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LEASE CHECKPOINTS

So you have found that perfect rental home, and you can't wait to get going moving in. The home is in the right part of town, it's big enough to fit your whole family (plus all your stuff), and best of all, it even fits nicely into your budget. Now is the time to sign that lease and hand over the deposit, right? Well, not quite yet. Before you sign that lease, there are some important things to attend to in order to protect yourself as a renter. There are details to work out and things to negotiate. There's the lease agreement itself, which calls for more than just a cursory glance. And then there's the matter of the walk through.

Even though it is tempting to rush into a lease signing when you're excited about finding a great home to rent, this is a time for a bit of caution. Make sure you protect yourself by attending to these important details prior to rushing into a lease agreement.

Negotiating the Lease Agreement

Not very many renters realize that lease agreements are technically negotiable. Once you sign them, they are binding and there is little you can do after the fact to buy yourself either wiggle room or leverage. Prior to lease signing is the time to do any negotiating or to work out unclear or unfavorable details on the lease contract. For example, the price of the rental payment might be up for negotiation. This is not usually true in large apartment complexes, but if you are renting a condo or a house from a private owner, there is usually some room for bartering. Maybe you're looking for a little price break on a home you know has been on the market for several months. While you do not have to point out this piece of knowledge, it can still work to your advantage and buy you a little bit of leverage. Owners want their properties occupied. If a small price concession gets it done, they will sometimes bow to that request.

But maybe the price is not your main concern. Again, in cases where private owners are leasing out homes, there is less uniformity in lease language and less clarity as well. If there is an area of concern to you as a renter, make sure it is spelled out on the contract before you sign. For example, if you have a verbal agreement that the owner will take care of snow plowing the driveway in the winter, but the renter is responsible for cutting the grass in the summer, get it in writing so that you have a leg to stand on when that first big snowfall hits. If association dues are your responsibility, protect yourself from increases by getting the monetary amount stated explicitly in the lease agreement. Any tradeoffs of work in exchange for rental reductions should also appear in the contract. If you are a handy person and are willing to work off part of your rent as needed, get an hourly rate stated in the lease, as well as stipulations about who buys materials and how they are paid for.

The All Important Walkthrough

Just as important as the details of the lease agreement is the pre signing walkthrough. This is an event that usually goes by too fast because both the owner and tenant are equally excited about the imminent rental. You walk into a bathroom and spend all your time noticing the large bathtub, but fail to see the cracked vanity. You walk down the hall and try to figure out where you'll hand pictures rather than inspect the carpet and paint job. When you get to the bedrooms, you think about where to put your dresser instead of looking for window locks or smoke alarms.

The importance of a thorough walkthrough cannot be overstressed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being excited about a rental. After all, this is going to be your home, and you have every right to be happy about it. If you're not excited, something is wrong and you probably should keep looking. But this very excitement often makes us forget details or overlook things we should catch.

When you rent a home, the security deposit partially goes toward damage you might cause beyond normal wear and tear. If there are things functionally wrong with the place during the walkthrough, these things need to be noted in writing and addressed prior to the lease signing. For example, a renter might ordinarily be charged for a bedroom lockset being broken at the close of a lease. But if that lockset was broken before you even moved in, you should not be charged for it. In fact, it ought to be fixed as soon as possible, preferably before you move in. Carpets are often a source of financial strain on renters. Find out how carpet cleaning affects your ability to get back your deposit, and you can evaluate whether doing it yourself is worth whatever money it might save you when you get set to move out.

Paint is similar to carpet in that it can be easily overlooked during the walk through, but can end up costing you money after the fact. Find out if you are allowed to paint the walls, and if so, if there are any restrictions on color or sheen. Doing your homework on your landlord's policies ahead of time, can save you a lot of hassle later. Even a seemingly small detail like paint can end up costing you your deposit when you move out. Every landlord is different, with some more willing to work with tenants than others. But in any case, it is critical to insulate yourself the best you can from unnecessary charges. Some renters get to the close of their lease on a townhouse or loft expecting to get their entire deposit back, and end up receiving a bill instead. Save yourself that expense by preparing ahead.

Pay Attention to Details

Before you sign that lease, make sure you have attended to all the important details and you fully understand what you are getting into. Do everything you can to protect yourself from additional expenses by getting to know all the specifics of your landlord's policies. Work through all the details of your lease agreement and first make sure it's understandable; and then make sure it's fair. If you are renting a home from a private homeowner, get any verbal agreements in writing before you sign on and move in. Doing this can save both of you from unnecessary hassles. The emphasis here is not so much on gaining an advantage as it is on just making sure both parties understand the contract and their respective roles in fulfilling it.

Before signing a rental agreement, it is very important to avoid common pitfalls by paying attention to detail and covering yourself from exposure to liability. Do not sign a contract until you are comfortable with all of its terms. Protect yourself and your family by attending to these details before making the decision to enter into a contractual agreement on any rental dwelling.

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