learning the ropes. You could be in a whole new city and struggling to make it to and from the grocery store without getting lost. Perhaps you are trying to find friends so you can have a social life instead of staying home and watching TV with your dog every night. No matter what else is going on in your life, moving is always stressful. The packing, traveling and all the unpacking are exhausting on their own but to me one of the worst parts about moving is finding a new place to live. Especially in an area that you aren’t familiar with, finding housing can be a real pain. But at the same time finding a place to live is a serious matter and it is important to make sure that you are carefully considering all of your options. 

        So far, I have had the opportunity to move to a new city three separate times in my adult life. With each of these moves I have learned some tips, tricks, and pitfalls to avoid at all costs. We have touched on a few of my experiences in previous articles. Today, I would like to tell you about the biggest mistake that I have ever made while searching for housing and give you a few questions to think about when you are doing your own search.  

        First, the story of my biggest mistake. Let me set the scene: I was a young graduate student living in San Francisco. 2 of my 3 roommates from the previous year could not continue living with us (one was moving in with her boyfriend and the other was studying abroad) which meant we needed to find a new place to live. Oh and my older brother and his dog were moving out to the Bay Area for the first time. Now, my brother was still in Arizona and the roommate who I was going to continue to live with was working full time so I was the one responsible for finding our new accommodations. The task was daunting, I needed a three bedroom pet-friendly place, that was only a short commute to downtown SF and a short commute to my school. That doesn’t sound too hard, until you remember that I was a Master’s student so my budget for rent was basically nothing. You might be thinking, “but Alyssa that’s not too bad, you told us in an earlier article that sharing a room is a great way to cope with a small budget” and you would be right. The issue was that everyone wanted their own room, which limited our options significantly. 

        There I was, hunting for housing during the most competitive time of year in a city that is known to have an insanely competitive housing market in general. We applied for a house, and got denied. We applied for an apartment and it was given to a family over us. I found the perfect little house within a five minute walk of one of my best friends! But they didn’t accept dogs over 20lbs. Needless to say, I was getting frustrated and my two soon to be housemates were getting nervous that we were going to have to live on the streets. But then right at the eleventh hour, our luck changed. I went to look at what felt like the millionth house and it seemed fine. There were 3 rooms, a backyard,  only 15 minutes from school and right next to public transit for the two who had to commute to work. Sure, it was a little out of my price range, but we could work with that. That week was my family reunion, my brother and I were off to Montana so I asked the continuing roommate to take a look at the place and tell me what she thought. She approved, we submitted our applications and before we knew it, the place was ours. We were not going to be homeless! Hooray! 

        Soon enough, we were all moved into our new house. The first night we were there I had to work, but my mom, brother and friend decided to leave the house and check out the neighborhood. That was when we started to suspect that something was a little off. I returned home late from work and was met with a story about the three of them going to a bar a few blocks down and getting searched for weapons at the door. It seemed odd but I am not a suspicious person so I shrugged it off as just a weird night. Unfortunately, this was just the start of the uncomfortable situations. That first night we heard gunshots and the next day we decided to do a quick Google search to see if this was a common occurrence. It only took a few minutes to learn that we had accidentally signed a lease on the border of one of the worst neighborhoods for crime in all of San Francisco. 

        The optimist in me thought, “okay, maybe it won’t be that bad?” “We’re on the border so maybe we will still be relatively safe if we are just extra careful.” Boy, was I wrong. Within the first few weeks of living in that house my brother was walking his dog and saw a person doing heroin on the side of the road. If that weren’t bad enough, on his way to work the following week he saw a carjacking that turned into a shooting. At this point all of us were incredibly uncomfortable living in that house but what could we do? We had signed a 13 month lease. Over those 13-months between the three of us we heard gunshots every night (we started to pretend that they were fireworks), one of us was chased down the street by a homeless person, all of us experienced some sort of street harassment, two of our credit card numbers were stolen, one of our cars was keyed, one of our car windows were broken, and the list goes on. You have no idea how guilty I felt each time one of these things happened. These are people who I love very dearly, and I was the reason that they were in harm’s way. There were so many times that I kicked myself for not spending an extra 15 minutes at the house the very first time I went to see it or for not doing a quick google search on the neighborhood before signing the lease. But now, I am able to pass my knowledge onto you. Here are some questions that I suggest you consider before you ever sign a lease:

  1. What is the rent? How much is the deposit? You should compare the price of your unit to the other places like it in your area. Here is a really great resource for checking into that. Also,make sure that this is a place that you can afford with the budget that you have. DO NOT pick a place slightly outside your price range and then work extra hours every week so that you can afford it. Trust me, it is exhausting. 
  2. How long is the lease? Always a good question to consider. You want to make sure that you are only signing this legally binding contract for the amount of time that you are sure you want to live there.
  3. Is the place furnished or unfurnished? If you are moving to a new area it could be helpful to find a place that is furnished so that you can avoid the hassles of moving or buying everything that you need.
  4. Can I have a pet? Is there a pet deposit? This is a good question for all pet owners. But, seriously, don’t get a pet until you are absolutely ready to have one. Also having a pet makes it SO much harder to find a place to live and your deposit is always higher if you have one.
  5. Parking? Where can I do it? Is there a garage? This is a big question in cities and might not be the case in the suburbs, but it is something you always need to consider. The house we had only had street parking which meant setting alarms to move the car for street cleaning and if you ever got home late running from your car to the house because you did not feel safe.
  6. Is there on site laundry? Do I have to pay for it? This might be the inner college student in me, but I think it is an important question. Being able to do laundry in the comfort of your own home without having to use quarters is the height of luxury. 
  7. Are utilities covered in the overall rent? All the extra costs for water, internet, electricity and garbage can start to add up if you are not careful. 
  8. What are the policies about subletting? A great question to know the answer to in case you happen to move in, realize that you have made a huge mistake and want to immediately move right back out. I recommend looking into the answer beforehand. 
  9. How long is the commute to work? If there is anything I hate in life it is a commute. If I could roll out of bed and into my office I would. Commute times are very important to me. Truly a question that must be answered before I can commit to a dwelling.
  10. How easy is it to get to public transit? Again, this is a question that might not apply if you do not live in a city, but public transit can be a lifesaver so it can never hurt to know the answer to this question.
  11. How does your landlord handle maintenance issues? Are you able to make changes to the house? You will inevitably have an issue that you have to call your landlord for and when you do it is best to know how it will be handled. You wouldn’t, for instance, want to text your landlord about an outlet that stopped working and have him text you back saying that you should probably call an electrician then (seriously, this happened. I cannot stress enough how this house was the worst).
  12. What are your neighbors like? Are there any neighborhood regulations that you need to know about? Some places have very specific rules about quiet hours, where you can or cannot smoke and other general courtesies like that. It’s also good to know who your neighbors will be in case one happens to be something like a daycare. Getting woken up by screaming children every morning at 7am is not fun. I do not recommend living next to a daycare.
  13. What is the layout of the neighborhood? Where is the nearest grocery store etc.? This can be a major concern if you do not have a car and are unable to travel to get groceries. Living far away from places that have basic necessities can put unnecessary stress on your life. 
  14. Are there any amenities? Pool? Spa? If you are moving into a place like an apartment complex you might have access to amenities like a pool or a weight room. It is always good to know what you are paying for so you can take full advantage of it.
  15. What is the crime rate in the neighborhood? I beg you, please find the answer to this question before you sign a lease. Learn from my mistakes. Be better than I was. Please, please keep yourself and the people that you love safe by knowing what you are getting into before you agree to live somewhere. 

        Well those are the bare minimum of questions that I think you should know the answer to before you decide to move into a house. If you learned anything from this article I hope it is that you should always do research before committing to a dwelling. Good luck, and don’t let the house hunting fatigue get you down!

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